Normal fetal motility: an overview

Ultrasound Obstet Gynecol. 2006 Jun;27(6):701-11. doi: 10.1002/uog.2740.


After 35 years of real-time two-dimensional sonography, and now that 4D sonography is within our grasp, this article presents an overview of present-day knowledge of normal fetal motility. A literature search was carried out on articles from 1970, using the keywords: 'fetal', 'movements', 'motility', 'movement patterns', 'ultrasound' and 'sonography'. Inclusion criteria were human studies and use of real-time sonography. Articles were screened for type of motor assessment procedure, in terms of whether they: specified movements for participating body parts (specific movement pattern, SMP), were qualitative (performance in terms of speed and amplitude), were quantitative, identified behavioral states, stated the duration of observation, and specified gestational age. We noted developmental milestones obtained for each study aim. One of four aims was identified for each article, depending on whether it focused on emergence, development, or continuity after birth of the movement patterns, or on the relationship of various motor aspects to other parameters that evaluate fetal condition, such as blood flow and fetal heart rate. A total of 109 relevant articles was identified, examining 9862 fetuses. Assessment was performed primarily with analysis of SMPs (89%); 52% also included non-SMPs (NSMPs), 78% included quantification, 24% assessment of quality, and 32% behavioral states. The duration of observation was 1 h or longer in 50% of the studies. The focus in 28 studies was on emergence, in 44 it was on development, in five it was on continuity and in 32 it was on relationship of the movements with other parameters of fetal well-being. A few milestones identified were determination of the strictly age-related emergence of SMPs and behavioral states, the highly reproducible quality of SMPs throughout gestation, the age-related trends in quantified SMPs, the continuity in quality and quantity after birth, and the close relationship between motility and heart-rate variability, flow parameters, and behavioral states. Periods of longest inactivity recorded before 20 weeks were 13 min; after 30 weeks they were 45 min. Much insight was obtained into the development of motility and its relationship to other parameters from those articles applying comparable assessment procedures. An assessment procedure with well-defined SMPs, qualitative and quantitative aspects of SMPs and NSMPs, and an observation period dependent on age are advocated for future research.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Fetal Development
  • Fetal Movement*
  • Gestational Age
  • Humans
  • Motor Activity
  • Pregnancy
  • Ultrasonography, Prenatal