You would have heard about Braxton Hicks throughout your pregnancy journey, but what the heck are Phantom Kicks?
A new mother is sitting at home, enjoying a quiet evening with her partner, when suddenly she feels a familiar sensation in her abdomen. It’s the same feeling she had during her pregnancy, the sensation of her baby moving inside her. But her baby was born months ago, and she knows it’s not possible for her to be feeling fetal movements. She begins to feel confused and anxious, wondering what could be causing these phantom kicks. She wonders if she’s going crazy or if there’s something wrong with her body.
This situation is not uncommon for new mothers who experience phantom kicks, and it can be a source of distress and confusion. Understanding the nature of phantom kicks and how to manage them can help alleviate these feelings and provide reassurance for new mothers.
What Are Phantom Kicks?
Phantom kicks, also known as phantom fetal movements, are sensations that feel like a baby kicking or moving even after pregnancy. These sensations originate from your abdomen or uterus area and feel incredibly realistic. However, there is no longer a baby present to cause the feelings.
Phantom kicks happen due to your body’s memory and sensations from when you were pregnant. During pregnancy, feeling your baby’s movements and kicks is a common, regular occurrence. Even after delivering the baby, your mind and body still recall those sensations. When your abdomen or uterus area sends signals to the brain like those during pregnancy, it causes the brain to interpret the signals as a baby kicking. This results in phantom kicks.
While the sensations originate internally from your own body, your brain perceives them as coming from an external source – your baby. This mix-up of signals leads to the phantom feelings. Phantom kicks are your body’s way of remembering its pregnant state, even after the baby has been born. The memory of your baby’s movements gets triggered inadvertently by internal sensations.
What Are The Causes of Phantom Kicks?
Phantom kicks, the sensation of feeling your baby kick even after pregnancy, are often caused by a combination of hormonal, physical, and psychological factors.
- During pregnancy, your body produces relaxin, progesterone, and estrogen in high levels.
- After delivery, these hormone levels rapidly drop.
- This sudden change in hormones can make you feel phantom kicks, as your body adjusts.
Physical Memory of Past Kicks
- When you were pregnant, you felt your baby kick and move multiple times per day.
- Your nerves and muscles became conditioned to expect and feel these sensations.
- After birth, your body’s physical memory of the kicks persists, causing phantom sensations.
- Phantom kicks can be triggered by thoughts and memories of your pregnancy.
- Missing the sensation of feeling your baby move can manifest as phantom kicks.
- Postpartum depression or anxiety may also contribute to perceiving phantom kicks.
- Your mind may imagine the kicks as a way to feel connected to your pregnancy.
When Do Phantom Kicks Occur?
Phantom kicks are most common during the later stages of pregnancy, in the second and third trimesters. As the baby grows bigger and stronger, its normal movements and kicks become more pronounced. This helps the mother’s brain map the baby’s patterns of movement.
After pregnancy ends, either through childbirth or loss, this ingrained memory of the baby’s typical kicking routines can persist, creating phantom sensations even though the baby is no longer there. The brain expects the familiar feelings but they don’t arrive, which leads to phantom kicks.
Mothers often report noticing phantom kicks most frequently in the days, weeks or months immediately following childbirth or pregnancy loss. However, some women experience phantom kicks for years afterwards as well. The duration and intensity varies from person to person.
In summary, phantom kicks tend to occur when the mother’s body has become accustomed to feeling vigorous fetal movements, but those movements have now ceased. Yet the brain’s wired associations persist, at least for a while, leading to phantom sensations. This phenomenon is most common right after childbirth or pregnancy loss.
How Long Can Phantom Kicks Last?
Based on a Monash University survey, on average, women can experience phantom kicks for about 7 years postpartum. However, some women may feel these sensations for several years, with one woman in the study reporting phantom kicks up to 28 years after giving birth.
