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Yes, Phantom Baby Kicks Are Real—Here's Why They Happen
Some people say they can actually still feel baby kicks years after giving birth. Here, experts break down the phenomenon of phantom kicks.
What Are Phantom Kicks?
What causes phantom kicks, how long can phantom kicks last, should you worry about phantom kicks.
Feeling baby kicks is one of the joys of pregnancy for many people. But sometimes people feel these kicks after their baby is born—or even after a pregnancy loss . Called phantom kicks, this strange phenomenon of feeling random kicks in your abdomen when you're not pregnant is real, normal, and more common than you'd think.
The causes of faux fetal kicks are typically unknown, although gastrointestinal sensations or postpartum abdominal muscle healing may be at play. While scientists aren't exactly sure why these strange post-pregnancy abdominal flutters occur, it is a confirmed phenomenon. So, as crazy as it sounds, if you're experiencing phantom baby kicks, you're not alone. Here, we break down what's going on.
Phantom kicks after giving birth or experiencing pregnancy loss are flutters that mimic fetal movements during pregnancy. They can be physically felt—or even seen across the abdomen—just like fetal kicks during pregnancy. It's unclear why some people experience them and others don't, but they are actually pretty normal and can happen days, months, or even years postpartum.
In fact, according to a study of 197 people published in 2021, nearly 40% of participants reported feeling phantom kicks after being pregnant. Of those who had the sensations, 27% described them as "nostalgic or comforting," while 25.7% said they "felt confused or upset by the experience."
Experts typically attribute these kicks to a heightened awareness of what's going on in your body, gas, or your body recovering postpartum . However, the exact mechanisms causing this phenomenon are unclear as there is a lack of data on the experience. Ultimately, experts can't yet explain it with 100% certainty.
Gas and digestion likely contribute to these sensations. "We all have sensations in our abdomens on and off, some more than others, usually related to [gastrointestinal] motility and digestion," says Marjorie Greenfield, M.D. , vice chair of obstetrics and gynecology at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland and author of The Working Woman's Pregnancy Book . "I know personally that I have had sensations that if I didn't know better I might think were kicks."
Some experts believe feeling phantom kicks after pregnancy might even be similar to phantom missing limb pain, where someone might feel sensations in a body part that's no longer there. This happens when nerves send the wrong signals.
"There are other phantom movements/feelings/pain that many people feel when they have had a loss like loss of a limb," says Tamika Auguste, M.D. , professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Georgetown University School of Medicine and vice chair of Women's and Infants' Services at MedStar Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C.
Mind-body connection and grief
We also know that a person who is not pregnant can really think they're pregnant and have real symptoms (such as a swelling abdomen, perceived movement, and loss of a period), explains Dr. Auguste. This is called pseudocyesis or false pregnancy. In the case of people who may have experienced a loss, there may even be an emotional and physical component related to the trauma of a miscarriage or stillbirth .
"The mind and the body are not separate entities, and I am certain that an increased awareness of sensation due to grief, for example, could lead to more sensations, and maybe even changes in GI motility," says Dr. Greenfield.
There isn't a lot of scientific research on phantom baby kicks. However, according to anecdotal evidence, these sensations are most likely to happen in the early months and years after childbirth or pregnancy loss. But there is a great variation among individuals—and some people report feeling phantom kicks many years after pregnancy.
On average, the participants in the 2021 study felt what they described as "real kicks" or "flutters" for 6.8 years postpartum, though one person reported feeling the sensation 28 years after giving birth.
Most likely there is no reason to worry about phantom baby kicks, though Dr. Auguste recommends discussing any worries with a health care provider.
"I don't think a feeling of a baby kicking is likely to represent a serious physical medical condition that needs a workup unless there is pain or abdominal distension," says Dr. Greenfield. And while there's probably nothing to be worried about physically, it's important to note that these phantom kicks could have an impact on your mental health.
"Although we found no significant association between phantom kicks and postnatal depression or anxiety, our results suggest that the influence of phantom kicks on mood should not be neglected," the researchers concluded. "Content analysis of women's responses to phantom kicks suggested that the experience could exacerbate symptoms of anxiety, particularly in the case of stillbirth."
That's why it's so important to see a medical provider if the sensation is troubling you or causing you any pain—physically or emotionally.
While little research has been done to fully explain the phenomenon, what is known is that phantom kicks are common, normal, and rarely a cause for concern. One possible cause is heightened awareness of bodily sensations, such as gas, nerves misfiring, or abdominal muscle twitches, that feel similar to real fetal kicks. If you're experiencing phantom kicks, check in with a doctor if you have any questions or concerns. While some people enjoy this reminder of pregnancy, others find it upsetting, particularly in the case of pregnancy loss.
"Phantom Kicks": Women's Subjective Experience of Fetal Kicks After the Postpartum Period . J Womens Health (Larchmt). 2021.
Phantom Limb Pain . StatPearls . 2022.
Biosychosocial view to pseudocyesis: a narrative review . Int J Reprod Biomed . 2017.
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Phantom Kicks: All Your Questions, Answered
Ever experienced the feeling of kicks in your belly after pregnancy read on to learn about phantom kicks, what they are & why they happen., nicole kainz.
One of the most exciting physical sensations of pregnancy is feeling those first flutters and kicks. But, what happens if you feel those symptoms months or even years after pregnancy? If you have experienced this, you may be left confused, after all, didn’t the kicks leave when the baby was born? Most likely, what you are experiencing are phantom kicks. While the name sounds a little unnerving it is nothing to be worried about.
While little research has been done around phantom kicks, there is a lot of anecdotal evidence to understand what is going on in the body during these episodes. We’re here to break down all there is to know about phantom kicks. From what they are to what causes them, and if there is anything you can do about them.
What Are Phantom Kicks?
Kicks during pregnancy are anxiously awaited for you to feel. Once they start happening, you look forward to the next one. You may even want your partner, family, and friends to feel them, too. After birth, you probably don’t even give fetal kicks another thought, except to look back fondly on them.
A few months later, out of the blue—snuggling with your baby, driving in the car, or cooking dinner—you may feel what you can swear is a baby kicking you from the inside. This is called a phantom kick.
Phantom kicks are the perception of fetal movement felt by women after they are pregnant. In one study, 40% of 197 women who have been previously pregnant have experienced these sensations.
Women have different emotional responses to phantom kicks. Nearly 27% say the phantom feeling of fetal kicks feels nostalgic, even comforting, reminding them of the experience of pregnancy.
On the other hand, 25.7% were left feeling confused or upset by the feeling of phantom kicks. This negative emotion can be from pregnancy loss or even a traumatic pregnancy. There is no wrong way to feel when it comes to phantom kicks – your experience is yours and entirely valid.
Are Phantom Pregnancies and Phantom Kicks the Same Thing?
Phantom kicks may get confused with phantom pregnancies. While phantom kicks are only the feeling of kicks or flutters in the belly, phantom pregnancies are different. Women who experience phantom pregnancies— pseudocyesis —feel more than just the sensation of internal kicking.
They may experience morning sickness, a growing belly, enlarged breasts, missed periods, increased appetite, and weight gain. These symptoms are real, physical symptoms.
Phantom pregnancies are not usually related to pregnancy loss but can come after extreme emotional stress. Phantom kicks do not necessarily coincide with stress.
If you feel like you may be experiencing pseudocyesis, reach out to your doctor. They may order an ultrasound to show the absence of a fetus and recommend emotional support in the form of therapy.
Why Do Phantom Kicks Happen?
