Many women feel 'phantom' fetus kicks years after giving birth, says study

According to a survey, around 40% women feel these sensations, averaging 6.8 years following delivery; They could be a risk factor for depression and anxiety in vulnerable women, say experts.

                            Many women feel 'phantom' fetus kicks years after giving birth, says study
(Source : Getty Images)

Long after pregnancy, many women can experience fetus-like kicking in their abdomen. The "phantom kicks" can last for decades, with some women experiencing these sensations up to 28 years, according to a new survery.

These sensations, the researchers say, may be lead to depression and anxiety in vulnerable women.

The study, conducted by researchers from Monash University, Australia, found that 40% of the participating women had felt "phantom fetal kicks" - averaging 6.8 years following delivery. Further, these sensations could make women's perception of true fetal movement -- which is an important indicator of fetal health in pregnant women -- unreliable, says the study.

Women widely experience phantom kicks, according to Disha Sasan, the author of the study. Though it is widely discussed between women and on online mothers’ forums, the topic has not received attention from the scientific community, she adds.

Accordingly, the researchers conducted a survey that included 197 participants. They found out that 40% of women experienced the kicks more than once a week, while 20% of them experienced them daily. They also realized that women's responses were divided on how they perceived the experience. Some found the experience positive, especially for those who cherished their pregnancy. For others, especially among women who have had stillbirths, the experience was traumatizing.

The experience can be traumatizing for women who have had stillbirths. (Getty Images)

The analysis reveals another troubling picture: 22.3% of the women have reported to have battled postpartum depression, while 30.5% of the women experienced postpartum anxiety. According to a participant, whose baby was delivered stillborn at 24 weeks, the sensations were upsetting as it “fooled” her into thinking that she was still pregnant. She adds, “I thought the kicks were caused by my body returning to normal [after pregnancy], combined with wishful thinking that my baby did not die."

Another participant reported feeling confused. She says, "Very confusing! I had my hand on my baby in her cradle and she kicked. My mind couldn't make sense of what I felt. That sensation was usually in my abdomen but I felt it in my hand instead. I still can't reconcile the feeling."

There are still parts about the condition scientists do not understand completely. For instance, scientists do not know why phantom fetal kicks occur. It may be down to how our brain perceives our body, Philip Corlett at Yale School of Medicine told NewScientist. After pregnancy, a woman’s brain could still be expecting those sensations to occur, causing some change in the body, he explains.

You can find the study here.

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