I get it – navigating the maze of medical jargon and birth terminology as a first-time mum can feel like you’re deciphering a foreign language.
Especially when you’re already juggling a mix of excitement and nerves about giving birth.
Believe me, you’re not the only one feeling this way.
We’ve carefully crafted a list of birth terminology just for you.
Armed with this knowledge, you’ll be able to approach your labour and birth with confidence, but you’ll also be prepared to voice your wants and needs during this amazing journey.
Lets get to it.
101 birth terminology to know for your big day
Inside your uterus is a special lining called the endometrium.
It’s like the comfy bed where the baby snuggles for nine months.
The endometrium lining sheds once a month which is what causes you to have your period.
- Fertility awareness
This is all about understanding the signs your body gives you to show when you’re most likely to get pregnant.
It’s all very Sherlock Holmes – tracking your body temperature, checking cervical mucus, and counting days on the calendar to work out when you’re ovulating.
Remember: stress is a huge contributing factor towards difficulty falling pregnant, so make sure if you are trying, not to get too caught up in it all and try to have some fun along the way.
- In vitro fertilization (IVF)
Now, here’s a fact for you: “in vitro” is Latin for “in glass”, which is why we may hear IVF babies referred to as “test-tube babies”.
It’s the process where an egg from a woman and sperm from a man are joined together outside the body.
Once they’ve had a little dance and merged, the fertilised egg is then placed into the woman’s womb to grow and develop.
You might already know about this, and if you don’t you will definitely know the feeling.
It’s that short period of time at the end of the first week or the beginning of your second week after your period has ended where you feel super frisky and sexy…well that’s how other women describe it.
This is when your egg is released and your body goes into baby-making mode.
- Amniotic fluid
It’s a special fluid that surrounds your little one in the womb, giving them a safe and protective environment.
Interesting fact: After about 20 weeks of pregnancy, your baby’s urine makes up most of the fluid. It’s perfectly normal and is part of their diet in the womb.
It’s the medical term for “before birth.”
You’ll often hear it in terms like ‘antenatal classes’ – those are just courses for parents-to-be.
- Birthing ball
Ever seen those big rubber balls at the gym?
Well, a birthing ball is basically the same thing and can be used in so many ways when you’re preparing for birth and during your labour.
Sitting, bouncing or leaning on it can offer some much-needed comfort.
- Birth plan
Think of this as your personal “instruction manual” for how you’d like your baby’s birth to go.
It covers everything from who you want in the delivery room with you, to whether you want music playing.
Having a birth plan gives you the best chance of getting the birth that you wish for.
It’s also a good idea to have a plan B in your birth plan so that if it doesn’t go as you’d hoped, you have alternatives.
- Birthing pool
It’s a specially designed bathtub filled with warm water to help you relax during labour.
The warmth not only eases your muscles but can also enhance the release of endorphins and boost blood flow to the uterine muscles.
This natural boost can help you manage labour pains, reducing the need for pain medication and lowering the risk of tearing.
Some hospitals will allow you to birth your baby in the pool so make sure to ask.
Picture a combination of a mentor, a coach, and a comforting presence all wrapped into one.
A doula is there to assist, guide, and reassure you throughout the childbirth process and into parenthood.
They’re not medical professionals but have received training to offer support during the journey of childbirth.
This includes pregnancy, birth and postpartum, some even offer help during the night.
This is a rare but serious condition.
Following preeclampsia (a condition characterised by high blood pressure), eclampsia can cause seizures in the mother.
Immediate medical attention is crucial for the safety of both mum and baby.
Think of it as a special stethoscope (that thing that doctors carry around their necks in medical shows)
It’s used by midwives and doctors to listen to a baby’s heartbeat when they’re still inside your belly.
After the embryonic stage in the early weeks of pregnancy, your growing baby takes on the title of “fetus” until birth.
This term refers to the developmental stages, where your little one is growing organs, limbs, and all the essential bits.
This is the top part of your uterus.
During pregnancy check-ups, your midwife might measure how high it is to check on your baby’s growth.
Did you know: Throughout your pregnancy, your uterus expands an impressive amount – going from the size of a pear to about the size of a large watermelon?
Your body is AMAZING!
This one’s straightforward.
It’s simply the time that your baby spends growing inside you.
From the moment of conception until they decide it’s time to greet the world.
- Gestational diabetes
This is a temporary form of diabetes that some women might develop during pregnancy.
It affects how the body processes sugar.
While it usually resolves after giving birth, it’s vital to manage it during pregnancy to ensure both mum and baby stay healthy.
