Pregnancy Glossary: Must-Know Terms for Expecting Parents

As an expectant mother, do you ever feel overwhelmed by all of the medical terminology out there surrounding pregnancy? Don’t fret — we’ve compiled this pregnancy glossary to help you understand the vocabulary you’ll hear at the doctor’s office, from family and friends, in books, and on the internet. Here are the terms to know for pregnancy from A to Z.

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1st stage of labor: When contractions are close together and strong enough to bring about a change in the mother’s cervical dilation. This stage ends when she is 10 centimeters dilated.

2nd stage of labor: This is the pushing and delivery stage, which can last anywhere from 20 minutes to 3+ hours. Here, contractions are slower — clocking in at about 2 to 5 minutes apart — and last 60 to 90 seconds. With each contraction, mom pushes until the baby moves down the birth canal.

3rd stage of labor: Also called the placenta delivery. This is when the mother’s uterus mildly contracts to push the placenta out. She may not even feel it or know it’s happening.

1st trimester: From conception (when the mother’s egg is fertilized by the father’s sperm) until the 12th week of pregnancy. Commonly the hardest stage of pregnancy for lots of moms because of the exhaustion, nausea, and sudden onset of hormones.

2nd trimester: Weeks 13 through 26 of pregnancy. Some women claim this is the “honeymoon” phase of pregnancy when they’re the most comfortable.

3rd trimester: Weeks 27 through 40 of pregnancy, or until baby is delivered.

4th trimester: Typically the 12-week period after a woman has given birth during which the mother undergoes immense physical and emotional changes as the baby adjusts to being outside the womb and she adjusts to her new role.


Abdomen: The area of the body located below the chest that encompasses the stomach, intestines, and liver, as well as other organs. The uterus is located at the pelvis, which is the lowest part of the abdomen, although it will push up and expand as far as the chest throughout pregnancy.

Abortion: Terminating a pregnancy by removing the fetus from the womb.

Abortion, spontaneous: Occurs when a natural miscarriage occurs that was not induced artificially.

Abruption: Occurs when the placenta separates from the uterine wall before the baby is born. Symptoms typically include bleeding and abdominal pain.

Abscess: A pus-filled cavity in the breast of a nursing mother that can result from untreated mastitis (breast infection). Symptoms include swelling, tenderness, localized heat, throbbing pain, and fever. Antibiotics and (in more severe cases) surgical drainage can be used to treat an abscess.

Active labor: A time period during the first stage of labor when the cervix dilates from approximately 3 to 7 centimeters for approximately 2 to 4 hours (on average). The contractions during active labor are strong,  long, and frequent, lasting about 40 to 60 seconds each for 3 to 4 minutes.

Acupressure: A form of alternative medicine rooted in ancient Chinese practices that uses pressure administered from the fingers to heal and soothe aches and pains. It can help expectant moms combat morning sickness, labor pain, and back pain during pregnancy.

Acupuncture: A form of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) wherein thin needles are inserted into the body, stimulated, and manipulated to ease pain and balance a person’s energy flow. It can help expectant moms combat morning sickness, labor pains, and back pains during pregnancy and delivery.

Afterbirth: The placenta and other tissues affiliated with fetal development that are expelled after a baby is born.

Afterpains: Cramping triggered by the contractions in the postpartum phase as the mother’s uterus shrinks back to its normal size and descends back into her pelvis.

Alexander Technique: Typically used in childbirth education classes, this is the conscious control over posture and movement to help a laboring mother cope with labor pains.

Albumin: A protein found in the urine of a pregnant woman that can be a sign of preeclampsia.

Alpha-fetoprotein: A protein substance produced by the fetus and found in the mother’s blood that in high concentrations can indicate a neural tube defect or multiple pregnancy.

Alpha-fetoprotein test: A blood test that screens for an increased risk of the baby having a birth defect. It’s typically administered to a pregnant woman between the 15th and 18th weeks of pregnancy. It’s used to decide whether more invasive testing is necessary, like an amniocentesis.

Alveoli: Tiny milk-producing sacs that are clustered throughout a woman’s breast tissue.

Amenorrhea: When menstruation does not occur.

Amniocentesis: A diagnostic analysis that tests the fluid inside the amniotic sac to determine whether the fetus has any abnormalities. Usually performed between the 15th and 20th weeks of pregnancy, in which a hollow needle is inserted through the mother’s abdominal wall. The test is looking for chromosomal abnormalities, genetic abnormalities, or other diseases.

