From the moment you find out you’re pregnant, you’ll start reading and hearing a lot of new terms.
Pregnancy and childbirth = a whole new language!
Like all things to do with motherhood, there are a lot of opinions floating around when it comes to pregnancy and childbirth, which may or not be based in fact! It’s always a good idea to get informed and do your research, especially when it comes to pregnancy and childbirth because like I always say; knowledge equals power.
I’ve collated a list of the most common terms used in pregnancy and childbirth – some are medical and others are more informal, but you’re bound to hear some if not most of these terms at some stage on your journey to motherhood.
Think of this as a quick reference guide, your mini-glossary on all things pregnancy, childbirth and newborns.
The process of growing and birthing a baby involves four key hormones, each with a unique role to play in pregnancy and labour.
Adrenaline – both adrenaline and non-adrenaline (our flight or fight hormones) have a role to play in childbirth. Adrenalin helps start the labour process while non-adrenaline activates the fetal ejection reflex and instinctive mothering behaviour.
Endorphins – there are a number of endorphins that are secreted during pregnancy and childbirth acting as a natural painkiller and enhancing feelings of pleasure and euphoria –which help labouring mums get through some of the most intense phases of childbirth!
Oxytocin – commonly known as the love hormone, oxytocin is secreted during pregnancy to reduce stress, conserve energy by making us sleepy and to enhance nutrient absorption. Oxytocin also stimulates contractions during labour and finally to birth the placenta.
Prolactin – also known as the mothering hormone, prolactin is secreted during pregnancy and peaks at childbirth. It plays an important role is breastmilk production, breastfeeding and nurturing behaviour in both mothers and fathers (yes, Dad’s also get a boost of prolactin and can increase their levels by wearing the baby and lots of skin to skin time!)
Birth plan + wishes
Birth plans have become quite the buzz words in the pregnancy and childbirth world. Essentially, a birth plan is a written plan of how the mother wants her birth to take place, indicating what, if any, interventions and pain relief she would like, who will be present, labouring positions, who will cut the cord, right down to what music will be played.
On the other hand, birth wishes are more flexible. Preferences are listed but there is more flow and room for change on the day. Changing the wording and mindset around a ‘plan’ to ‘wishes’ removes some of the pressure and subsequent disappointment if things don’t go to plan.
My take on Birth Plans is that they can set you up for disappointment, how will you feel if your plan doesn’t go to plan? Stay tuned for an upcoming blog post about Birth Plans and Birth Wishes.
Braxton Hicks are essentially practice contractions, tightenings as your uterus warms up for the real thing! If it is your first pregnancy, sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference between the two, however generally Braxton Hicks aren’t as intense, there’s no regular pattern and they don’t get stronger. If in doubt, always check with your midwife or hospital.
Breech Pregnancy + breech birth + transverse + anterior + posterior
Breech pregnancy or breech presentation refers to the position of your baby in the uterus. Usually, by 35-36 weeks, bub will have moved into the head-down position in preparation for birth. When they remain bottom down, this is known as the breech position.
Breech birth is when a baby is born bottom first. In many cases, a mother may be encouraged or opt to have a C-section if their baby is in a breech position. It is possible to give birth to a baby in the breech position however it will depend on the baby’s overall health, mother’s preference and the skill and experience of the attending midwife and/or obstetrician.
The anterior position is the most ‘ideal’ and common position for childbirth. This is when the baby is head-down and the back of their head is facing outwards.
The posterior position is when the baby is head-down but the back of the baby’s head is facing the mother’s spine. This can potentially slow labour down or make it more difficult.
Transverse refers to when the baby is lying sideways in the uterus. A baby in the transverse position at term cannot be born vaginally.
C-section + caesarean section
A Caesarean section or C-section, as they are sometimes referred to, is a medical operation whereby your baby is born via an incision made through the abdomen and uterus. Caesarean sections are performed for a number of reasons and may be planned or unplanned. We have a whole post on Caesarean sections coming soon, as well as our C-section video module in the Birth Beat online course – stay tuned for updates!
Dilate + dilation
During childbirth, dilate and dilation refers to the process of your cervix softening and opening. You may hear about your cervix being 5cm or 6cm dilated, and this is referring to the diameter of your cervix as it gradually widens during labour. The cervix needs to dilate to approximately 10cm before the ‘pushing’ stage of labour can begin.
Epidural + spinal block
An epidural is a procedure used for pain relief during childbirth. A local anaesthetic is injected into the area around the spinal nerves in your lower back, relieving the intensity of pain experienced during contractions.
A spinal block is also used for pain relief during childbirth, differing from an epidural as the anaesthetic is delivered directly into the spinal fluid. A spinal block is also used during a Caesarean section so that you have no sensation from the waist down but are able to remain awake for the procedure.
An episiotomy is a surgical incision of the perineum made by an obstetrician or midwife that is made in order to widen the opening of the vagina to assist in the delivery of the baby. There are several reasons for an episiotomy being performed, such as needing to birth the baby quickly or if the mother or bub are in distress after a long labour.
Pregnancy is divided into three trimesters, each lasting approximately 3 months.
First trimester from conception through to 13 weeks.
Second trimester from 14 through to 26 weeks.
Third trimester from 27 through to 40 weeks.
Fundal height is a term used to describe the measurement between to pubic bone and the top of the uterus and is one method used to approximate the growth rate and position of your baby. After 20 weeks gestation, this measurement generally aligns with the number of weeks you are pregnant. For example, at 24 weeks the fundal height is usually between 22-26cms.