How To Differentiate between Phantom Kicks and Actual Fetal Movements?
|Actual Fetal Movements
|Can occur after childbirth or pregnancy loss
|Occur during pregnancy
|Perceived fetal movement in the abdomen
|Real fetal movements felt by the mother
|Days, weeks, months, or even years after childbirth
|Can leave women confused, anxious, or upset
|Exciting feeling for the mother
|Can occur daily, weekly, or intermittently
|Varies, increasing as the pregnancy progresses
|Not fully understood
|Result of the baby’s physical activity
|Limited research and studies
|Well-documented and understood through medical research
This table provides a comparison between phantom kicks and actual fetal movements.
How To Cope With Phantom Kicks?
Experiencing phantom kicks can be emotionally and mentally challenging. Here are some tips for coping:
Be patient – Phantom kicks usually become less frequent over time. Remind yourself that this sensation is normal and will pass. Avoid getting frustrated.
Focus on your breathing – When a phantom kick occurs, take some deep breaths. Inhale slowly through your nose and exhale slowly through your mouth. Keep breathing steadily until the sensation fades. This can help provide a sense of calm.
Journal/talk about your feelings – Writing down your thoughts and emotions or discussing them with a loved one can help process phantom kicks. Describe what you experience and how it makes you feel. Letting it out may provide some relief.
The most important thing is not to ignore or suppress your feelings. Find healthy ways to acknowledge and work through them. With time, phantom kicks will likely diminish. If they continue causing distress, consult your doctor about possible treatment options. Coping skills combined with patience and self-care will help you through this challenging experience.
How To Distract Yourself From Phantom Kicks?
Some ways to distract yourself during an episode of phantom kicks are to:
- Keep busy. Focus your mind and energy on an activity like cooking, cleaning, working on a hobby, or tackling your to-do list. Staying busy and active can help take your mind off the sensations.
- Exercise. Going for a walk, swim, bike ride, or other exercise you enjoy can shift your focus. The physical exertion may also help release any stress or anxiety contributing to phantom kicks.
- Socialize. Connecting with friends, joining a support group, or even just chatting on the phone can provide meaningful distractions from phantom kicks. Social interaction helps many people feel grounded.
- Watch a movie. Immersing yourself in a good film, show, or book lets your mind get absorbed in the story and characters. Entertainment provides mental distraction and escapism from troubling sensations. Avoid overly-emotional movies if you’re already feeling sensitive.
The key is to find activities that fully engage your mind and body to distract from phantom kicks. Experiment to find which strategies work best to get you through episodes. Over time, you may rely less on distractions as phantom kicks become less frequent.
Self-Care for Phantom Kicks
Dealing with phantom kicks can be challenging both emotionally and physically. Here are some self-care tips that may help:
Get Enough Rest
Make sure you are getting adequate sleep each night. Lack of sleep can exacerbate feelings of stress and anxiety, making phantom kicks feel more intense. Try to go to bed at the same time each night and aim for 7-9 hours of sleep. Consider limiting caffeine late in the day and create a relaxing pre-bedtime routine.
Eat a balanced diet full of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water. Eating small, frequent meals may help if nausea is an issue. Avoid spicy, greasy, or acidic foods which can upset your stomach.
Practicing relaxation techniques like deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, or yoga can help reduce tension in your body. This may minimize the frequency and intensity of phantom kicks. Even just taking 5-10 minutes a few times a day to focus on breathing deeply can make a difference.
Massage therapy increases blood flow, relaxes muscles, and releases endorphins which relieve pain and improve mood. Consider scheduling regular prenatal massages focusing on the back, hips, and legs. Massage coupled with warm packs or aromatic oils may be especially soothing. Check with your provider to ensure massage is okay during your pregnancy.
Taking good care of your body through rest, diet, relaxation, and massage can help you better cope with phantom kicks. Don’t hesitate to reach out for support when needed. With time, the sensations should become less pronounced.
When to Seek Help?
Phantom kicks are usually harmless, but in some cases they may be frequent or distressing enough that you should consider seeking help from your doctor or a support group. Here are some guidelines on when it may be wise to reach out:
- If the phantom kicks are very frequent (more than a few times per week) or are causing you significant distress, anxiety, or disrupting your daily life, consult your doctor. They can evaluate if an underlying physical or mental condition may be contributing to the phantom sensations.
