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Glossary of pregnancy and labour

A

A show is when the thick plug of mucus that seals the cervix to protect your baby from infection comes out of the vagina.

Active labour is the second phase of the first stage of labour when contractions are usually more regular and stronger, and the cervix dilates up to around 8 centimetres.

Active management is when a midwife or doctor gives an injection to the mother soon after the birth of the baby. This intervention helps the uterus contract and can assist in birthing the placenta.

Afterbirth is the placenta and membranes that surround a baby.

Amniocentesis is a diagnostic test that uses a needle to sample a small amount of amniotic fluid from around your baby to confirm if your baby has a genetic or other chromosome condition.

Amniotic fluid is the liquid that surrounds a baby in the uterus also known as ‘waters’.

Amniotic sac is a thin-walled membrane (or tissue) that surrounds the baby during pregnancy.

Anaemia is when your blood doesn’t have enough healthy red blood cells or haemoglobin to carry oxygen around your body and to your baby.

Anomaly scan (also called 'morphology scan' or '20-week scan') is an ultrasound done at about 18-22 weeks of pregnancy to check your baby's growth, including the development of their bones and organs to make sure everything is developing as expected.

Antenatal is a term used to describe the time from conception and during pregnancy. It is often used to refer to pregnancy care such as “antenatal appointments” or “antenatal classes”.

Antenatal expressing is expressing colostrum (early breastmilk) before your baby is born.

Anti-D is a medication (injection) that may be offed to pregnant women who are rhesus negative (negative blood group).

Apgar score is a measure of a baby’s condition after birth. It helps doctors, midwives and nurses to decide if a baby needs immediate support or monitoring.

Artificial rupture of membranes (ARM) (also known as breaking the waters) is a form of labour induction. A small instrument is placed inside your vagina and your membranes (the layers of tissue around your baby) are then punctured to help bring on or speed up labour.

Assisted birth is a medical procedure whereby forceps or a ventouse (vacuum) is used to help you birth your baby.

Assisted reproductive technology (ART) are treatments or medical procedures to assist in fertility.

Augmentation is the process of stimulating the uterus to increase the frequency, duration and intensity of contractions after spontaneous labour begins. This may be done by breaking your waters or giving a synthetic hormone called oxytocin.

B

Baby blues can happen in the first 2 weeks after having a baby where the mother may feel teary, anxious and irritable, and experience changes to their mood.

Birth canal is the cervix and vagina that a baby passes through during birth.

Birth plan is a written plan of the expecting parents' birth preferences, including what they would like or not like to happen during labour and birth. This is usually discussed and given to the chosen care provider during pregnancy.

Birthing centre is a facility run by midwives where you can give birth.

Braxton hicks sometimes called ‘false’ or ‘practice’ contractions. This is a term used to describe the muscles of your uterus tightening. These painless tightenings are irregular and may come and go throughout your pregnancy.

Breaking of waters — see ‘Artificial rupture of membranes’.

Breech is the term used to describe the position of a baby when they are bottom down in your pelvis (rather than ‘cephalic’ which refers to a baby that is head down in the pelvis, which is optimal for birth).

Balloon catheter is a type of induction of labour using a thin tube called a catheter, with a balloon on the end. It is inserted into your cervix and the balloon is inflated with a small amount of water. This is used to apply pressure to your cervix to encourage it to open, preparing it for the next phase of labour.

Bloody show — see 'A show'.

C

Caesarean is a surgical procedure used to help birth your baby through a cut in the abdomen and uterus.

Cephalic (or vertex) is when the baby is in a head-down position ready for birth.

Cervical screening is a medical test to check the health of the cervix.

Cervix is part of the female reproductive system; it is the muscular channel or opening that runs between the uterus and the vagina.

Child health nurse (also called a ‘child and family health nurse’ or ‘maternal child health nurse') is a registered nurse with extra qualifications in child and family health nursing.

Cholestasis is a pregnancy complication that affects the mother's liver. Symptoms can include persistent itching of the palms of the hands and soles of the feet.

Colostrum is a type of early breast milk, produced by the breasts from around 20 weeks of pregnancy until the first few days after birth. Colostrum is a thick, sticky, yellowish liquid.

Combined first trimester screening (CFTS) is a pregnancy test available during the first trimester of pregnancy. Using an ultrasound and a blood test, it provides an estimate of the chance (likelihood) that a baby may be affected by a genetic condition.

Conception is when a sperm and egg join. It is the first biological step that leads to pregnancy.