Unfortunately, there is no clear consensus on what causes phantom kicks. There are a few different ideas, but this condition has been under-researched, like many female-specific issues. Sadly, gender bias in research is still a common issue, but we are slowly making changes in science to balance out the research on women’s issues.
While no one has an exact answer on what is causing those phantom kicks, luckily there is anecdotal evidence that has led medical professionals to some hypothesis. Your experience may be caused by one of these or a combination of them.
Reasons may include postpartum recovery, heightened awareness of your body, nerve and muscle memory, and more, all listed below.
When you are pregnant, your organs move all around to make room for your growing baby. Your bladder is pressed down. Your stomach moves up and rotates. Your intestines are being compressed by your uterus as early as nine weeks.
By the end of your 40 weeks, your stomach and intestines are pushing on your liver and lungs. All this movement is completely natural and very necessary to grow a baby inside of you—let’s take a minute to appreciate the female body, wow!
After birth, your body slowly starts the process of moving the organs back to their rightful place—or at least close to it. While your organs are on the move after birth, you may feel certain sensations. All these changes did not happen overnight, so give your body time to get back to its new normal. This organ migration may be a cause of kick-like sensations during the first year postpartum.
Heightened Awareness of Feelings in Your Body
During pregnancy, you become very tuned into your body. You are probably noticing every little movement, usually waiting for that first kick or hiccup. As pregnancy progresses, you are also on high alert to notice any signs of labor. With this heightened awareness of your body, it is hard to turn it off right after pregnancy comes to an end. This awareness may be the cause of phantom kicks.
After pregnancy, your body shifts and moves around. Gastrointestinal movement is the sensation you will feel the most. While before pregnancy you probably didn’t notice what was happening in your abdomen all that much, it is hard to turn off the heightened awareness.
Some women may even experience movement or popping feelings when they ovulate or during their period, that they may have not noticed before being pregnant. All of these movements can have the feeling of phantom kicks.
Nerve and Muscle Memory
Phantom kicks may even be similar to someone who has nerve memory and muscle memory after missing a limb. If someone loses an arm, for instance, they may feel different sensations where that arm once was, even though it is no longer there, because of the nerve and muscle memory.
When you experience these sensations, it is such a specific feeling. It is unlike anything you have ever felt before (besides fetal movement while pregnant, of course!). While pregnant, you are so attuned with your baby’s movement and kicks. This may cause muscle and nerve memory, which translates into phantom kicks.
Endometriosis is a condition that causes the tissue that normally lines the uterus to grow on the ovaries, fallopian tubes, or intestines. This condition can cause extremely uncomfortable and irregular periods. Research shows it affects anywhere from 10-15% of reproductive-aged females.
While endometriosis is not a proven cause of phantom kicks, many women that suffer from endometriosis report a feeling of movement in the abdomen, much like fetal kicks.
Many women are coming out to talk about their experience with endometriosis and phantom kicks, including celebrities. The more we all talk openly about our experiences, the more we learn from each other.
Endometriosis is one of many different causes of phantom kicks. If you suspect you may have endometriosis, schedule an appointment with your doctor. They can do certain tests to evaluate your situations, including a pelvic exam, ultrasound, MRI, or laparoscopy.
During digestion, you can feel a lot of sensations and movements within your gastrointestinal tract, which among other things, includes the stomach and intestines. In the average human body, the intestines are about 310 inches .
Within your intestines, the waste is moving through the tube to finally end up as a bowel movement. Between the movement in your stomach and your intestines, certain sensations can feel like phantom kicks.
Now, a simple bout of gas can make your brain trigger the memory of a kick. Peristalsis—wave-like contractions within the intestines—can also feel like flutters, similar to early pregnancy.
Gas and bloating is very common after pregnancy and can be the cause of early phantom kicks.
If you are experiencing more gas than normal, eating too fast, carbonated beverages and artificial sweeteners could be to blame. There are also certain foods that may cause more gas, like broccoli, brussels sprouts, fruits, and dairy products.
If you are uncomfortable by postpartum gas and bloating, discuss your options with your doctor. They may be able to give you safe remedies if you are breastfeeding.
Phantom kicks can also be experienced after miscarriage or pregnancy loss . While the loss may not be a direct cause of this phenomenon, it is good to know that what you are feeling is normal.
While there is nothing to worry about physically when experiencing phantom kicks, if it is affecting your mental health and your grieving process, talk to your doctor about things you can do. They may recommend going to therapy to help you through your pregnancy loss and lessen the emotional toll of phantom kicks.
How Often Can You Feel Phantom Kicks?
With the lack of research surrounding this subject, there is also a lack of understanding about what is a normal amount of phantom kicks you can feel. What we do have is anecdotal evidence that women provide around phantom kicks.
Some women feel phantom kicks every once in a while. Some feel them more regularly—once a week, and others feel them very often—multiple times a day.
While these phantom kicks are not harmful, if they are bothering you, or keeping you from your normal life, don’t hesitate to reach out to your doctor.
Is There Anything To Stop Phantom Kicks?
For some, phantom kicks can be the cause of frustration, not knowing when the next phantom kick will happen or how long they will last. For others, it is a comforting feeling, bringing them back to the time of pregnancy.
Depending on how you feel, you may wish to get rid of phantom kicks as soon as possible. Refer back to the section outlining the different causes and reach out to a specialist who can help with your particular triggers.
Can Meditation Help with Phantom Kicks?
While there is no research that directly links meditation to phantom kicks, there is research showing meditation relaxes the muscles throughout the body. If the feeling of kicking is caused by muscle and nerve memory or even a heightened awareness of the body, meditation may help relax the muscles in the abdomen, reducing the feelings altogether.
Additionally, meditation can help you with any negative emotions you have surrounding phantom kicks and mental health.
Should You Worry About Phantom Kicks?
Feeling the phenomenon of phantom kicks can be alarming and should not be ignored. Talk to your doctor as they will work with you to find ways to help lessen the toll it is taking on you.
Another reason you may need to see a doctor about these feelings is if your mental health is negatively being affected. Your doctor will probably recommend you see a therapist to help you with your grief.
Phantom kicks are an odd phenomenon many women experience. By definition, they are the sudden feelings of fetal movement after pregnancy. While there is almost no research on the experience, some hypotheses on why they occur have been made.
Nerve and muscle memory or a heightened awareness of your body may be to blame. You may also be feeling the movement of your postpartum recovery or gastrointestinal issues that you wouldn’t normally notice before pregnancy.
Phantom kicks can also come after pregnancy loss or miscarriage. If you are experiencing this and it is affecting your daily life, reach out to your doctor or therapist to help you process your grief and help you find ways to work through the phantom kicks.
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In the News
What to know about phantom kicks.
It’s possible to feel fluttering sensations in the belly after you give birth or a pregnancy loss, known as phantom kicks. “Occurring days, months or even years after pregnancy, phantom kicks are the continued perception of fetal movement,” explained Sarah Jordan, M.D., a board-certified OBGYN and medical director at OB Hospitalists of Texas, part of Pediatrix® Medical Group . There are several theories as to what causes phantom kicks, noted Dr. Jordan. “One theory is that, as the uterus grows during pregnancy, nerve receptors grow as well, leading to the sensation of phantom kicks after delivery,” she explained. “It also may be a part of the normal postpartum recovery process, as the body remodels muscle and connective tissue after delivery.”
View the full story on Care
- Obstetrics & Gynecology
Why Do I Have Phantom Kicks, Even Years After Pregnancy?
The body is wild, man.
