Pregnancy Terminology

by | May 29, 2021 | Labor, Pregnancy

Much like other areas of medicine and health care, pregnancy and childbirth have many specialized terms and words you may not have heard off. Some terms you may have heard about however, you may be unsure what it means. We compiled a list of several the more common terms which you can see below.


Pregnancy Glossary A-Z


Acupressure – Similar to acupuncture using pressure on the specific points instead of needles.

Acupuncture – Using thin needles to stimulate nerves, increase energy and hormone flow to provide relief, and sometimes used to help induce labor.

Afterbirth – Placenta and membranes that will be expelled after the baby is delivered.

Albumin – Protein substance found in the tissues.  When found in urine it may be a sign of a problem.

Amniotic Sac -The thin, double layer membrane or bag of water (amnion) is a balloon-like structure that keeps the amniotic fluid in. It is where the baby grows during pregnancy.

Amniotic Fluid – Provides a watery environment for the baby that helps to regulate temperature and equalize pressure from outside the womb.

Apgar Score – A scoring system for identification of immediate risk factors in newborns.  A grade 0-10 is allotted for each heart rate, respiratory effort, muscle tone, reflexes, and color – with a possible maximum score of 10. Done at 1 and 5 minutes after birth.

Areola – Darker part of the breast nipple.

Apgar Score – This is an index used to evaluate a newborn based on color, heart rate, response to stimulation, muscle tone, and respiration.  This score is from 0-10 and is done at birth and again 10 minutes later.

AROM – Artificial Rupture of Membranes is a procedure in which a sterile, plastic hook called an amnihook is used to rupture the amniotic sac just inside the cervix. This is usually done to bring the baby’s head lower and help intensify contractions.

Augmentation – The use of medication to strengthen and or increase the frequency of labor contractions or speeding up labor.



Baby Blues – A temporary condition up to 80% of new birthing parents experience soon after childbirth that includes mood swings, emotional upheavals, mild anxiety, and depression that usually resolves within 2-3 weeks.

Birth Ball – A large, inflatable exercise ball that is used in conjunction with movement, position change, and the Rebozo for non-medicated comfort measures.

Birth Canal – Passageway from the uterus to the outside opening of your body.  It is about 5 inches long and the passageway through which the baby moves during birth and delivery. (Vagina)

Bladder – A hollow organ that collects urine from the kidneys before being illuminated. As the baby grows extra pressure may be put on the bladder causing the mother to feel the urge to urinate more frequently. This also happens because of the increase in fluid volume during pregnancy, as well as the need for the mother to eliminate wastes made by the baby.

Braxton-Hix Contractions – Toning up of the uterus; starts at 34-36 weeks.  Uterine muscle contracts.  Sometimes called “false labor” it is really more like “practice” contractions or pre-labor contractions. There is no change in the cervix but this could be a way to get the baby into optimal position.

Breech – Presentation of the feet or buttocks instated of the head when a baby enters the birth canal.



Cephlo-Pelvic Disproportion – Pelvis too small to allow baby to come through.

Cervix – Neck of the uterus which opens into the vagina and dilates during labor. During most of the pregnancy, it is closed tightly and sealed with a mucous plug to prevent anything from entering the uterus.

Cesarean/C-Section – Birth of baby through surgical means.

Circumcision – Surgical removal of the foreskin of the penis.  Should be done in the first 2 weeks.

Colostrum – Thick, yellowish liquid that comes from the breast before the milk comes in. Rich in protein, antibodies, and nutrients.

Contractions – Tightening of the uterine muscles in labor.  Brings about effacement, dilation of the cervix, and descent of the baby.

Coccyx – a small bone at the base of the spine called more commonly the tail bone.

Crowning – When the baby’s head becomes visible during the pushing stage or stage 2 of labor. Crowning occurs once the head remains visible and does not move back in during contractions.



Diastasis Recti – The separation of the abdominal muscles into halves.

Descent – The movement of the baby’s head through the pelvis and birth canal.

Dilate – When the cervix opens during labor in preparation for birth measured in centimeters with 0 being not dilated and 10 being completely dilated.

Doppler – a handheld machine used to listen to your baby’s heart rate.

Doula – A professional who provides physical, emotional, and informational support during pregnancy, labor, birth, and after birth.  A postpartum doula provides the same support during the postpartum phase, while the family adjusts to having a new baby at home.



Edema – Swelling of body tissue due to retained water.

Effacement – Thinning and shortening of the cervix.