Contraction is the term used to describe when the muscles of the uterus tighten and relax, women experience contractions differently. Contractions usually become stronger and more regular once you are in active labour.

Crowning is the term used to describe when the baby’s head is visible from the external vaginal opening.

CVS (chorionic villus sampling) is a diagnostic test that uses a needle to take a few cells from the placenta to confirm if your baby has a genetic or chromosomal condition.

D

Dating scan is an ultrasound scan that can be done between about 6 and 14 weeks of pregnancy to help estimate your baby’s due date.

Diastasis recti (DRAM) is the partial or complete separation of the abdominal muscles in the midline of the tummy.

Dilate is when the cervix opens during labour. During pregnancy your cervix is closed, labour contractions help to thin and open (dilate) your cervix to allow your baby to be born.

E

EBD (estimated birth date) — see 'EDD (estimated due date)'.

Ectopic pregnancy is when a fertilised egg implants itself outside the uterus, usually in one of the fallopian tubes and means the embryo will not be able to survive.

ECV (external cephalic version) is a medical procedure that may be offered if your baby is in the breech position after 37 weeks of pregnancy. The procedure tries to turn breech babies to the more optimal head-down position for a normal vaginal birth.

EDD (estimated due date) is the term used to describe the estimated time when a baby may be born, the EDD is roughly 40 weeks from conception, although babies are considered term and may be born anytime between 37-42 weeks of pregnancy (earlier than this would be considered pre-term).

Embryo is a term used to describe an unborn baby in the early stages of development.

Engorgement is when the breast tissue overfills with milk, blood and other fluids and is a common problem in the early days and weeks of breastfeeding.

Epidural is a type of pain relief available during labour and birth. It involves injecting medications into the epidural space (an area near your spinal cord). This numbs your nerves to give pain relief in certain areas of your body.

Episiotomy is a cut made to the perineum, the tissue between the vagina and the anus to widen the vaginal opening.

F

Failure to progress — see ‘Slow progress of labour’.

Fertility is the natural ability to have a baby.

Fetus is a medical term used to describe an unborn baby growing in the uterus.

First degree tear is a tear to the perineum that is skin-deep and can often heal without stitches.

First stage of labour is when your contractions build up and get stronger and become more frequent to help the cervix open in preparation for giving birth.

First trimester is the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

Folate is a B group vitamin that is found in some foods. It is important in your diet leading up to pregnancy and for the first 3 months because it can reduce the chance of neural tube defects (spina bifida) in babies.

Folic acid is the synthetic version of the vitamin folate that you can take as a supplement.

Fontanelles are the ‘soft spots’ of a newborn baby’s skull. They function to allows babies heads to mould and fit through the birth canal.

Forceps are a smooth metal instrument that look like spoons or tongs. They're curved to fit around the baby's head and may be used to assist you to birth your baby vaginally.

Fourth degree tear is a serious tear to the perineum that extends into the lining of the anus or rectum.

Full term is when the baby is born in weeks 37 to 42 of pregnancy.

Fundal height is a term used to describe the measurement or size of your belly during pregnancy. It is measured using a tape measure, and it is the distance from the pubic symphysis to the top of the uterus (fundus). This measurement should be similar to the number of weeks you are pregnant.

G

Gestational age describes how far along in your pregnancy you are. It can be measured from your LMP to the current date in weeks (for example, 38+1).

Gestational diabetes is a form of diabetes that occurs during pregnancy.

Group B strep test is a vaginal swab offered to pregnant women at about 35-37 weeks of pregnancy to test for the presence of the group B streptococcus bacteria.

Gynaecologist is a specialist doctor who manages conditions that affect the female reproductive system.

H

hCG (human chorionic gonadotropic) is a hormone produced by the placenta. If you are pregnant, this hormone will be found in your urine or blood.

Heel prick blood test — see ‘Newborn screening test’.

Home birth is having a baby at home with a midwife in attendance (not in a hospital or birthing centre).

Hypertension is a medical term used to describe high blood pressure.

Hyperemesis gravidarum is a complication of pregnancy in which sufferers experience severe nausea and vomiting.

I

Immunisation refers to the process of both getting the vaccine and becoming immune to the disease following vaccination.

In utero is the term used to describe an unborn baby inside the mother’s uterus.

Induced labour is a broad term used to describe any medical intervention to start the labour processes artificially. It might involve medication to open your cervix, breaking your waters, or using medicine to start off your contractions — or a combination of these methods.

Infertility is when a couple have had regular unprotected sex for at least 6 to 12 months without becoming pregnant.

