EXPECTFUL IS HSA/FSA eligible
Expectful

Phantom Kicks: All Your Questions, Answered

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 …

Written By
Expectful
Nicole Kainz
Instructor
October 21, 2021

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.

Postpartum Recovery

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

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. 

Gastrointestinal Issues

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.

Pregnancy Loss

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. 

Conclusion

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. 

Expectful is here for you through all the ups and downs of pregnancy and postpartum, normalizing all of the changes in our bodies and our unique motherhood journeys.

Expectful
Nicole Kainz
Instructor