Electronic Fetal Monitoring (EFM) – using an electronic monitor to either continuously or intermittently measure the fetal heart rate during labor.

Endorphins – Chemicals released from the brain to reduce the body’s perception of pain and stress.

Engagement – Baby’s descent into the true pelvis, prior to birth.

Engorgement – Swelling of the breast tissue as blood, lymphatic fluid, and milk collect in the ducts.

Epidural – Pain management techniques using medication administered through a catheter placed in the epidural space outside the spinal cord, numbing the lower half of the body by blocking nerve impulses.

Episiotomy – Cut or incision in the perineum made just before birth to allow the baby through the vagina without tearing the tissue.  First-time births, not always the second.

E.D.C. – Due date or expected day of confinement (birth).

Estrogen – A hormone that prepares and maintains your body for pregnancy and well as increasing the uterus reactivity to oxytocin just before labor.



Ferguson Reflex – A reflex triggered as the baby’s head presses on nerve receptors in the pelvic causing the mothers to bear down or push the baby out.

Fetal Distress – Reaction of a baby to the stress of labor.  May be reflected in a slowing or speeding up of the heart rate or a stained amniotic fluid.

Fetoscope – a handheld not electric machine similar to the stethoscope used for listening to the fetal heart rate

Fetal Heart Tone (FHT) – Baby’s heart rate.  Twice as fast as mothers.

Forceps – Tong-shaped instruments used to assist the baby from the birth canal.

Fundus – The rounded upper portion of the uterus.


Gravida – Pregnant. 


Hemorrhoids – Varicose (bulging) veins of the rectum, due to pressure.

Induction – Using medications or synthetic hormones to start labor 


Internal Fetal Monitor – a small electrode placed in the baby’s scalp for a more accurate fetal heart rate.

Intrauterine Pressure Catheter (IUPC) – A small tube between the baby’s head and the uterus to measure the strength of contractions.

Involution – Shrinking of the uterus to its pre-pregnant state.

Ischial Spines – The “sit bones” known as the widest point of the pelvic opening. Used to measure the baby’s station during labor and birth. Negative numbers indicate the baby is still floating, positive numbers indicate the baby is descending.


Kegels – Repetitive contracting and relaxing the pelvic floor muscles.


Laceration – Tear in the tissue of the cervix, birth canal, or vagina.

Lactation -The nursing period, secretion of milk from the breast.

Lightening – Dropping of the baby into the pelvis; often happens around 38-40 weeks.

Lochia – Vaginal discharge after the baby is born.  Lasts 4-6 weeks.  Will change in color from bright red to yellowish through this period of time.  Can be pieces of tissue, blood clots, tissue from the uterus.


Mastitis – Inflammation of breast tissue often caused by a clogged milk duct becoming infected with bacteria.

Mature Milk – Contains more carbohydrates than transitional milk and comes in near the end of the second week after birth.

Meconium – Babies first stool, sticky and tar-like, and gradually turns to green then yellow a few days after birth.  This may be passed prior to birth causing a tint to the amniotic fluid or in larger volume a thick consistency.

Molding – Temporary shaping of the baby’s head due to pressure from birth.

Mucous Plug – Plug of mucous in the opening of the cervix at the moment of conception. Protects baby from the outside world.  Will be released shortly before labor begins.  (“bloody show”).


Occiput Anterior (OA OR Anterior) – The ideal position for a baby to be in for birth. Head down and facing mother’s back.

Occiput Posterior (OP or Posterior) – The baby is still in the head-down position only this way the baby is facing the mother’s abdomen rather than back.  Sometimes referred to as a “face-up”. This position can cause more pain during labor and birth and is sometimes reported to cause what is known as “back labor”.

Oxytocin – The hormone released signals the uterus to contract.  Also known as the love hormone it plays a role in bonding and is also released during breastfeeding and sexual activity.


Para – Number of living children.

Pelvis – Bony structure (pubic bone) protecting lower organs through which the baby must pass.

Pelvic Floor – A web of muscles, tendons, and ligaments at the base of the pelvis supporting the internal organs. Controls the start and stop of urine flow and the passage of stool.  These muscles are used to birth to your baby.

Perineum – Tissue between vagina and rectum.  When left intact during birth the perineum will help clear the mucous from the baby’s airway is what is sometimes called the “Fetal Heimlich Maneuver”.