Sometimes, usually early in your second trimester, you feel your baby move . It's thrilling! It feels like a butterfly opening its wings at first. Later, you get genuine kicks and jabs, as if there is a karate master in there. ( Counting those kicks for a time each day gets important in your third trimester.) Experiencing it is all so magical . So imagine my surprise, long after I gave birth to my two children, when I would have a quiet moment alone and feel what I could swear was a baby kick. After some panic-Googling, I learned these feelings are known as phantom kicks.
What is a phantom kick, exactly? This phenomenon is pretty much exactly like it sounds — "kicks" felt after birth or pregnancy loss that aren't actual kicks. They're the perception of fetal movement through flutters that mimic a baby's kick.
Following the loss of her son Jack , Chrissy Teigen shared a heartrending video showing just how convincing phantom kicks can be.
What are these mind games?
Any quick search will show you that phantom kicks are super normal. In one study at Monash University , 40 percent of women reported feeling what they could interpret as fetal kicks, even decades after giving birth.
"If I had never had a baby, I would have looked at a patient twice if they said they still feel a baby kicking years later after giving birth," says Betsy Greenleaf , DO, FACOG, mother of two and host of the Some of Your Parts podcast . "However, I've been there and know this is real."
Does this mean sometimes a kick was n ot a kick?
Who knows if, back when you were pregnant, you sometimes flipped out over your lunch moving through your system, thinking it was your baby? It's possible, especially if you " felt something " earlier than 20 weeks.
"The brain can't recognize what it hasn't experienced before, but once we become pregnant, the brain develops a memory of pregnancy sensations," Dr. Greenleaf says. "After pregnancy, we're more in tune with our abdomen or abdominal wall and notice the movement of our inner organs, such as the intestinal movement of peristalsis for digestion, the movement of gas through the bowels, or abdominal wall muscles twitches. The brain connects these sensations with those felt during pregnancy, and they will register in the brain as 'phantom kicks.'"
Some kicks really were kicks. Some movements were probably gas. No one can say for sure, so you can believe whatever you want!
Are there any other pregnancy-related phantom feelings?
When I was pregnant with my first, a hippie friend who was legit grandma-age said casually, "When I hear a baby cry, my milk still lets down." I knew that was bananas. While our breasts might produce a little bit of milk years after nursing , it is not happening 20 years after nursing — and not after menopause.
But what is real is phantom letdown . I know because, after nursing my two kids for a collective four years of my life, my brain can still vividly imagine that exact feeling, even if letdown is not actually happening.
On the flip side, I can’t recall the exact feeling of giving birth — I think my birth amnesia is the reason I was able to have my second at all. I do remember the thrilling feeling of seeing each little newborn face for the first time, though.
So, when all is said and done, I guess the brain holds on to what it wants and tosses out what it doesn't.
Some women experience ‘phantom kicks’ for YEARS after they’ve given birth
A team at Monash University have revealed that many mums feel a sensation akin to a foetus kicking inside them, long after they’ve given birth .
They’re hoping to find out if these movements have any connection to women’s postpartum mental health .
The researchers looked at a small group of 197 women who had gone through pregnancy. They found that a pretty hefty 40 percent of the women had experienced what they are referring to as ‘phantom foetal kicks’ in the years after birth.
These women reported feeling this sensation for an average of … wait for it … 6.8 years! One woman upped that further, saying her phantom kicks persisted for a whopping 28 years .
The phantom kicks were very regular too. Close to 20 percent of women felt them daily, and around 40 percent felt them “more than once a week,” New Scientist reports.
The results of this study have recently been published online , and its authors explain that women had mixed feelings about these ‘kicks’.
“We found that women describe the phantom sensations as ‘convincing’, ‘real kicks’ or ‘flutters’,” they reported. “Twenty-five percent of women described the experience as positive.”
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Confusing and upsetting.
But many mothers found this experience a negative one, perhaps where a pregnancy or birth had been challenging or other mental health difficulties were at play.
“Twenty-seven percent reported [they] felt confused or upset by the experience,” the researchers confirmed.
The Monash team concluded that while these kicks and flutters are quite commonplace, they are not sure why they are felt.
They theorised that these movements may be perceived because of changes in body awareness and body mapping – called proprioception – during pregnancy.
The team behind this research says this is an understudied area, and point out that postpartum health research, in general, is focused on babies rather than mums.
We look forward to hearing much more about the links between these phantom kicks and how they might lead us to better optimise mums’ mental health.
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"Phantom Kicks": Women's Subjective Experience of Fetal Kicks After the Postpartum Period
- 1 Monash Biomedical Imaging, Monash University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.
- 2 Turner Institute for Brain and Mental Health, School of Psychological Sciences, Monash University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.
- 3 Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Integrative Brain Function, Clayton, Victoria, Australia.
- 4 School of Social Sciences, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia.
- 5 Department of Medical Imaging and Radiation Sciences, Biomedicine Discovery Institute, Monash University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.
- 6 Cognition and Philosophy Lab, Department of Philosophy, Monash University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.
- PMID: 32846107
- DOI: 10.1089/jwh.2019.8191
Background: During pregnancy, a woman will attribute increased abdominal sensations to fetal movement. Surprisingly, many women report that they feel kick sensations long after the pregnancy; however, this experience has never been reported in the scientific literature. Materials and Methods: We used a qualitative approach to survey n = 197 women who had previously been pregnant. We calculated the number of women who had experienced phantom kicks after their first pregnancy, and explored subjective experiences of kick-like sensations in the post-partum period. Results: In this study, we show that almost 40% of women in our sample experienced phantom fetal kicks after their first pregnancy, up to 28 years (average 6.4 years) post-partum. Women described the phantom sensations as "convincing," "real kicks," or "flutters." Twenty-seven percent of women described the experience as nostalgic or comforting, and 25.7% reported felt confused or upset by the experience. Conclusions: Our results demonstrate that phantom kicks in the postpartum period are a widely experienced sensation, which may have implications for a woman's postpartum mental health. The mechanism behind the phantom kick phenomenon is unknown, but may be related to changes in the somatosensory homunculus or proprioception during pregnancy.
Keywords: fetal kicks; maternal mental health; maternity; phantom; pregnancy; proprioception.
- Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
- Postpartum Period*
- Prenatal Care*
- Qualitative Research
Feeling baby kicks but... not pregnant? Here's what's happening.
It's a fact universally acknowledged that when you fall pregnant , you become acutely aware of just how insane the female body is. Especially after pregnancy.
Enter: Phantom kicks .
Ever heard of this? It's basically the feeling of a baby kicking inside your stomach when you're... not pregnant.
Watch: Up for a little giggle? Yes? Brilliant. Here are things pregnant people never say. Post continues below.
Understanding Phantom Kicks
While it sounds like something out of a Sci-Fi movie, it's actually a very common thing that happens to both women who have experienced childbirth and miscarriage .
What are 'phantom' baby kicks?
According to Professor Pecoraro, phantom baby kicks are basically a woman’s interpretation of sensations she can feel within her body.
"These popping, gurgling, bloating and unusual feelings are most commonly associated with a baby’s movements from inside the uterus, but can also be caused by simple things like gas, indigestion, normal gut movement or sometimes as a result of an extremely strong desire to wish to feel baby’s movements," he said.
So, they're not actually real ?
"The term 'phantom' is used to describe these sensations when there isn’t an actual pregnancy causing them," confirms Dr Pecoraro.
Chrissy Teigen’s Experience
Chrissy Teigen recently shed light on her experience of phantom fetal movements, after she suffered a miscarriage last September.