- Phantom kicks that suddenly increase in frequency or intensity after having diminished can be a sign of an underlying medical condition. See your doctor promptly to identify if any issues need to be addressed.
- If the sensations cause anxiety, depression, relationship strains, or negatively impact your quality of life, consider joining a support group. Connecting with others who have had similar experiences can help provide coping strategies. Support groups allow you to share your feelings and frustrations in an understanding environment.
The takeaway is that while phantom kicks are usually normal, increased frequency or distress may warrant consulting a professional. Don’t struggle alone – your doctor or a support group can provide insights and reassurance if the sensations become problematic. With the right help, phantom kicks can be managed and overcome.
What Medical Treatments Are Available?
Phantom kicks can be distressing and disruptive. If they are severely impacting your life, there are medical treatments available that may help.
Seeing a therapist can help you process your emotions surrounding your phantom kicks. Therapists can provide coping strategies to manage your phantom kicks, and help you work through any anxiety, depression, or grief you may be experiencing. Talk therapy allows you to open up in a judgement-free zone.
Medication for anxiety/depression
If therapy alone isn’t enough, your doctor may prescribe anti-anxiety medication or antidepressants to help treat accompanying anxiety or depression related to your phantom kicks. These medications can help stabilize your mood and make phantom kicks more manageable. However, medications affect everyone differently, so give feedback to your doctor about how the medication is working for you.
Alternative or complementary therapies can be very helpful for dealing with phantom kicks. These therapies take a more holistic approach and can provide comfort as well as help you reconnect with your body. Here are some of the most effective alternative options:
Acupuncture involves inserting very thin needles into specific points on the body. This is thought to help regulate energy flow and provide pain relief. There is some evidence that acupuncture can reduce phantom limb pain. It may also help relieve associated stress and anxiety. Make sure to see a licensed acupuncturist.
Using essential oils can help engage your sense of smell and provide a soothing environment. Lavender and chamomile oils, in particular, are known for their calming properties. You can put a few drops in an oil diffuser, add them to a warm bath, or mix with an unscented lotion and apply to your skin. Inhaling the scent sends signals to your brain that help relax both your body and mind.
Meditation encourages you to focus your attention and quiet your mind. This can block out external stimuli as well as inner turmoil. Mindfulness meditation specifically aims to increase awareness and acceptance of the present moment. By acknowledging phantom kicks without judgment, you can reduce their intensity and frequency. Meditate for 10-15 minutes once or twice a day.
Gentle yoga helps connect the mind and body. The stretching and breathing exercises promote relaxation while the poses help build strength. This makes yoga ideal for managing phantom kicks. Try prenatal yoga classes even after delivery, as they cater to your changing needs. If you are new to yoga, let the instructor know about your phantom kicks.
The key with alternative therapies is finding what works best for you. They are generally safe and can be combined with other treatments. Talk to your healthcare provider before starting any new regimens. With patience and consistency, these holistic approaches can start providing relief from phantom kicks.
Phantom kicks are a normal part of the postpartum experience for many women. While the sensations can certainly be unsettling, try to remember that they are simply your body’s way of adjusting to no longer being pregnant. With time, patience, and self-care, phantom kicks will fade.
In the meantime, be gentle with yourself. Make sure to get plenty of rest, drink lots of fluids, and engage in relaxing activities. Surround yourself with a strong support system of friends, family, or postpartum counseling services. Don’t isolate yourself, as this can exacerbate feelings of anxiety or sadness related to phantom kicks. Share your experience with other mothers who can relate.
Stay focused on the light at the end of the tunnel. As the weeks and months pass, phantom kicks will likely become less frequent and less pronounced. Your body and mind will adjust to your new reality of no longer carrying a baby. If sensations persist beyond 6 months postpartum, consult with a medical professional to rule out any complications. But in most cases, phantom kicks are simply “ghosts” of your former pregnant self that will gradually disappear.