Internal examination is a medical assessment whereby the doctor or midwife puts 2 gloved fingers into the vagina to examine your cervix and see how open it is.

IVF (in vitro fertilisation) is a type of fertility treatment where a human egg is fertilised with a sperm in a laboratory outside of the human body.

J

Jaundice is a term used to describe a yellow discolouration of a newborn baby's skin and eyes.

K

Kangaroo care is when you hold your baby to your bare chest so your baby has direct skin-to-skin contact with you.

L

Labour is the natural process a woman’s body goes through to birth a baby. It can be divided into 3 stages — first stage of labour, second stage of labour and the third stage of labour.

Latent phase is the first phase of the first stage of labour and is when the cervix becomes thinner and begins to open (dilate) to around 4–6 centimetres in preparation for birth.

Lanugo is the fine hair that covers the body of babies in utero.

Linea nigra is a dark vertical line that runs down the middle of the abdomen; it is caused by pregnancy hormones. It usually fades away after pregnancy.

Low birthweight is when a baby weighs less than 2.5kg at birth.

M

Maternal child health nurse — see ‘Child health nurse’.

Meconium is a baby’s first few poos. These tend to be sticky, thick, dark green and happen in the first few days after birth and sometimes in utero.

Midwife is a health professional trained to support and care for women during pregnancy, labour and birth.

Miscarriage is the loss of a baby before 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Morning sickness is a common pregnancy condition, usually in the first trimester, and is a feeling of nausea or the experience of vomiting that can happen at any time of the day or night.

Morphology scan (also called 'anomaly scan' or '20-week scan') is an ultrasound done at about 18-22 weeks of pregnancy to check your baby's growth and the development of their bones and organs to make sure everything is developing as expected.

Mucus plug — see ‘A show’.

Multiple pregnancy is when you are pregnant with more than one baby.

N

Neonate (also called ‘newborn’) is the period from birth to 28 days of age.

Neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) is a dedicated area of a hospital that has specialist medical staff and equipment to care for premature and sick newborn babies.

Newborn (also called ‘neonate’) is the period from birth to 28 days of age.

Newborn screening test (also known as the ‘heel prick blood test’) is done 48 to 72 hours after a baby is born and looks for rare health conditions.

NIPT (non-invasive prenatal test) is a blood test that looks at small pieces of DNA from your pregnancy to see if there’s an increased chance that your pregnancy may have a genetic or chromosome condition.

Nitrous oxide often referred to as 'laughing gas', is a pain-relief option for labour and birth. It is a mixture of nitrous oxide and oxygen that you breathe in through a mouthpiece or mask.

Nuchal translucency scan (also called a 12-week scan). One of the key measurements taken during this ultrasound is called the nuchal translucency. This measurement provides some information to assess your baby's chance of being affected by a chromosomal condition.

O

Obstetrician is a doctor who specialises in providing medical care during pregnancy and birth.

Oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) is a blood test used to test for gestational diabetes.

Overdue is a term used to describe a pregnancy that goes beyond the estimated due date to 41 to 42 weeks of pregnancy.

Ovulation is the phase in a female menstrual cycle when a mature egg is released from one of the ovaries.

P

PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) is a common hormonal condition that can affect fertility.

Pelvic floor is the group of muscles that supports the uterus, bladder and bowel.

Perinatal is the term used to describe the time from conception and pregnancy through to the first year after birth.

Perineal massage is a technique that can be used during late pregnancy to help stretch the perineum to reduce the chances of perineal tears.

Perineal tear is a laceration of the skin, muscles and other soft tissues that separate the vaginal opening and the anus (back passage).

Perineal haematoma is a collection of blood that looks like a bruise, in the area between the vagina and the anus.

Perineum is the area of skin and muscle between the vagina and anus.

Physiological management is when the placenta is delivered without any assistance or medication during the third state of labour.

Placenta is a temporary organ that develops during pregnancy. It attaches to the uterus wall, and via the umbilical cord delivers oxygen and nutrients to the growing baby. It is birthed via the vagina or a caesarean section, after the baby is born.

Placenta praevia is a term used to describe a pregnancy complication that occurs when the placenta is close to or covering the cervix.

Posterior baby is when a baby has its back facing the mother's back.

Postnatal is the term used to describe the time immediately after birth until about 6 to 8 weeks.

Postpartum is the term used to describe the time immediately after birth until about 6 to 8 weeks. Usually referring to the mother.

Postpartum haemorrhage refers to heavier than normal bleeding after birth.

Pre-eclampsia a pregnancy complication that can develop after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Symptoms include high blood pressure and protein in the urine.