Amnioinfusion: The injection of a sterile saline solution into the amniotic sac that’s necessary when there isn’t enough amniotic fluid surrounding the developing fetus, when there is thick meconium staining, or to prevent the umbilical cord from being squeezed during delivery when the level of amniotic fluid is too low.

Amino acid: A building block of protein used by the body to build muscle and other tissue.

Amniotic fluid: The clear fluid in the amniotic sac that cushions the fetus, protects it from infection and stabilizes its temperature. Amniotic fluid is constantly replenished naturally throughout pregnancy.

Amniotic sac: Also called the bag of waters, this is the membrane surrounding the baby in the uterus that contains amniotic fluid in which the baby floats. It will rupture naturally or be ruptured artificially during labor so the baby can be born.

Amniotomy: An artificial rupturing of the amniotic sac by a doctor or midwife to help speed up the labor process. It’s typically done with an instrument resembling a long crochet hook with a sharp tip.

Anal fissures: Cracks in the anus that can cause bleeding. They can occur with hemorrhoids or on their own. Constipation typically causes or compounds them.

Analgesia: Any medical intervention that reduces the sensation of pain.

Analgesic: A medication that reduces the sensation of pain without risking loss of consciousness. Demerol is commonly used as an analgesic during labor.

Anemia: A decrease in the body’s amount of red blood cells, often due to an iron shortage. It is sometimes recommended that an expecting mother eat a diet that’s rich in iron and take an iron supplement during the second half of pregnancy to keep up with the increased need for red blood cells.

Anencephaly: A rare birth defect that causes the baby to have a malformed skull and little to no brain tissue.

Anesthesia: Used to ease or eliminate pain. Types of anesthesia commonly used during childbirth include local anesthesia, general anesthetic, or analgesics.

Anesthetic: A medication that permits the loss of sensation, either partially or completely.

Anomaly: A malformation or abnormality of a developing body part.

Antenatal: Meaning “formed before birth”

Antepartal: Referring to something that occurs before childbirth, in reference to the mother. Also called antepartum.

Anterior position: When the baby is facing the mother’s spine in utero or during labor; also the most common position for emerging babies.

Apgar score: A newborn baby’s first test that is administered one minute after birth, then again five minutes later. It assesses the newborn’s skin color, heart rate, reflexes, muscle tone, and respiration levels. The numbers are added together with a maximum of 10; typical scores fall in the range between 7 and 9.

Areola: The darkened area of the breast surrounding the nipple. During pregnancy, the areola can spread and darken. While breastfeeding, the baby compresses and suckles the areola to extract breast milk.

Artificial insemination: A medical process used to impregnate a woman who is trying to conceive when natural methods fail. Performed by inserting sperm into her uterus through a catheter.

Artificial rupture of the membranes: The procedure of bursting of the amniotic sac using an instrument resembling a crochet hook with a pointy tip to speed up labor.

Aspiration: Drawing a substance into or out of the air passages. After a baby is born, the practitioner will typically aspirate the baby’s mouth and nose using a bulb syringe to remove accumulated fluids or mucus and to prevent the baby from inhaling any meconium.

Assisted reproductive technology: Classified as any medical procedure performed to help a woman become pregnant.

Augmentation of labor: An intervention to help labor that has begun naturally to progress more rapidly. Often, Pitocin (a synthetic form of the hormone oxytocin) is used to make contractions stronger or to rupture the membranes.

AZT: An antiretroviral drug that may be used to treat a pregnant woman who is HIV positive.


Baby blues: Mild depression that follows childbirth. It’s typically the result of postpartum hormonal swings following the excitement of labor and birth. Baby blues are common, affecting an average of 60–80 percent of new mothers.

Back labor: Intense pain in the woman’s back during labor that occurs when the fetus is in a posterior presentation with the back of its head pressing against the mother’s spine.

Bacterial vaginosis: Classified as a type of sexually transmitted disease (STD) that causes complications like the premature rupture of membranes or an infection of the amniotic fluid. It can be treated with antibiotics.

Bag of waters: The membrane that surrounds the baby in the mother’s uterus and contains amniotic fluid in which the baby floats. Also called the amniotic sac, the bag of waters will rupture naturally or be ruptured artificially during labor.

