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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

A cross-sectional study of maternal perception of fetal movements and antenatal advice in a general pregnant population, using a qualitative framework

Camille H Raynes-Greenow1*, Adrienne Gordon23, Qiushuang Li1 and Jon A Hyett3

Author Affiliations

1 Sydney School of Public Health, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW, 2006, Australia

2 Department of Neonatal Medicine, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Sydney, NSW, Australia

3 Discipline of Obstetrics, Gynaecology and Neonatology, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW, Australia

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BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth 2013, 13:32  doi:10.1186/1471-2393-13-32

Published: 5 February 2013

Abstract

Background

Maternal perception of fetal movements has been used as a measure of fetal well-being. Yet a Cochrane review does not recommend formal fetal movement counting compared to discretional fetal movement counting. There is some evidence that suggests that the quality of fetal movements can precede quantitative changes however there has been almost no assessment of how women describe movements and whether these descriptions may be useful in a clinical setting. Therefore we aimed to examine maternal perception of fetal movements using a qualitative framework.

Methods

Using a cross-sectional design we identified women during routine antenatal care at a tertiary referral hospital, in Sydney, Australia. Eligible women were pregnant ≥ 28 weeks, carrying a single child, > 18 years old, and with sufficient English literacy to self-complete a questionnaire. Post-natally the medical records were reviewed and demographic, pregnancy and fetal outcome data were extracted. Text responses to questions regarding maternal descriptions of fetal movements throughout pregnancy, were analysed using thematic analysis in an explicit process.

Results

156 women participated. There was a general pattern to fetal movement descriptions with increasing gestation, beginning with words such as “gentle”, to descriptions of “strong” and “limb” movements, and finally to “whole body” movements. Women perceived and described qualitative changes to fetal movements that changed throughout gestation. The majority (83%) reported that they were asked to assess fetal movements in an implicit qualitative method during their antenatal care. In contrast, only 16% regularly counted fetal movements and many described counting as confusing and reported that the advice they had received on counting differed.

Conclusions

This is the first study to use qualitative analysis to identify that pregnant women perceive fetal movements and can describe them in a relatively homogenous way throughout pregnancy that follow a general pattern of fetal growth and development. These findings suggest that women’s perception of fetal wellbeing based on their own assessment of fetal movement is used in an ad hoc method in antenatal care by clinicians.

Keywords:
Pregnancy; Fetal movement; Qualitative analysis; Cross-sectional study