- Kegel exercises
Now these are golden!
Kegel exercises are all about giving some love to your pelvic floor muscles.
By squeezing and relaxing these muscles, you help them stay strong, which can make childbirth and recovery a bit smoother.
Did you know: Kegel exercises are not only fab for pregnancy, but they can also help you spice up your intimate life.
Think of a midwife as your ultimate birth cheerleader.
They’re health pros trained to support healthy women during the whole birthing journey – that’s before, during, and after that precious little one arrives.
Similarly, if you’ve been pregnant more than once, even if this is your first birth, you’re a multigravida.
- Morning sickness
Ugh! Even the mention of it might bring up some queasy memories.
It’s that pesky nausea and vomiting that can sometimes tag along with pregnancy.
Interesting Fact: Despite its name, morning sickness can strike at any time of the day.
Now I’m sure you’ve heard of this before.
You might suddenly get the strong desire to get everything set up at home for your new arrival.
It’s like an instinctual signal that the baby’s arrival is near, and everything has to be just perfect.
You might find yourself reorganising the nursery or cleaning parts of the house you didn’t know existed.
If the midwife is the birth cheerleader, think of the obstetrician as the coach.
They’re doctors specialising in everything pregnancy and childbirth.
- Pelvic floor
Think of this as a supportive hammock made up of muscles, ligaments, and tissues.
It holds up some key players: your bladder, uterus, vagina, and rectum.
Keeping this area strong can make a huge difference in things such as bladder control, especially after giving birth.
These doctors specialise in high-risk pregnancies, ensuring both mum and baby get the best care possible, especially when things might be a bit more complicated.
A perinatologist can also be called a ‘maternal-fetal medicine specialist’.
It sounds a bit like a spell from Harry Potter, but it’s serious stuff.
During pregnancy, some women might face high blood pressure and organ damage with preeclampsia.
It’s important to get treatment for this before it turns into eclampsia.
This is everything before the big birthday! Think scans, kicks, and that growing bump. It’s all the magic leading up to meeting your baby.
This means a baby is born before the typical 40-week pregnancy term, specifically before the 37-week mark.
Preterm babies might face health challenges since some of their vital organs might not be fully developed.
This is why they often require special care immediately after birth.
Did you know: the lungs are the last thing to develop before birth?
Sometimes if you go into labour before your estimated due date, they’ll give steroids to try and help your baby’s lungs develop before they’re born.
Are you having your very first baby?
Then in the medical world, you’d be called a primipara.
It’s a fancy term for first-time mums.
Refers to pregnancies that have extended beyond 42 weeks.
Such pregnancies might require closer monitoring due to potential risks, but most of the time your body and baby will know exactly what to do and will go into labour when they’re ready.
Your body also can’t cook a baby that is too big for it to birth.
Your doctor or midwife might try to push you into having an induction because you’re past your due date, but it’s important to listen to your body and do what feels right for you.
Keep in mind they often try fear-mongering techniques.
The beautiful moment a mother first feels her baby’s movements.
It might feel like flutters initially and generally happens between 18 to 25 weeks.
- Rh factor
A protein that might be found on the surface of red blood cells.
If an Rh-negative mother carries an Rh-positive baby, there might be health risks which can be managed with medical intervention (RhoGAM).
Think of this as a protective shot for certain pregnant women.
If a mum-to-be has a different blood type to her baby, this shot can prevent potential complications.
So, in essence, it’s a little safeguard against any Rh factor incompatibility issues.
- Stem cells
These are unique cells that can divide and become specialised types of cells.
Because of this unique ability, there’s a lot of research around their potential use in treating diseases and health conditions.
Pregnancy is generally split into three trimesters.
Each carries its own set of developmental milestones and symptoms for the mother.
The first is 0-12 weeks, the second is 13-26 weeks, and the third is 27-40 weeks.
An amazing tool that uses sound waves to produce a visual representation of your baby inside the womb.
It’s used to monitor the baby’s growth, and position, and sometimes even to determine the baby’s gender.
The first is normally in the first trimester to confirm the due date.
The second is between 18-22 weeks to confirm normal anatomy and the sex of the baby.
These scans aren’t essential, most mums have them to find out the gender.
- Umbilical cord
A baby’s lifeline in the womb, it’s a flexible, tube-like structure that carries oxygen and nutrients from the placenta to the baby and removes the baby’s waste products.
An essential part of the female reproductive system.
It’s a muscular organ where the foetus develops.