Pitocin – Synthetic oxytocin hormone uses for labor induction or augmentation and also to control bleeding during the third stage of labor; birthing the placenta.

P.K.U./Phenylketonureia – A hormone that must be in a baby’s blood for growth and development.

Placenta – After birth, organ attached to the uterus that sustains fetal life.

Placenta Abruptio – A premature tearing away of the placenta from the uterus.  Will cause pain and bleeding at the point of tear.  Usually means immediate C-Section.

Placenta Previa – Attachment of placenta in part of in whole at the lower part of uterus covering the cervix.  May cause spotting or bleeding during the last month of pregnancy.  Usually means C-Section.

Postpartum – The six weeks to six months period after birth when the system is returning to normal.

Postpartum Mood Disorder – moderate to severe depression, anxiety, panic attacks, or other significant behavior changes after giving birth. This can happen soon after birth anytime within the first year.

Postpartum Psychosis – A rare condition with symptoms of hallucinations, extreme agitation, paranoia, or the desire to harm herself or family in the weeks or months following birth.

Precipitous Labor – Rapid labor.

Premature – Infant weighing less than 5.5 pounds or who is born before 36 weeks.

Presentation – The part of the baby “presenting” first in the pelvis and birth canal, usually the head.

PROM (Premature Rupture of Membranes) – The spontaneous rupture of the amniotic sac before the onset of labor.

Prostaglandins – Hormones the soften and ripen the cervix, allowing it to open during labor.  Synthetic prostaglandins are used to induce labor.

Pubic Bone – The front bone of the pelvis connecting the hip bones on their side containing a cartridge in the middle that allows flexibility.


Quickening – The first movement of the baby felt by the mother.  Usually around 18 weeks.  Feels like a “flutter of a butterfly”.


Relaxin – Hormones produced during pregnancy that relax the ligaments and connective tissue, including the cervix. It allows the joints to be more flexible and helps the pelvis flex to make room for the baby.


Spotting – Small amount of blood from the vagina.  Call the doctor immediately.  Can be caused by intercourse or pelvic exam.  Cervix is very vascular and soft.  Has a tendency to bleed when touched.

Sitz Bath – A shallow warm water bath used after childbirth to promote healing and alleviated discomfort in the perineum.  This can be down in the tub or with an insert you can place on the toilet. This is especially beneficial if you had stitches.

Station – Refers to the descent of the baby’s head and degree of engagement while navigating the pelvis.

Sterile Water Blocks – Injections of sterile water just below the skin on the lower back to relieve back pain during labor. 


Umbilical Cord – Structure that connects the placenta to the baby.  Baby’s lifeline.  Blood and nourishment from the mother is received via the umbilical cord (where the belly button forms).

Uterus/Womb – Pear-shaped organ, hollow, where baby burrows and grows stretching 400 times it original size during pregnancy (the uterus does not “grow” it stretches.)

Vacuum Extraction – A device that attaches to the baby’s head via vacuum that then is used by the doctor to guide the baby’s head while the parent pushes.

Vernix – A yellowish buttery-like coating covering the baby while in utero to protect the skin while swimming in amniotic fluid.

VBAC – Vaginal birth after a cesarean with one or more previous pregnancies.

Womb – Pear-shaped organ, hollow, where baby burrows and grows stretching 400 times its original size during pregnancy (the uterus does not “grow” it stretches.)


Vacuum Extraction – A device that attaches to the baby’s head via vacuum that then is used by the doctor to guide the baby’s head while the parent pushes.

Vernix – A yellowish buttery-like coating covering the baby while in utero to protect the skin while swimming in amniotic fluid.

VBAC – Vaginal birth after a cesarean with one or more previous pregnancies.


Womb – Pear-shaped organ, hollow, where baby burrows and grows stretching 400 times its original size during pregnancy (the uterus does not “grow” it stretches.)

Understanding each word that is spoken during your health care appointments is very important. We encourage you to ask each member of the team any time you don’t understand a term. We hope this article was helpful to review and better understand the terminology you will encounter.

Not sure what some medical words mean? Pregnancy terminology and abbreviations from A-Z!

The information contained on this site should not be construed as medical advice nor should it replace the advice and individual care of your health care provider.

About Me

Hi, I’m Susan Finazzo! I’m a certified Birth Doula, Birth coach, and Childbirth Educator from Port St Lucie, Florida. In addition to that, I am also a Faith-Based Counselor. I have over 10 years experience helping women having a positive birthing experience and would love to make a difference on yours too! 

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