Gestation + full term + premature
Gestation is the period of time between conception and birth. A ‘normal’ pregnancy is defined as being anywhere between 37- and 41-weeks’ gestation, although some pregnancies can be up to 42 weeks.
Full-term is a gestation of 37 weeks and over. A baby born prior to 37 weeks may require special care.
Premature is used to describe a baby that is born before 37 weeks gestation. Premature babies are sometimes referred to as premmies or prem.
Induction + induced labour
An induction or induced labour is when labour is brought on artificially. There are a number of procedures involved which can include; a membrane sweep or ‘stretch and sweep’, prostaglandin – a hormone-like substance that helps to ripen the cervix which may in-turn stimulate labour, artificial rupture of the membranes (manually breaking your waters) and finally administering Syntocinon which is a synthetic form of the hormone oxytocin to kick-start contractions.
You may be offered an induction if you’re overdue (individual hospitals and caregivers have guidelines for what is considered overdue and when an induction is recommended) or if there are concerns for the mother or baby’s health due to a medical condition such as gestational diabetes or preeclampsia.
Intervention + cascade of intervention
An intervention is any procedure that is performed during childbirth that doesn’t happen naturally. This can refer to induction methods, pain relief including epidurals, an episiotomy, use of forceps etc.
The cascade of intervention refers to the process whereby one intervention will often lead to the need for further intervention.
Meconium is the medical term for your baby’s first poop! It’s often a greenish-black colour, thick and sticky. If a baby does its first poo while in utero, the meconium will stain the waters causing them to have a greenish, dirty tinge – if you notice this when your waters break it’s important to advise your health practitioner immediately as it can pose a health threat to your baby.
Midwife + Obstetrician
Midwife – a midwife is a nurse that specialises in the care of women during pregnancy, childbirth and also newborn babies up until they are 6-weeks old. In Australia, midwives must hold a university degree which can be studied as either a postgraduate degree by registered nurses or more recently as a Bachelor of Midwifery, which can be completed without needing to become a registered nurse first.
Obstetrician – an obstetrician is a medical doctor who specialises in the care of women during pregnancy and childbirth. Depending on your model of care (public or private) you may only see an obstetrician if you have a high-risk pregnancy or if there are complications during childbirth.
Mucous plug + bloody show
Early in during pregnancy a mucous plug forms to seal the cervix and prevent infection. Often times losing your mucous plug or having a bloody show is an early sign that labour is imminent. It sounds pretty gross, but it essentially looks like a flem golly! Every woman, pregnancy and childbirth experience are different, so labour could still be a week off or just a few hours away.
The perineum is the fleshy area of skin and muscle tissue between the vagina and the anus. During childbirth, this area stretches as the baby is pushed out and can sometimes tear. There are a number of exercises, massage techniques and birthing positions that can minimise perineal tearing – I’ve written a whole blog post about this, check it out here.
The word natal means relating to the place or time of birth.
Pre and ante both mean before/prior/earlier – so prenatal and antenatal both refer to the period while you are pregnant but before you give birth. It’s confusing but they both mean the same thing!
Post means after – therefore postnatal is the period after your baby is born.
Skin-to-skin is the skin to skin contact between a newborn and mum. Once bub is born, immediate skin to skin contact is considered best for both mum and baby – one key reason being that this process naturally stimulates the release of oxytocin (the love hormone) which plays an important role in bonding and also to help ensure the uterus shrinks back down to its normal size.
Skin-to-skin is not just for Mummas either! Skin-to-skin between bub and Dad soon after birth can help with the release of dopamine (the feel-good hormone), prolactin and oxytocin, effectively rewiring dad’s brain to help natural parenting instincts kick in!
Stages of labour
There are three distinct stages of labour, each with their own sensations and purpose.
Check out our Birth Beat Stages of Labour Reference Guide here.
Early Labour – the very beginning where your cervix starts to thin, mild contractions, cervix 0-4cms dilated.
Established labour – contractions become closer together and more intense, cervix 4-8cms dilated.
Transition – contractions as intense as they will get, cervix 8-10cm dilated.
Birth – This is where you push and birth your bub out into the world!
Stage Three – birthing the placenta which normally takes place within 30 minutes of your baby being born.
Uterus + in utero + womb + placenta
Uterus – the uterus is a reproductive organ which connects to the fallopian tubes at the top and the cervix at the base, which then opens into the vagina. This is where your baby is conceived and grows throughout your pregnancy.
Womb – another term for the uterus.
In-utero – the period of time before birth, when your baby is growing inside the uterus.
Placenta – the placenta is the only transient organ grown by the human body – how cool is that?! Our amazing bodies literally grow an organ for each pregnancy! The placenta attaches itself to the inside wall of the uterus and connects to the baby via the umbilical cord, delivering vital nutrients and oxygen throughout the pregnancy.
Vernix or vernix caseosa is a white, creamy substance that forms on the skin of babies during the third trimester. It’s nature’s way of protecting babies’ delicate skin while in the amniotic fluid for 40 weeks and also forms a protective barrier once born. Vernix has anti-microbial, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, all of which are wonderful for newborns and acts as a natural lubricant in the birth canal.
Don’t forget, if your GP, midwife or health care professional uses a term that you’re unfamiliar with, make sure you ask them to clarify. Don’t pretend to understand something when you don’t because you could miss important details.
Our Birth Beat Childbirth Class covers all these terms and more in detail, with examples, demonstrations and complete explanations so that you and your partner feel prepared.