During childbirth, the muscles of the uterus contract to help push the baby out.
- Uterine fibroids
Benign (noncancerous) tumours that grow in the uterus.
While they’re not typically dangerous, they can cause discomfort and complications.
Just another word for the uterus, where all the magic of baby-growing happens.
The very first stage of human development.
When a sperm successfully fertilises an egg, the resulting single cell is termed a zygote.
This cell starts to divide and eventually develops into an embryo.
- Apgar score
After babies are born, they get a quick test to see how they’re doing.
It checks things like heart rate and muscle tone.
It’s a swift way to make sure they’re off to a great start.
This test can wait until after the golden hour and is able to be done while still having skin-to-skin with Mum, so you don’t lose any of your precious bonding time.
- Birth canal
This is the superhighway your baby travels down to enter the world.
It’s made up of the uterus and the vagina.
- Braxton hicks
These can catch you off guard!
They’re like practice contractions before labour starts.
They happened when your uterus tightens to prepare for labour.
Think of them as your body’s way of rehearsing for the big day.
Some babies like to keep things interesting.
If they’re sitting feet-first in the womb, rather than the usual head-down position, they’re in what’s called a breech position.
If your baby is in a breech position you can still have a vaginal birth!!!
- Caesarean section (C-Section)
Sometimes, babies need a different kind of entrance.
This is a surgical way of bringing your baby into the world and is sometimes called a ‘belly birth’.
Doctors make careful incisions in the mum’s belly and uterus to safely deliver the baby.
- Cascade of intervention
The cascade of intervention refers to a series of medical procedures that can happen during childbirth.
Simply, when one medical procedure is done, it can sometimes lead to another and another.
For example: If you choose to be induced with pitocin, your contractions can become more painful than usual causing you to want an epidural.
An epidural will normally stop you from moving around, which as a result can slow down your progression.
This may then result in you opting to have a c-section because you’re exhausted and aren’t progressing.
I’ve seen it so many times.
It’s like a row of dominoes — once one falls, it can make the next one fall too.
It’s important to understand this so you can make informed decisions about your birth experience.
Remember, you always have a say in your care.
This is the gold standard for baby positions.
When your baby’s head is down and ready to lead the way in birth, they’re in a cephalic position.
These are rhythmic tightenings of the uterus muscles.
As labour progresses, these contractions intensify, helping to push your baby down the birth canal.
They also aid in opening up the cervix, the doorway your baby needs to pass through.
- Contractions monitor
This nifty device tracks how often you’re having contractions, how long they last, and how strong they are.
Keep in mind it’s completely up to you if you want to be monitored.
This is a pivotal moment during labour.
It’s when the widest part of your baby’s head is visible at the entrance of the vagina and remains visible without slipping back in.
It’s a signal that the birth of your baby is imminent, and you’re on the home stretch (pun intended).
Imagine the cervix as a door.
Before labour, this door is shut tight.
As labour progresses, the door gradually opens to allow your baby to pass through.
Doctors and midwives will often measure how wide it’s opened in centimetres, and once you hit 10 centimetres, it’s fully dilated, meaning it’s time to push.
This is not always the case though, your body may be ready to push before you reach 10cm.
This is also something that you can add to your birth plan — whether you want to be checked during labour or not.
This is YOUR decision and you should give your consent EVERY time before they check.
Think of this as your baby getting ready for their big debut.
When we say the baby’s head is “engaged”, it means it’s snugly settled into your pelvis, all set for birth.
This is all about getting the cervix ready for your baby’s grand entrance.
As you get closer to giving birth, the cervix thins and shortens, making it easier for your baby to pass through.
This is a big word for a special kind of pain relief.
An anaesthetist administers medicine into the space around your spinal cord.
It provides relief by numbing the lower half of your body, making contractions more bearable.
Sometimes, to make the delivery smoother and prevent tearing, a small cut is made in the perineum (the area between the vagina and anus).
It’s done with utmost precision, and stitched up after delivery and heals with time.
9/10 times an episiotomy is not needed, it’s better to tear naturally as it heals faster in most cases.
- Foetal distress
It sounds alarming, but it essentially signals that the baby might not be getting enough oxygen or could be having some difficulty.
This is why monitoring during labour is used, so the medical team can take swift action if needed.
- Foetal monitoring
It’s a way for doctors and midwives to keep a close eye on your baby’s heart rate and ensure everything’s ticking along as it should be.
Keep in mind you can request not to have monitoring if you don’t want to.
Babies are born with these unique soft spots on their skulls.
