What are kick counts and should I be doing them?

Q: A pregnant friend told me that she does kick counts every day. What are they, and should I be doing them? 

A: Fetal kick counts are a simple, noninvasive way to monitor your baby's well-being. "Fetal movement is a reassuring sign," explains William M. Gilbert, M.D., an OB-GYN specializing in maternal-fetal medicine at Sutter Memorial Hospital in Sacramento, Calif. "When babies are in trouble, they don't move as much." Gilbert recommends that all pregnant women begin doing kick counts daily starting at week 28. Choose the time of day when your baby is typically most active—usually it's in the evening—then time how long it takes to detect 10 movements, or kicks, while you rest comfortably.

"If a mother does kick counts every day, writes down the length of time it takes to feel 10 movements and brings her records to her doctor for review, it reduces her risk of stillbirth by 70 percent," Gilbert says. On average, it should take about 12 minutes to count 10 movements. "If it takes two hours or more, call your doctor," Gilbert advises. "Also call if there's a significant change in movement, especially toward the middle or end of your third trimester."