Premature is when a baby is born before 37 weeks.

Premature rupture of membranes is when your waters break before the 37th week of pregnancy.

Prolapse is the term used to describe when one of your pelvic organ's sags, bulges and/or protrudes from your vagina. This can happen after birth when the pelvic floor and supportive tissues surrounding the muscles are damaged, stretched or become too weak.

Prolonged labour — see ‘Slow progress of labour’.

R

Retained products is the medical term used to refer to placental tissue that is still in your uterus after pregnancy and birth.

Rhesus D (RhD) is a condition where antibodies in a pregnant woman's blood destroy her baby's blood cells. It's also known as 'haemolytic disease of the newborn'. Rhesus disease only happens when the mother has rhesus negative blood (RhD negative) and the baby in her uterus has rhesus positive blood (RhD positive). It can be prevented using injections of a medication called anti-D (see 'Anti-D').

S

Second degree tear is a tear to the perineum that affects the skin and muscle layers. It is usually repaired with stitches soon after the birth.

Second stage of labour is when the cervix is open (dilated) to 10 centimetres until the baby is born. Women will usually have the urge to push (or bear down) during this stage of labour.

Second trimester represents the middle part of pregnancy from about weeks 13 to 26.

Shared care is where you see your GP and midwives or obstetricians for your pregnancy care.

Shoulder dystocia is a birth complication that occurs when one of the baby’s shoulders gets stuck behind the mother’s pubic bone (the bone behind the pubic hair) or sacrum (the bone at the back of the pelvis, above the tailbone) during a vaginal birth.

Show — see 'A show'.

Slow progress of labour (also known as ‘failure to progress’ or ‘prolonged labour’) refers to when first or second stage of labour doesn’t go as quickly as expected.

Special care nursery (SCN) is a dedicated area of a hospital where a baby receives special care by trained staff.

Spontaneous labour is the term used to describe labour that starts and progresses without the use of medical intervention.

Stillbirth is the birth of a baby without signs of life after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Stretch and sweep is a procedure where your healthcare provider does an internal examination of your vagina to ‘sweep’ a finger around the opening of your cervix to try and start labour.

Stretch marks are a common condition during pregnancy where narrow pink to purple streak-like lines develop on the surface of the skin.

Surrogacy is where a person carries and gives birth to a baby for another person.

Syntocinon is a medication that is used to induce labour. It is given through your vein and is attached to a bag that will continuously deliver a small amount of the medication. It may also be used during the third managed stage of labour to help birth the placenta.

T

TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) is a form of pain relief available during labour. It works by using small pulses of electrical current delivered to the body through sticky patches placed on the lower back.

Third degree tear is a serious tear to the perineum that extends downwards from the vagina through the deeper muscles to the anal sphincter.

Third stage of labour is immediately after the baby is born until the placenta is born.

Third trimester is the last stage of pregnancy and is from week 27 until the baby is born.

Tongue-tie is a condition that restricts the tongue's range of motion and affects how a baby may breastfeed.

Transition phase is the third phase of the first stage of labour and is when the cervix becomes fully dilated, meaning that there is an opening of 10 centimetres for your baby to pass through.

U

Ultrasound is a procedure that uses soundwaves to create images of your baby while it’s in the uterus. This information can help to monitor the health and wellbeing of the mother and baby during pregnancy.

Umbilical cord is attached to the placenta and baby. It delivers the oxygen and nutrients needed to allow your baby to grow. After birth, the cord is clamped and cut, leaving a stump. This eventually falls off, healing to form the umbilicus (belly button).

Uterus (also called a womb) is an organ in the female body that holds and nurtures a baby during pregnancy.

V

Vaccination is the term used for getting a vaccine, either by an injection or an oral vaccine dose.

Varicose veins is a common condition in pregnancy where blood pools in the veins and stretches the vein walls that cause the veins to swell, twist and bulge. This is commonly seen in the legs and vulva.

VBAC (vaginal birth after caesarean) is the term used to describe women who’ve given birth by caesarean section who are trying to birth their next baby vaginally.

Ventouse (vacuum) is an instrument that is attached to the baby's head by suction. It may be used to assist you to birth your baby vaginally.

Vertex (or cephalic) is when the baby is in a head-down position ready for birth.

Viable is a medical term used to describe a pregnancy where the baby can be born and have a reasonable chance of survival.

Vulva is the term used to describe the external female sex organs.

W

Water birth is when a baby is born underwater.

Womb — see ‘Uterus’.

Last reviewed: November 2022

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