They enable the skull to be flexible during childbirth, making passage through the birth canal smoother.
Over time, these soft spots harden as the bones fuse together.
This might sound a tad medieval, but it’s a tool sometimes used in childbirth.
Sometimes, if the baby needs a bit of guidance during the final stages of birth, forceps can assist the baby’s head out.
However, this can cause trauma to the baby’s head and the woman’s vagina.
If labour isn’t starting naturally or there are concerns for the health of the mother or baby, medical methods, like Pitocin or breaking the waters, might be used to kickstart the process.
This simply refers to the time period from when you start your labour to when you birth the placenta.
This is like your baby’s fur coat, made of the softest and finest hair.
Some babies are born with it, especially if they’re a bit early, but it usually sheds off soon after birth.
- Leopold’s manoeuvres
No, this isn’t a dance move!
It’s a hands-on approach doctors and midwives use to feel and figure out how your baby is positioned in your womb — head down, feet first, and so on.
When babies are born (sometimes before), they do their very first poo, which is unlike any other they’ll have.
It’s sticky, thick, and greenish-black, made up of materials the baby consumed while in the womb, like amniotic fluid, mucus, and skin cells.
It might sound a bit peculiar, but it’s entirely normal.
Within a few days, as the baby starts digesting milk or formula, their poo will begin to change in consistency and colour.
- Meconium aspiration
Sometimes, babies have their first poo while they’re still inside your womb.
If they inhale this, it can lead to some breathing troubles once they’re out in the world.
Don’t fret too much; medical professionals are well-equipped to handle it, it’s more common than you think.
Your home birth midwife will also be able to manage this.
Did you know: Babies begin to produce meconium around the 12th to 16th week of gestation?
- Mucus plug
Sounds a bit icky, right?
It’s actually a helpful thing.
It’s like nature’s sealant, blocking the entrance to the cervix, keeping your baby safe and snug.
When you’re nearing labour, it might make an exit, signalling that game time is near.
You might have heard of “prenatal” or “postnatal”.
Anything ‘natal’ relates to the time around birth.
- Natural childbirth
Natural childbirth is about letting nature take its course, and often without the use of medical interventions such as epidurals or c-sections.
Instead, natural forms of pain relief are used — combs, birthing pool, shower, movement, massage, or acupressure just to name a few.
- Nuchal cord
Sometimes, during their time in the womb, babies might get a bit playful, resulting in the umbilical cord wrapped around their neck.
While it can sound scary, it’s actually quite common and doesn’t always cause problems.
Dubbed the ‘love hormone’, oxytocin causes the uterus to contract.
Sometimes, if labour’s dragging its feet, you might get a bit of this to move things along.
Interesting fact: You can boost your oxytocin by hugging and kissing your significant other.
So, don’t be shy to have a good smooch during labour. You’d be surprised at how many times this has helped labour progress.
It’s the stretch of real estate between the vagina and anus.
Sometimes, during the big push, it can tear a bit.
Sounds a bit grim, but it’s all part of the journey.
Interesting Fact: Some mums swear by perineal massage before birth to reduce the risk of tearing!
Your body produces a hormone called oxytocin, which helps get labour going.
If you are induced, they use Pitocin, which is the synthetic version of oxytocin.
It’s given to kick-start or strengthen your contractions.
Keep in mind that this also means that the contractions can become more painful than usual and will most likely result in what’s called the ‘cascade of intervention’.
This organ is the baby’s lifeline, delivering all the vital nutrients and oxygen.
It also acts as the connection point between mother and baby.
This amazing organ filters the mother’s blood before passing it on to the baby.
And it even takes the baby’s toxins out so that the mother’s kidneys can filter and get rid of it.
- Placental abruption
A more serious one, this.
It’s when the hardworking placenta detaches from the uterus, either partially or completely.
It’s vital to get medical attention as soon as possible if this happens.
- Placenta previa
This is when the placenta, covers the cervix.
It can make vaginal birth a bit tricky and sometimes results in a c-section.
- Prolapsed cord
This is also a serious one.
It’s when the umbilical cord decides to make an appearance before the baby, dropping through the cervix and into the vagina.
If this happens, medical professionals will be right on it to ensure both you and your baby are safe.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t deliver vaginally.
Now, these might sound super sci-fi, they’re hormones made in the uterus.
They have one very cool job: causing the muscles of the uterus to contract.
When it’s game time for childbirth, these kick things off.
- Rupture of membranes (ROM)
The amniotic sac surrounds and protects your baby inside the uterus.