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Chrissy took to Twitter to share an emotional video of her stomach subtly moving. She wrote, "look at this, I’ll pretend it’s him saying hi – it never stops."
look at this 😩 I’ll pretend it’s him saying hi - it never stops. pic.twitter.com/5FKSE3g8cG — chrissy teigen (@chrissyteigen) February 3, 2021
Her followers then reacted to her tweet by sharing their stories of phantom pregnancy symptoms , proving just how many women have felt a fetal movement in their abdomen after pregnancy.
And phantom baby kicks aren't just a thing that happen right after a pregnancy. These little flutters can be felt in your stomach for days, weeks, months, or even years after.
Medical Insight into Phantom Kicks
Let's unsheathe the medical scalpel and dissect these mysterious nudges. Behind the veiled curtain of medical jargon and clinical dissections, lies an untapped wellspring of insights that string together the physiological and the phenomenal.
Here, we speak to president of the National Association of Specialist Obstetricians and Gynaecologists , Professor Gino Pecoraro, and ask him to help us break down exactly what's going on.
Why do 'phantom' baby kicks happen?
"While these feelings may be caused by gut activity and the normal muscular contractions (called peristalsis), they have also been attributed to the unusual psychosomatic condition called pseudocyesis," he said.
To save you from a frantic Google search, pseudocyesis is basically the medical term for a ' false pregnancy '.
"This is where a false belief that a woman is pregnant can be manifested by symptoms of pregnancy, as well as objective clinical manifestations such as an increasing abdominal size."
Yes, you read that correctly.
Pseudocyesis can literally cause someone's brain to not only think they are pregnant but also show the signs and symptoms of pregnancy.
According to Professor Pecoraro, "This psychological condition may be as a result of an intense unmet desire to be pregnant in situations where it is either not possible or not happening as fast as [a person] would like."
Connecting Phantom Kicks and Miscarriage
Amidst the echoing silence, these phantom flutters paint stories of loss, hope, and the indefatigable spirit of motherhood . They’re not just physiological but deeply emotional, etching tales of resilience and remembrance, each kick a whisper of the souls once held within.
Is it normal to feel this after a baby has left the womb?
Yes - apparently it's common to feel teeny flutters months or even years after childbirth - so don't worry, you're definitely not alone.
Professor Pecoraro said that while most women report a sense of loss of these kinds of movements after the baby has been born, some women report a continuation of these feelings.
"This situation has been likened to when children report being able to feel the waves around them and as though they are bobbing in the surf, after having spent a long day at the beach - even though they are on dry land."
If they occur, keep in mind that phantom kicks are very normal and can have a wide variety of causes. There's generally nothing to worry about, but if you have any concerns, it's best to check in with your GP and make sure everything is okay.
Coping with Post-Pregnancy Sensations
Okay, before we hit the panic button, let's get one thing straight: these phantom flutters? Completely normal. Think of them as your body’s little memoirs - sometimes touching, sometimes downright confusing.
Professor Pecoraro quips, it's akin to feeling the sea waves long after you've left the beach. For most women, these sensations wane, but for some, they linger, becoming anecdotes shared over tea or during those 2 AM chats. Yet, if these sensations ever leave you bewildered or anxious, it's always a good move to seek a listening ear, professional or otherwise. Whether it’s your GP or a chat with a fellow ‘phantom-kicker’, talking helps.
If this has raised any issues for you or if you would like to speak with someone, please contact the Sands Australia 24-hour support line on 1300 072 637.
Feature image: Getty
Have you felt phantom baby kicks? Share your experience with us in the comment section below.
Yes, phantom kicks do happen long after having a baby
First flutters, pint-size punches and itty bitty baby kicks have to be some of the most incredible sensations that come with pregnancy . However, it can be a little alarming (and downright terrifying) when phantom kicks occur from within when you are not pregnant (or, at least, you didn’t think you are).
Countless mums experience phantom kicks – the distinctive sensation that a baby is kicking from within – long after they’ve given birth. But why? Could they be pregnant without realising it? Or is something else going on?
What are phantom kicks?
Phantom kicks are the sensation of a baby kicking in your womb when you’re not actually pregnant.
There are a few reasons why you could be feeling phantom kicks after having a baby. If you have given birth in the past few months, then it may simply be the sensation of your uterus contracting, which is often mistaken for baby kicks.
“Because the uterus can take several months to return to its previous state a mother may experience the sensation of kicks for long periods following pregnancy,” Dr Nick Petrovic, Head of Clinic at the Mind Profile Psychology Clinic explains.
Another theory is that the stretching of your belly and uterus during pregnancy ramps up the growth of nerve receptors. It could be that these receptors think they’re still feeling movement – the same way that someone who’s has lost a limb still feels phantom limb pain.
Or it could just be that as mums, we’re really attuned to what’s happening in our bellies. During pregnancy we became hyper-aware of every movement in our wombs, and now we sense every little niggle. So gas movement or pain that we probably would have usually ignore or not even felt before carrying a baby is now something we notice.
How long do phantom kicks last?
These strange sensations can continue long after you’ve given birth, sometimes even years. An Australian study into phantom kicks found that almost 40 percent of women experienced the sensation for an average of almost seven years after their first pregnancy. One woman continued to have phantom kicks for 28 years.
Again, the reason comes down to your uterus. During pregnancy, women become aware of different twitches and movements in and around the uterus. These movements have always been there, but that we never took notice of them before.
“A woman tends to pay very close attention to these sensations during pregnancy. This habit can follow on into postpartum experiences,” Dr Petrovic says.
The feelings inside your uterus play a pretty important role in your mind (after all, these kicks are quite memorable). For many mums, these kicks can affect the likelihood of muscle memory and nerve memory long after the baby is born.
There’s also another theory – proprioception. It’s the body’s awareness or perception of its own movement and position. For example, it’s why we’re able to walk without needing to really think about it. Researchers think that is why our nerves are still registering baby kicks, even though we’re not pregnant anymore.
Is there any reason to worry about phantom kicks?
While feeling random phantom kicks for years after giving birth is normal, the Australian study says it may have implications for a woman’s postpartum mental health.
For instance, the phantom kick sensation could be related to pseudocyesis – a false pregnancy. A woman has all the signs and symptoms of pregnancy – kicks, fatigue, nausea even swollen breasts, but is not actually pregnant. However, this condition is pretty rare.
What are other causes of phantom kicks?
Chrissy Teigen has revealed she still experienced movements inside her belly, after suffering a miscarriage. She even uploaded a video showing her belly moving in a similar way to when a baby kicks, saying, “I truly feel kicks in my belly, but it’s not phantom. I have surgery for endometriosis tomorrow … but the period feeling this month is exactly like baby kicks. sigh.”
look at this 😩 I’ll pretend it’s him saying hi – it never stops. pic.twitter.com/5FKSE3g8cG — chrissy teigen (@chrissyteigen) February 3, 2021
So, there you go – while some of the superpowers that we develop during pregnancy (like a heightened sense of smell and extra shiny hair) disappear once bub is out, our hyper-sensitive uterus can remain with us for years and years to come.
Read next …
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Why It's Important To Talk About What to Expect After Childbirth
Although I've always wanted to be a mother, I've feared the pain of childbirth for as long as I can remember. When I was little, I'd often ask my own mom how much it hurt: After delivering three children with no pain medication , she always answered that it couldn’t have been that bad—otherwise, why would she have done it more than once?
