Normal to Feel Phantom Kicks After Baby Has Left the Womb: One of the most exciting milestones in pregnancy is feeling tiny kicks and flutters inside your stomach for the very first time.
What if you aren’t pregnant but feel the familiar flutter? Phantom kicks can be a common symptom for some women years following the birth.
What is phantom kicks?
Expect to feel pint-sized baby kicks during pregnancy. Many mamas wonder if there is something else going on when the flutters keep coming long after delivery.
Tiffany Woodus is an OB-GYN from Texas. Phantom kicks refer to the perception of fetal movements in the abdomen that a mother continues to have after giving birth. They are the light and quickening movements you feel in your stomach after childbirth.
Woodus replies that they’re not normal and says it’s difficult to determine if they are. He doesn’t have a clear understanding of why they occur.
This is due in part to the lack of research and studies on phantom kicks. However, do have data based on a small survey of women regarding their experiences with phantom kicked.
An online survey by Disha Sasan, colleagues from Monash University in Australia found that women can feel phantom-fetal kicks for up to 28 years after giving birth.
40% of the 197 women who were surveyed said that they felt phantom kicked after giving birth. The average time women felt phantom kickes was 6.8 years after giving birth.
The researchers also found that 25% of women described the experience positively, and 27% felt confused or upset by the phantom kicks.
Woodus states that while the survey data is useful, it is important to be aware of the limitations of the research. The data are based on a small sample, and have not been replicated.
She also mentions the self-selection bias and recall bias that are inherent in this process. Further research is required to understand the role of phantom kicks in the postpartum period.
What are they?
Although we are aware that some women feel phantom kicks, it is not known why. Experts do have theories about the causes of mysterious flutters.
Changes during pregnancy
The growth of nerve receptors is increased by stretching the abdomen or uterine cavity during pregnancy.
“When this happens nerve receptors keep firing or being stimulated to the point that the brain believes there is fetal motion — clearly even though none is present,” Kecia Gaither MD, MPH and FACOG, is double-board-certified in OB/GYN as well as maternal fetal medicine. She is also the director of perinatal services at NYC Health + Hospitals/Lincoln.
This is similar to Phantom Missing limb Pain in which amputees still feel sensation even after the limb has been removed.
Researchers aren’t sure what causes flutter kicks, but they believe it could be due to changes in the somatosensory hominculus or proprioception during gestation.
Proprio-what? It is the body’s ability not to think about its movements and location. Walking without looking at your feet or touching your nose while your eyes are closed is an example of this. The sensation of phantom kicks is basically what your stomach nerves are doing.
Mental health concerns
Gaither claims that phantom kicks could be causally linked to an increased risk for mental disorders and, more specifically, depression and anxiety.
Woodus suggests another theory that postpartum recovery is misattributed.
She explains that this theory implies that the body’s normal remodeling process to restore muscle and connective tissues to their pre-pregnancy state is misunderstood in order to get [mistaken] for phantom kicks.
Increased awareness of normal bodily functions
You may also experience phantom kicks due to normal body functions.
This theory suggests that the mother of a pregnant child is conditioned to an increased awareness of the fetal movements, which is an important indicator of fetal well-being and health. Woodus says that this increased awareness can be misattributed to normal body functions after delivery, most often digestive function such as the movement of bowel gas.
In other words, the “kicks” that you feel might be gas. But your brain is so used to baby kicks, it thinks they’re gas.
How long do they last?
It is unknown how long phantom kicks last. According to Monash University’s survey, this sensation can last for approximately 7 years after birth.
Gaither recommends that you see your doctor if you experience phantom kicks. This will ensure that there are no other medical conditions.
If all the medical evaluations are normal, she will consider them normal in women who have had pregnancy in the past.
You’re not the only one feeling these tiny flutters months, or even years, after childbirth.
Phantom kicks can be experienced for a variety reasons. They are not a cause for concern and can be treated as such. If you have any concerns, or just want to be sure that you are in good hands with a medical professional, you should make an appointment to visit your doctor.