When this sac breaks or tears, the amniotic fluid inside it is released.
It’s the body’s way of signalling it’s preparing for birth, though actual labour might not start immediately.
This describes the loss of a baby after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
The causes can vary from infections to birth defects, and it’s a deeply traumatic event for families.
If this happens to you, your doula can help you by bringing together your support network while you process it all.
They can also help recognise any signs of PPD or help find support groups for you to join.
Ever been to the Emergency room, and had to wait for a nurse to see how bad your injury is?
In the labour and delivery world, it’s a spot where they check out how a pregnant woman is doing.
They’ll see how her labour’s progressing and what kind of care she might need.
If labour were a marathon, the transition would be that gruelling final stretch before the finish line.
It’s when the cervix is working super hard, dilating from 8 to 10 centimetres.
It’s intense, but remember – it means you’re almost there!
If there’s a risk of premature labour, tocolytics might be administered.
They are drugs that can delay labour, giving the baby more time to develop.
- Vaginal birth
When a baby is delivered through the vaginal passage.
It’s a natural process but can sometimes be assisted with tools if required.
- VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean)
If a mother has had a c-section in a previous birth but wishes to have a vaginal birth for her next baby, this is termed VBAC.
There are certain risks and factors to consider, so make sure to do your research and find a birth team that can support you.
The first milk you produce is liquid gold!
It’s thick, often golden-yellow, and packed with antibodies to give your baby a fantastic start in life.
It’s nature’s way of giving your newborn an immunity boost from day one.
- Group B Streptococcus (GBS)
This is one of the many bacteria that can live in our bodies without causing harm.
However, during childbirth, there’s a chance it can be passed to the baby.
Testing and monitoring during pregnancy can help manage any risks.
It’s not uncommon for newborns to have a yellowish tint to their skin or eyes shortly after birth.
This is due to a substance called bilirubin.
It’s usually harmless and often clears up on its own, but in some cases, babies might need a bit of blue light therapy to help.
Simply put, it’s the term for producing breast milk.
Humans are mammals, and this is our way of ensuring our newborns get the nutrients they need.
Our bodies are pretty clever, right?
Forget the breathing you see in movies; Lamaze is a method that combines breathing techniques with relaxation and education to empower mothers during childbirth.
After childbirth, the body naturally rids itself of the lining of the womb that supported the baby.
This discharge, known as lochia, can last for a few weeks postpartum and will gradually lessen in volume and change in colour.
This is the heart-wrenching term for when a pregnancy sadly ends on its own, usually before the 20th week.
It’s tough, and it’s something many women face.
You’re not alone.
If you have a doula, they will often organise your support network to help you through your time of grieving with cooking, cleaning and other help you may need.
This is a fancy term for a newborn baby.
Those squishy, cuddly little beings that smell oh-so-good.
After birth, you enter the ‘postpartum’ stage, also known as the 4th trimester, which lasts about 6 weeks after birth.
It’s everything that happens after childbirth – from healing to cuddling.
- Postpartum depression (PPD)
After birth, some mums feel more than just the ‘baby blues’.
It’s a deeper sadness called PPD.
Remember, it’s important to seek help if you feel this way.
And remember, PPD can affect dads too.
- SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome)
A deeply tragic event, when a baby, typically younger than a year, dies in their sleep with no clear reason.
There are guidelines to help minimise the risk, such as placing babies on their backs to sleep.
- Vacuum extraction
Sometimes during the pushing stage of labour, if there’s a need, a vacuum device might be used to guide the baby’s head out of the birth canal.
A thick, creamy substance that covers babies in the womb to protect their skin from the amniotic fluid.
It also aids in childbirth as it’s slippery.
- Vit K
Short for Vitamin K.
This is given to newborns as an injection to prevent a rare but serious blood disorder.
This disorder can cause unexpected bleeding, so the injection acts as a little shield for your baby.
This is an optional and highly recommended treatment that most babies have after they’re born and will normally be given at the same time as their first Hep B vaccine.
Remember, these are both optional, do your research to help you decide what you’d like to do and include this in your birth plan so your birth team is aware.
Empower yourself with birth terminology
When you understand the language, you’ll feel more in control.
You can ask the right questions and make choices that feel right for you.
And trust me, feeling empowered and in the know?
That’s one of the best gifts you can give yourself.
So, before the big day, maybe take some time, grab a snack, and read up on these key birth terms.
Not only will it give you peace of mind, but it’ll also help you be ready for your adventure ahead.