Her reasoning stuck with me when I got pregnant with my son. But as my baby belly got bigger and bigger and my due day closer and closer, friends and coworkers who’d had kids more recently began to come out of the woodwork with horror stories about birth and recovery. There was talk about pooping on the delivery table , perineum tears , and epidurals that didn’t work .
It was only after I delivered my son that I understood why: Getting through childbirth initiates you into an exclusive club of people who’ve all undergone a unique, life-changing, and yes, sometimes traumatic experience that’s rarely talked about in enough detail to prepare the next generation of moms. In my experience, it's less about the circumstances of your birth than being privy to a phenomenon that seems to defy all laws of physics. Whether your birth is amazing or terrible, you're induced or you undergo a C-section, you go into delivery as an independent individual and come out a superhero who's somehow created another human. You release a part of yourself into the world. It's an experience that's cathartic to talk about.
While I now know that sharing your birth story can feel like a service to those who've yet to experience childbirth themselves, no matter how much unsolicited advice and information I received throughout my pregnancy, I didn’t feel remotely prepared for the days and weeks that followed my delivery.
Many of us found it therapeutic to share our birth stories as a way of coming to terms with what we’d gone through and confirming what I now know to be true for those who are expecting: You’re not alone in anything you’re about to experience.
After joining a new moms group, I heard the sentiment I was feeling echoed again and again: No one told us it would be like this. As such, many of us found it therapeutic to share our birth stories as a way of coming to terms with what we’d gone through and confirming what I now know to be true for those who are expecting: You’re not alone in anything you’re about to experience.
So here I am to tell you—for my own good and for yours—what to expect based solely on my first and only childbirth. Your birth could be similar, wildly different, or somewhere in between. But at least you’ll have a frame of reference, which means less anxiety over the unknown and more mental space to get excited for the wild adventure to come.
My First Childbirth
Because I’d always planned on getting an epidural , the pain I felt during my 31 hours of labor wasn’t actually that bad. For the first 15 hours or so, I labored at home with what felt like irksome period cramps—I’d call them a three on a pain scale of 10.
As my labor progressed into the evening and I went to the hospital , my nerves were worse than any actual physical discomfort. The epidural only hurt for a second, not unlike getting a routine vaccine shot.
After that, I got a full night’s worth of sleep and woke up dilated enough to start pushing. Because at that point, everything below my waist felt numb, my fear of pain evolved into generalized anxiety about embarrassing myself while I pushed.
About 15 minutes later, I felt just a little bit of pressure and zero pain as my baby entered the world. Without exaggeration, meeting my son was the absolute happiest moment of my life. (Sure, he was cute. But I also think hormones were at play here.)
Pain After Childbirth
Here’s the real deal: As your epidural wears off, you may be in a fair amount of pain, particularly if you tore and needed stitches. (That’s what prophylactic oral anti-inflammatories and ice packs are for.) But because you’ll be entirely consumed by the tiny human that just came out of you, your discomfort probably won’t be top of mind.
Your nurses will pack your pants with ice packs, sanitary pads, witch hazel pads, and numbing cream. There’s a method to the madness; they've done this many times before, so just trust the process.
One ache that crept up on me was well above the waist: For days after giving birth, my neck killed from looking down at the baby on my chest all day every day. Stretching and massage can work wonders for relief, as can a warm bath or sitz bath. (Some midwives recommend adding Epsom salt to promote healing by reducing swelling and your risk of infection. )
Bodily Changes After Childbirth
Although you might feel like you lost a fair amount of belly weight almost immediately, you’ll probably still look at least several months pregnant for a while (read: weeks or months). And while you’ll feel like you just did something incredible—you produced a human!—you might not feel as physically empowered, particularly since your abs won’t do their job when you try to sit up in bed. It’s one reason why electric hospital beds are amazing. Keep the controller handy to raise and lower yourself, and remember the side rails can be really helpful.
While you’ll feel like you just did something incredible—you produced a human!—you might not feel as physically empowered, particularly since your abs won’t do their job when you try to sit up in bed.
In days after giving birth, your boobs will swell more than you could have ever thought; and if you’re nursing, your nipples may feel rubbed raw like when your hands crack in the winter. You’ll probably leak milk through several layers of bra and shirt on more than one occasion—an accident that might make you laugh one day and cry the next. (Nursing pads can help here!)
You won’t know what bra or clothing to wear, especially after your maternity wardrobe feels too big and your regular clothes feel too small, so just put comfort first and rely on clothes that give (and offer easy access to your chest if you are breastfeeding). No matter what you wear, you might have phantom baby belly feels only to look down and realize your baby is beside you. While I didn't feel phantom fetal kicks after birth, an estimated 40 percent of women do for an average of nearly 7 years postpartum.
At night, you may sweat so much you need to squeegee your pajamas—a result of hormonal adjustments. And you might wake up feeling like you’re in labor all over again, a symptom of your uterus contracting . While it’s strange to feel your body acting out unexpectedly, these are signs that your body is returning to its former state and "normalcy" is on its way.
But truth be told, you might never feel exactly the same as you did before you were pregnant. It might be hard to look at your body in the mirror for weeks or months. At the same time, you might catch a glance of yourself cuddling your baby or changing a diaper and wonder, who’s that parent staring back at you? (Hint: It's you!)
But truth be told, you might never feel exactly the same as you did before you were pregnant.
Between your fluctuating hormones and lack of sleep, you probably won’t feel like yourself for a while. To that end, you might not want to be touched in ways you liked before pregnancy for a long, long time. It’s okay to communicate this to your partner. Just be patient with yourself—particularly if you’re breastfeeding, which is still a transitional phrase for your body.
Emotions After Childbirth
You might feel like crying when you’re sad, when you’re happy, and when you experience every emotion in between. Chances are, you’ll feel emotions you didn’t know you had, like anxiety and an inexplicable, magnetic pull to be near your child. Research suggests that symptoms of postpartum anxiety, which can include feelings ranging from loss to frustration and guilt crop up in as many as 28 percent of women after childbirth. Some parents don’t feel this bond right away, which can be related to postpartum depression—but know that whatever you’re feeling is normal and okay. (If you feel emotionally off for more than two weeks, it is best to seek treatment. )
For the most part, all of the uncomfortable, weird postpartum feelings come and go: The fourth trimester , as it's called, is a temporary phase that passes. And when it does? You’ll look back on all that your body accomplished—and the fact that you not just grew and birthed a human, but also managed to keep them alive—and feel like an actual warrior.
Support After Childbirth
If you had a C-section, multiples, or any complications , your birth postpartum experience might be completely different from mine. But whether your labor and recovery are worse than I've described or even more transcendent, know that no matter what you’re going through, someone has been there before and would take great relief and joy in both sharing their story and hearing yours.
If you don’t have a friend or family member who’s recently had a baby, comb Facebook (or any other corner of the internet ) to find a new parents support group. After all, one of the best ways to bond with a new friend is to share a laugh and the secret that you both just peed yourselves a little. (Did I mention that it can be hard to control your bladder for a while after childbirth?)
At the end of the day, giving yourself permission to put yourself first—at least sometimes!—will be the very best medicine. So take the bath, the nap, or the walk (by yourself). Or take a few minutes to write a couple of lines about everything you're experiencing, a practice that can help you rest and emotionally digest until this super special but tumultuous time is in the rear mirror.
Midwives Collective of Toronto. Care for Clients After Birth.
