Every antepartum record, whether it is on paper or EMR, has a space asking whether the patient feels fetal movement at the visit. Every provider inherently knows that fetal movement is important and worth asking about at each visit. Yet the education for patients about fetal movement and when to alert a provider to changes is not currently standardized in the United States. There is no practice bulletin or guideline from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and, therefore, there is a wide variation in clinical practice. An Australian study found that 97% of women were asked about fetal movement, but only 62% reported formal education regarding fetal movement. More concerning, only 40% were advised to call immediately if concerned about fetal movement change. A quarter were told to call only if baby moved fewer than 10 times in an hour.1
We have a standardized approach to most aspects of prenatal care. We know what to do if the patient has contractions, or protein in their urine, or an increased blood pressure. Our management and education regarding fetal movement must be standardized as well. In this article I will go through the incorrect education that often is given and the data that do not support this.
Myth one: Kick counts
When education is done, kick counts are far and away what providers and nurses advise in the clinic and hospital triage when women present with complaint of decreased fetal movement. The standard approach to this is advising the patient to perform a kick count several times per day to check in on the baby and call if less than 10 kicks per hour. This is not bad advice as it may help create awareness for the mom about what is “normal” for her baby and may help her to “check in” on the baby when she is occupied at work or with older children. However, advising that a kick count should be done to reassure a patient about a concerning change in fetal movement is not supported in the literature. A meta-analysis in the February 2020 issue of the Green Journal found that advised kick count monitoring did not significantly reduce stillbirth risk.2 Research shows that most moms will get 10 kicks normally within an hour, but there are no data showing what percentage of moms with perceived decreased fetal movement also will get a “passing” result despite their concern. For example, take a patient who normally feels 50 movements in an hour and is not reassured by 10 movements in an hour, but because she is told that 10 movements is okay, she tries not to worry about the concerning change. Many mothers in the stillbirth community report “passing kick counts” in the days leading up to the diagnosis. We need to move away from kick count education to a much simpler plan. We must tell patients if they are worried about a concerning change in fetal movement, they should call their provider.