Pregnancy terms explained
Throughout your pregnancy, you will come across many new words and phrases. Here’s a glossary of pregnancy terms to help you.
When you fall pregnant, you’ll come across a wide range of medical terms that you may not have encountered before. Here, we describe some of the more common words and phrases associated with pregnancy.
Active Labour: The time from when regular contractions start and you’re around 3cm dilated until the birth of your baby.
APGAR score: A measure of your baby’s wellbeing after birth, measuring appearance (skin colour), pulse (heart rate), grimace (face reflex to stimulation), activity (movement or muscle tone) and respiration (breathing).
Amenorrhea: The absence of your menstrual period. It’s one of the first signs of pregnancy; and can last for months after the birth of your baby.
Amniotic fluid: This is the colourless liquid that surrounds and cushions the baby in the uterus, all contained within the amniotic sac. By the time your baby is due, there should be up to 1 litre of amniotic fluid.
Amniocentesis: A test that looks for chromosomal abnormalities such as Down syndrome by extracting a sample of amniotic fluid, which contains some of baby’s skin cells, using a needle.
Antenatal: The time from when you fall pregnant to just before the birth. That is, when you are pregnant.
Braxton-Hicks contractions: Quick, usually painless contractions – a tightening of your uterus – that can occur any time during pregnancy. They help to prepare the uterus for labour, like practice contractions.
Breech presentation: When your baby approaches full-term with its bottom down, instead of its head.
Cervix: The opening between the bottom of your uterus and the top of your vagina (inside).
Caesarean: The delivery of your baby via a surgical incision to your abdomen.
Chorionic villus sampling (CVS): A test that looks for chromosomal abnormalities such as Down syndrome by extracting a sample of the placenta using a needle.
Conception: The moment that a sperm and ovum (or egg) are successfully united to create an embryo.
Contractions: A sign that labour has likely started. These are involuntary tightenings of your uterus that help to move your baby down into the pelvis and eventually out of your vagina.
Ectopic pregnancy: One in which the fertilised egg is implanted outside the uterus, often in the fallopian tubes. It usually leads to miscarriage, and can also cause severe internal bleeding.
Estimated date of delivery (EDD): The date from the first day of your last period to when baby is estimated to arrive (full term). The average pregnancy length for humans is 40 weeks.
Engagement: When the widest part of your baby’s head has moved into the pelvis, ready for birth.
Epidural: An anaesthetic that can be used to alleviate pain in labour, which is inserted via catheter into the lower part of the spine. Medicine then flows into the outer lining of the spinal cord.
Episiotomy: A cut that the doctor makes in your perineum (the area between the vagina and anus) to allow baby to be born quicker in an emergency situation or help to prevent severe tearing.
Fetus: The medical name for your baby before it’s born.
Fetal heart (FH): This is your baby’s heart rate in utero (before it’s born). You’ll see it written in your chart as your pregnancy progresses.
Fetal movement (FM): A measure of your baby’s movement within the uterus, documented at every antenatal visit from 25 weeks. It is important to learn your baby’s normal pattern.
Forceps: Forceps assisted vaginal birth, sometimes used to help deliver the baby’s head.
Fundus: This is the top of the uterus. The ‘fundal’ height helps assess the growth of the baby and how many weeks pregnant you are.
Gestational diabetes: A condition that can affect some women during pregnancy, and may require insulin injections if not controlled with dietary changes. With careful management, it usually goes away after the baby is born. It is diagnosed via a second glucose tolerance test (GTT or OGTT) if your glucose screening test is high between 24 and 28 weeks.
Haemoglobin (Hb): This is the medical term for your circulating iron level. Haemaglobin is attached to each red blood cell and carries oxygen around your body. Ideally, it should be above 10.5 g/dL in pregnancy.
Hypertension: This means you’re experiencing high blood pressure.
Hypotension: This means you’re experiencing low blood pressure. Think hypo rhymes with low.
Induction: A procedure to kick-start labour artificially, and usually involves a gel inserted by the cervix (medical) and/or your waters being broken (surgical).
In vitro fertilisation (IVF): A procedure whereby eggs are removed from a woman’s ovaries and then fertilised with a man’s sperm in a laboratory. Embryos are then transplanted back into the woman’s uterus.
Last menstrual period (LMP): The first day of your last period. It is used to work out how many weeks pregnant you are.
Midwife: A person trained to best care for low-risk pregnancies, births, and newborns. They are also trained for emergencies and often work alongside an obstetrician if more specialised care is needed.
Miscarriage: When a pregnancy ends spontaneously – generally before 20 weeks – and the fetus does not survive.
Multigravida: A woman who has been pregnant before.
Nuchal translucency thickness assessment: A screening ultrasound scan done between 11 and 13 weeks to detect likelihood of chromosomal abnormalities such as Down syndrome. The scan is often done with a blood test to give a more comprehensive look.
Obstetrician: A doctor who specialises in complications with pregnancy or high risk pregnancies. They often work alongside your normal healthcare professional (midwife or GP).
Occipito anterior: When the back of your baby’s head is against the front of your pelvis. You may see LOA or ROA on your notes which means left (or right) occipito anterior. LOA is usually the best position for a shorter labour and an easier birth.
Occipito Posterior: The back of your baby’s head is against your back, which means your baby will be born looking up instead of down. You’ll often hear people say your baby is posterior.
Oxytocin: A hormone released by your pituitary gland that helps to trigger contractions. A synthetic version can be used as part of the induction process or if labour stalls.
Perineum: The area of skin between your vaginal opening and anus.
Placenta: The organ which attaches baby to the uterus (via the umbilical cord) and provides baby with oxygen, water and nutrients from your blood, and also removes waste. It is delivered (birthed) after your baby is born and accounts for around 700g of your body weight.
Placenta praevia: When the placenta is low down in your uterus and partially/fully covers the cervix. If it fully covers the cervix and blocks the baby’s exit you will need a caesarean section. Sometimes low placentas can move up and out of the way as the pregnancy progresses.
Postnatal: From the time baby is born to around 6 weeks.
Pre-eclampsia: A condition which causes high blood pressure, swelling (fluid retention) and protein in the urine. It usually occurs during the latter half of pregnancy and can be dangerous if not detected early.
Preterm birth: When your baby is born before 37 weeks of pregnancy.
Primigravida: A woman pregnant for the first time.
Relaxin: A hormone that loosens your ligaments and joints, which helps to relax the pelvis in preparation for birth.
Umbilical cord: The cord that connects your baby to the placenta, transporting nutrients and oxygen, and removing waste.
Ventouse: Vacuum assisted vaginal delivery, sometimes used to help deliver the baby’s head.