Sasan, D., Ward, P. G., Nash, M., Orchard, E. R., Farrell, M. J., Hohwy, J., & Jamadar, S. ‘Phantom Kicks’: Women’s Subjective Experience of Foetal Kicks after the Postpartum Period . doi: 10.31234/osf.io/6qad9
Thurston RC, Luther JF, Wisniewski SR, Eng H, Wisner KL. Prospective evaluation of nighttime hot flashes during pregnancy and postpartum . Fertility and Sterility . 2013;100(6):1667-1672. doi: 10.1016/j.fertnstert.2013.08.020 .
Ali E. Women's experiences with postpartum anxiety disorders: a narrative literature review . IJWH . 2018;10:237-249. doi: 10.2147/IJWH.S158621 .
National Institute of Mental Health. Perinatal Depression .
By Elizabeth Narins Elizabeth Narins is a Brooklyn-based freelance writer, editor, and social media strategist whose favorite workout is chasing her toddler. Her work has been published by Cosmopolitan, Women’s Health, Men’s Health, Parents, Health, Bustle, and more.
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'phantom kicks’: women’s subjective experience of foetal kicks after the postpartum period'.
Background: During pregnancy, a woman will attribute increased abdominal sensations to fetal movement. Surprisingly, many women report that they feel kick sensations long after the pregnancy; however, this experience has never been reported in the scientific literature.
Materials and Methods: We used a qualitative approach to survey n = 197 women who had previously been pregnant. We calculated the number of women who had experienced phantom kicks after their first pregnancy, and explored subjective experiences of kick-like sensations in the post-partum period.
Results: In this study, we show that almost 40% of women in our sample experienced phantom fetal kicks after their first pregnancy, up to 28 years (average 6.4 years) post-partum. Women described the phantom sensations as “convincing,” “real kicks,” or “flutters.” Twenty-seven percent of women described the experience as nostalgic or comforting, and 25.7% reported felt confused or upset by the experience.
Conclusions: Our results demonstrate that phantom kicks in the postpartum period are a widely experienced sensation, which may have implications for a woman's postpartum mental health. The mechanism behind the phantom kick phenomenon is unknown, but may be related to changes in the somatosensory homunculus or proprioception during pregnancy.
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Many women feel ‘phantom kicks’ after pregnancy
In a nutshell: The prevalence of ‘phantom kicks’ after the end of pregnancy has implications for fetal health monitoring and women’s mental health.
Many women feel fetal kick sensations – so-called ‘phantom kicks’ – after pregnancy has ended. These sensations are widely discussed by women – such as in online forums – but they have not been studied or reported in the scientific literature. As a result, little is known about their prevalence, frequency, causes or consequences.
To report on this phenomenon for the first time, Brain Function CoE investigator Sharna Jamadar and colleagues surveyed almost 200 women in Australia. They asked the women if they had experienced any sensations of movement after their pregnancy. They also asked how long after pregnancy the phantom kicks occurred, and how they made the women feel.
Almost 40% of the women reported experiencing phantom kicks after the birth of their first child. Of the women who had given birth a year or more earlier, 39% reported still experiencing these sensations. This makes it unlikely that phantom kicks are related to the normal resettling of abdominal organs after pregnancy, which is usually complete within 6 months of giving birth.
Around 27% of the women described the sensations as a positive experience that made them feel happy or nostalgic. But 26% reported that they felt confused, anxious or upset. Women whose babies had died before birth – through miscarriage or stillbirth – were more likely to describe the emotional experience of phantom kicks negatively.
Many women reported that their healthcare providers did not know about post-partum phantom kick sensations. They felt unsupported when they asked questions about their experiences.
These results have implications for how fetal health is monitored. During late pregnancy, mothers are often told to pay attention to fetal movement – a sudden decrease can signal that something is wrong. The prevalence of phantom kicks raises the possibility that not all sensations attributed to fetal movement during pregnancy are caused by the fetus.
Next steps: The researchers are interested in exploring the neural basis for these sensations.
Reference: Sasan, D., Ward, P.G.D., Nash, M., Orchard, E.R., Farrell, M.J., Hohwy, J., Jamadar, S.D. (2020). “Phantom Kicks”: Women’s subjective experience of fetal kicks after the postpartum period. Journal of Women’s Health, doi: 10.1089/jwh.2019.8191
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"Phantom Kicks": Women's subjective experience of fetal kicks after the postpartum period
- Monash Biomedical Imaging
- Turner Inst for Brain & Mental Health
- Medical Imaging & Radiation Sciences
- Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute
Research output : Contribution to journal › Article › Research › peer-review
Background: During pregnancy, a woman will attribute increased abdominal sensations to fetal movement. Surprisingly, many women report that they feel kick sensations long after the pregnancy; however, this experience has never been reported in the scientific literature. Materials and Methods: We used a qualitative approach to survey n = 197 women who had previously been pregnant. We calculated the number of women who had experienced phantom kicks after their first pregnancy, and explored subjective experiences of kick-like sensations in the post-partum period. Results: In this study, we show that almost 40% of women in our sample experienced phantom fetal kicks after their first pregnancy, up to 28 years (average 6.4 years) post-partum. Women described the phantom sensations as "convincing,""real kicks,"or "flutters."Twenty-seven percent of women described the experience as nostalgic or comforting, and 25.7% reported felt confused or upset by the experience. Conclusions: Our results demonstrate that phantom kicks in the postpartum period are a widely experienced sensation, which may have implications for a woman's postpartum mental health. The mechanism behind the phantom kick phenomenon is unknown, but may be related to changes in the somatosensory homunculus or proprioception during pregnancy.
- fetal kicks
- maternal mental health
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Egan, G. , Rosa, M. , Lowery, A. , Stuart, G., Arabzadeh, E., Skafidas, E., Ibbotson, M., Petrou, S., Paxinos, G., Mattingley, J., Garrido, M., Sah, P., Robinson, P. A., Martin, P., Grunert, U., Tanaka, K., Mitra, P., Johnson, G., Diamond, M., Margrie, T., Leopold, D., Movshon, J., Markram, H., Victor, J., Hill, S. & Jirsa, V.
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T1 - "Phantom Kicks"
T2 - Women's subjective experience of fetal kicks after the postpartum period
AU - Sasan, Disha
AU - Ward, Phillip G.D.
AU - Nash, Meredith
AU - Orchard, Edwina R.
AU - Farrell, Michael J.
AU - Hohwy, Jakob
AU - Jamadar, Sharna D.
PY - 2021/1/1
Y1 - 2021/1/1
N2 - Background: During pregnancy, a woman will attribute increased abdominal sensations to fetal movement. Surprisingly, many women report that they feel kick sensations long after the pregnancy; however, this experience has never been reported in the scientific literature. Materials and Methods: We used a qualitative approach to survey n = 197 women who had previously been pregnant. We calculated the number of women who had experienced phantom kicks after their first pregnancy, and explored subjective experiences of kick-like sensations in the post-partum period. Results: In this study, we show that almost 40% of women in our sample experienced phantom fetal kicks after their first pregnancy, up to 28 years (average 6.4 years) post-partum. Women described the phantom sensations as "convincing,""real kicks,"or "flutters."Twenty-seven percent of women described the experience as nostalgic or comforting, and 25.7% reported felt confused or upset by the experience. Conclusions: Our results demonstrate that phantom kicks in the postpartum period are a widely experienced sensation, which may have implications for a woman's postpartum mental health. The mechanism behind the phantom kick phenomenon is unknown, but may be related to changes in the somatosensory homunculus or proprioception during pregnancy.
AB - Background: During pregnancy, a woman will attribute increased abdominal sensations to fetal movement. Surprisingly, many women report that they feel kick sensations long after the pregnancy; however, this experience has never been reported in the scientific literature. Materials and Methods: We used a qualitative approach to survey n = 197 women who had previously been pregnant. We calculated the number of women who had experienced phantom kicks after their first pregnancy, and explored subjective experiences of kick-like sensations in the post-partum period. Results: In this study, we show that almost 40% of women in our sample experienced phantom fetal kicks after their first pregnancy, up to 28 years (average 6.4 years) post-partum. Women described the phantom sensations as "convincing,""real kicks,"or "flutters."Twenty-seven percent of women described the experience as nostalgic or comforting, and 25.7% reported felt confused or upset by the experience. Conclusions: Our results demonstrate that phantom kicks in the postpartum period are a widely experienced sensation, which may have implications for a woman's postpartum mental health. The mechanism behind the phantom kick phenomenon is unknown, but may be related to changes in the somatosensory homunculus or proprioception during pregnancy.
KW - fetal kicks
KW - maternal mental health
KW - maternity
KW - phantom
KW - pregnancy
KW - proprioception
UR - http://www.scopus.com/inward/record.url?scp=85099741241&partnerID=8YFLogxK
U2 - 10.1089/jwh.2019.8191
DO - 10.1089/jwh.2019.8191
M3 - Article
C2 - 32846107
AN - SCOPUS:85099741241
SN - 1540-9996
JO - Journal of Women's Health
JF - Journal of Women's Health
The Mystery Behind Phantom Kicks
- September 14, 2022
Research published in the National Library of Medicine found that 40% of pregnant women experienced phantom kicks. Based on the results of this study, phantom kicks in the postpartum period are a common sensation, which may have implications to a woman’s mental health.
There is no clear explanation for the phantom kick phenomenon, but it could be associated with changes in the somatosensory homunculus- proprioception during pregnancy. The article above reported that some women have experienced phantom kicks 28 years after delivery.
What are Phantom kicks?
The Phantom Kick is the feeling that something is in your stomach, like a fetus, but you are not pregnant. In fact, it is a fairly common occurrence. As with pregnancy, you may experience flutters in your stomach. Women would feel consistent movements in their stomachs
Is It Normal to Have Phantom Baby Kicks?
It is normal after you have delivered a baby or after a miscarriage to feel like you are pregnant but are not pregnant. Gas bubbles or other kinds of abdominal functions such as digestion are very common for moms after they’ve given birth. As a result of women being used to feeling the baby in their stomach for almost nine months, they perceive it as being a baby.
Why You Feel Random Kicks in Your Stomach?
Despite some theories, phantom baby kicks are still a mystery.
As the uterus grows and changes during pregnancy, so do its nerves. As a result of proprioception, the nerves are able to detect the movements of our bodies. Proprioception tells us when the fetus is moving when we are pregnant. After delivery, the nerves around our uteruses may become “confused” and perceive an unnecessary sensation. In her interview with Healthline , Dr. Kecia Gaither reported that fetal movement is perceived by the brain as a result of the continued stimulation of nerve receptors.
One thing to be aware of is that the human body is always moving, as in there’s always something going on inside, whether it’s digesting, growing, etc. When you give birth, your body is even busier as it begins to heal. Perhaps those movements trigger the nerves in a way similar to those experienced by a fetus
Phantom Kicks Are Not the Same AS Phantom Pregnancies
It is imperative to state that feeling phantom baby kicks every so often is not synonymous with pseudocyesis.
There is a possibility that phantom kicks could be mistaken for phantom pregnancies. Phantom pregnancies are different from phantom kicks, which are just feelings of flutters in the belly.
A woman who experiences phantom pregnancy pseudocyesis experiences more than just internal kicking.
As a result, they may experience morning sickness, weight gain, increased appetite, enlarged breasts, and a growing belly. There are physical symptoms associated with these conditions.
It is not common for phantom pregnancies to be related to pregnancy loss, but they may appear after extreme emotional stress. Not all phantom kicks are caused by stress. Speak to your doctor if you believe you may be experiencing pseudocyesis.
RELATED: How Long Does it Take to Get Pregnant?
Can you Get Phantom Kicks 1 year Later?
Women have reported feeling phantom kicks years after they gave birth. Because there’s not a lot of research on them, there’s not a lot of information available.
In the event that you feel these phantom baby kicks, do not be alarmed. There is nothing strange going on, and you can even think of them as nice memories from your pregnancy. For your comfort, an ultrasound should show no fetus and therapy may be recommended to ease your mind.
Is it Normal to Feel Phantom Kicks After a Baby Has Left the Womb?
Teeny flutters are common a couple of months or even years after childbirth, so don’t be afraid. Despite the fact that most women report the loss of these movements after having a baby, some women continue to feel them after having a baby.
It’s important to keep in mind that phantom kicks are very normal and have a variety of causes. When in doubt, check in with your healthcare provider and make sure everything is all right.
The feeling of your baby’s kicks during pregnancy is one of the most wonderful things about being pregnant. You won’t find anything like it, and even if you didn’t enjoy being pregnant, you’ll miss it.
The situation is unexpected, confusing, and a tad frightening. However, there is no need to panic. You’ll find several moms discussing this topic as it is more common than you think.
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Women can feel phantom fetus kicks years after giving birth
One woman reported feeling phantom post-partum kicks for 28 years after giving birth, article bookmarked.
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Women can feel phantom fetus-like kicks for up to 28 years after giving birth, new research has revealed.
Scientists at Monash University, Australia, conducted an online survey of 197 Australian women who had experienced pregnancy.
They found 40 per cent of the women had felt phantom fetal kicks after giving birth and that the sensation persisted for an average of 6.8 years following delivery.
For one woman, the strange sensation continued for a further 28 years.
Forty per cent of the women who experienced the kicks said they occurred more than once a week, while 20 per cent of that number said they felt them daily.
20 celebrities who have opened up about baby loss
The emotions women associated with the kicks varied, depending on the circumstances surrounding the pregnancy.
Some women reported the phantom kicks as a positive experience, saying they prompted feelings of nostalgia or comfort.
- Crazy Ex-Girlfriend star speaks out about having a miscarriage
Yet a proportion of respondents were left feeling confused and upset by the sensations.
Twenty seven per cent of women questioned said the kicks impacted them negatively, particularly individuals who said they had experienced abortion, stillbirth, miscarriages or traumatic births.
“It made me feel really upset that my body was still “fooled” into thinking I was still pregnant,” reported one anonymous participant, whose baby was delivered stillborn at 24 weeks.
“[I thought the kicks were caused] by my body returning to normal [after pregnancy], combined with wishful thinking that my baby did not die,” she added.
Researchers have yet to find a biological explanation for the kicks but wrote that the results showed post-partum phantom kicks were a “widely experienced” sensation.
They also noted that the kicks may also be a risk factor for anxiety and depression in vulnerable women.
"It may be down to how our brains perceives our body" Philip Corlett of Yale School of Medicine told The New Scientist .
"After pregnancy, a woman’s brain could still be expecting those sensations to occur, causing some change in the body," he explained.
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What Is a Phantom Pregnancy? Your Expert-Reviewed Guide
Whether you’re trying to get pregnant, or trying to not get pregnant, the issue of baby-growing often feels overly fraught with extreme ups and downs.
A phantom pregnancy could be the last thing you want right now.
Phantom pregnancy is yet another of the complicated elements of reproduction that make one realize how very un-black-and-white the whole process is.
You may have heard phantom pregnancy referred to by various terms—false pregnancy, fake pregnancy, hysterical pregnancy (probably our least favorite term), pseudopregnancy, or, its scientific name, pseudocyesis.
(Not sure about the pseudocyesis pronunciation? It’s “soo-doe-sigh-eh-sis”)
But while the terms may sound familiar, this chapter seems too often left out of the book about the birds and the bees.
What is pseudocyesis?
How do you know if you have a phantom pregnancy, how long do phantom pregnancies last, how do you know if you’re having a phantom pregnancy, what causes a phantom pregnancy, how common is a phantom pregnancy, how do you get rid of a phantom pregnancy.
So let’s start with a phantom pregnancy (or pseudocyesis) definition:
Phantom pregnancy describes the event where you show pregnancy symptoms—except the most definitive one: the existence of a growing embryo gestating inside of you.
It is understood as an interaction between the reproductive system and the brain, where a bunch of mixed-up signals start to produce hormonal reactions that make pregnancy symptoms , but you’re not pregnant.
Essentially, somehow your mind tricks your body into thinking you are pregnant when you’re not.
And, the reality is:
- If pregnancy is something you want in your life, a phantom pregnancy is distressing.
- If pregnancy is not something you want in your life, a phantom pregnancy is distressing.
So, before we go any further to look at the symptoms and causes of a false pregnancy, let’s stop for an all-important breather: it’s okay to feel whatever you’re feeling.
It’s okay (and recommended) to seek medical advice.
And it’s okay to reach out to your loved ones for help.
The symptoms of a phantom pregnancy are vast and may include:
1. Phantom pregnancy belly
Yup, this one can be pretty discombobulating.
Your tummy starts to expand and look like all things pregnant—but what’s happening inside does not match with what it looks like on the outside.
2. Unexpected weight gain
This can go hand-in-hand with phantom pregnancy belly , but you can experience one without the other.
3. Skipped (or irregular) periods
A skipped period is usually one of the earlier signs of pregnancy, so it makes sense as a phantom pregnancy symptom, too.
4. Morning sickness
“ Morning sickness ” isn’t really a term we like using—after all, during pregnancy (or a phantom pregnancy), “morning” sickness can occur at any time of day.”
Pregnancy nausea is one of the earliest signs of pregnancy, and could rear its ugly head during a false pregnancy with:
- Nausea before or after eating ‒ or even when you’re not eating at all
- Stomach cramps
- Hunger pangs
- Aversions to foods, smells, or tastes
5. Tender breasts
Sore breasts can also be an early pregnancy symptom and a phantom pregnancy symptom, or they could feel tingly or achy.
6. Phantom kicks
Of course, phantom kicks can be particularly distressing and really puts the phantom into phantom pregnancy.
What causes phantom kicks?
You can experience phantom kicks (or quickening ) in early pregnancy, post-pregnancy, or even with no pregnancy at all.
Sometimes it’s due to your nerves hyping up every movement around your abdomen, making even a few stomach bubbles or bouts of gas feel like phantom kicks.
But honestly? The science is still out as to what causes the sensation of phantom kicks.
Can phantom kicks be a sign of pregnancy?
Phantom kicks in and of themselves aren’t really a sign of pregnancy.
But some mamas on Peanut have reported feeling phantom kicks soon after finding out they were pregnant—long before baby even has legs to kick!
The duration of symptoms of a phantom pregnancy varies from person to person.
They can last for a few days or weeks, or go on to imitate the entire 9-month duration of a pregnancy.
For some women, they can last for as long as a few years.
If phantom pregnancy is anything, it is complicated.
It is important to note that a false pregnancy is not the same as a delusion of pregnancy, which may occur in women struggling with severe psychosis.
While the research into false pregnancy is relatively young, understanding more about it can help those who are impacted by it better deal with this complex experience.
Do phantom pregnancies test positive?
Sometimes , yes. Phantom pregnancy positive test has been known to happen, although they are rare—less than 1% of all pregnancy tests.
However, this is not typically the case, as without a viable pregnancy, no beta-hCG is being produced, which means no positive line should be triggered.
There can be different reasons why a phantom pregnancy would test positive:
- Medications affecting your hCG levels
- Recent pregnancy loss
- Medical conditions affecting your reproductive system
- Taking pregnancy test incorrectly
However, the majority of the cases of pseudocyesis or phantom pregnancies will result in negative pregnancy tests .
If you’re experiencing symptoms of early or late pregnancy, the only way to tell that it’s a phantom pregnancy is by taking a pregnancy test to make sure.
If the test comes back negative, it’s likely a phantom pregnancy—although it’s best to check with a doctor, along with a few more pregnancy tests, just in case.
If the test comes back positive, then you may be pregnant.
Or it could still be a pseudo-pregnancy. Again, checking in with your doctor and doing several pregnancy tests (if you can) is the best bet.
The best way to know you’re definitely pregnancy is through a blood beta-hCG test or an ultrasound scan later on in your pregnancy.
Firstly, there is no definitive answer to what causes phantom pregnancy.
The source of it seems as varied as the people that experience it.
However, certain commonalities give us some insight. Some of the underlying causes may include:
Many of the causes of phantom pregnancy appear to be linked to psychological trauma around motherhood:
- Wanting or not wanting a baby: Whether this is related to an intense desire to become pregnant or not to become pregnant, the disjunct between the want and the reality seems to send confusing messages to the endocrine system. Phantom pregnancies are also more common in cultural environments where a lot of pressure is put on women to conceive.
- Struggling with infertility or miscarriage: When the whole pregnancy thing starts to become soaked in soreness, phantom pregnancy may result as your body’s way of responding to intense feelings around this particular aspect of your life.
- Losing a child: The pain of this is no doubt unfathomable and a phantom pregnancy could be the body’s way of responding.
- Recovering after an operation: Some women have experienced phantom pregnancies when healing from surgery on their reproductive organs.
Experiencing hormonal fluctuations due to bodily changes such as perimenopause can possibly result in false pregnancy.
Certain medications that affect your hCG levels or other hormones could also trigger a phantom pregnancy.
Pelvic and abdominal tumors, as well as bloating caused by a wide number of medical conditions, could be at the heart of a phantom pregnancy.
A phantom pregnancy could be an early sign of something else, which is why it’s always best to check in with your healthcare provider.
While there’s no doubt it exists, phantom pregnancy is incredibly rare. It’s said to affect only about 1-6 in 22,000 pregnant women in the US .
But while pseudocyesis is rare, it shouldn’t be discounted, as it can be a real source of suffering for the person going through it.
The interesting thing is that men can actually experience symptoms of a phantom pregnancy too.
This is referred to as Couvade syndrome, or sympathetic pregnancy, and typically manifests—both physically and psychologically—in fathers of the babies of expectant mothers.
These phantom pregnancy symptoms can range from weight gain to aches and pains, to nausea and disrupted sleep patterns – and may even occur after the baby has been born.
Interestingly, some fathers may empathetically experience postpartum depression .
Wow. Nature is really something.
What can you do if you think you might have a phantom pregnancy?
Well, the first thing is to seek professional advice from a healthcare practitioner.
They’ll be able to recommend the best course of treatment that might range from ultrasounds to hormone regulation to talk therapy .
Most importantly, be kind to yourself. This is difficult. Seriously difficult.
And it’s okay to be feeling some pretty huge feelings right now. But, with the right help, you can get through this.
So that’s all there is to know about phantom pregnancy and pseudocyesis .
Think you might have a phantom pregnancy? If you’re comfortable, why not share your story with our other mamas and mamas-to-be on Peanut?
You’re not alone—there are plenty of phantom pregnancy stories from our community of women on Peanut .
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