Basal body temperature (BBT): Classified as the body’s temperature first thing in the morning before much movement occurs. It rises sharply around the time that a woman ovulates, so tracking it using a highly sensitive basal body thermometer can help women become pregnant.

Belly sling: Many expectant mothers swear by this device. It’s a criss-cross sling used to support a pregnant woman’s belly and lessen the constant strain on the lower back, as well as ease groin and sciatic pain.

Biophysical profile: An ultrasound test typically performed between weeks 24 and 32 of pregnancy to determine how the baby is fairing inside the uterus by assessing fetal breathing, fetal movement, fetal tone, and amniotic fluid volume.

Birth assistant: Someone who is trained in basic childbirth support skills and helps the laboring mother during labor and delivery.

Birth canal: The passageway in which the baby travels during birth, made up of the mother’s cervix, vagina, and vulva.

Birth defect: An abnormality in a baby’s formation caused by an error during fetal development. Birth defects may or may not be genetic.

Birthing ball: A large, air-filled rubber ball that a woman can sit on to rock back and forth during labor. It helps reduce back discomfort during contractions and provides a distraction that allows the mother to relax.

Birthing center: A facility that offers a home-like setting for labor and delivery for women with low-risk pregnancies. It may be a freestanding facility or located adjacent to or inside a hospital. One draw to giving birth at a birthing center is that they often have less restrictive regulations than hospitals (i.e., friends and family may be permitted to visit during the delivery).

Birthing chair: Designed to support a laboring woman in a sitting or squatting position during delivery by allowing gravity to ease her discomfort.

Birth plan: A written set of directives created by expectant parents for their birthing team that expresses how they’d like labor and delivery to play out.

Birthing room: Designed and equipped for a woman giving birth with the equipment and amenities she needs to have a successful labor and delivery.

Bishop score: An evaluation of a mother’s readiness for delivery calculated by using the degree of cervical dilation and effacement, the station the presenting part has reached, and cervical texture and position.

Blastocyst: The rapidly dividing fertilized egg when it enters the mother’s uterus.

Blighted ovum: A fertilized egg that fails to form into a baby.

Blood pressure: The amount of pressure that blood exerts against the walls of the arteries. The upper number refers to the systolic pressure (the amount of pressure when the heart contracts), and the lower number refers to the diastolic pressure (the amount of pressure when the heart relaxes). During pregnancy, blood pressure drops toward the second trimester and rises again in the third trimester. High blood pressure during pregnancy can be an indicator of preeclampsia.

Bloody show: Classified as the discharge of the pregnant mother’s gelatinous, blood-tinged mucous plug that seals the opening of the uterus. Typically occurs in the last few hours or days of pregnancy.

Bradley Method: The series of childbirth education classes that teach women to mimic their nighttime sleeping position and use deep, slow, abdominal breathing to manage the pain of labor. This approach also helps her partner understand the various ways they can support her during labor and delivery.

Bradycardia: The slowing of the baby’s heartbeat to fewer than 100 beats per minute.

Braxton Hicks contractions: Contractions starting around month 8 of pregnancy that prepare the uterus for labor. Unlike true labor, they aren’t painful and don’t get stronger or more frequent over time.

Breaking of water: The bursting of the sac holding the amniotic fluid with a medical instrument that resembles a crochet hook with a pointy tip. This speeds up labor that has slowed.

Breastfeeding: When a baby extracts breast milk from the mother’s breasts for nourishment.

Breast pump: A suction device used for extracting breastmilk from a mother’s breast. Using a breast pump can build, maintain, or even increase a woman’s milk supply if she’s unable to feed her baby directly from the breast (i.e., if she’s returning to work). These apparatuses are also helpful when feeding multiple infants at a time, relieving engorged breasts, releasing plugged milk ducts, and pulling out the mother’s nipples more so her baby can latch properly. There are three main types of breast pumps on the market — manual pumps, battery-powered pumps, and electric pumps.

Breech position/presentation: Occurs when the baby’s bottom or feet face the mother’s cervix as labor nears, rather than the head.

Brow presentation: Occurs when the baby’s head is bent backward during labor and delivery, instead of with the chin resting on the chest.


Carpal tunnel syndrome: The numbness, tingling, and sometimes pain in the hand and arm caused by the compression of a nerve in the wrist. Carpal tunnel syndrome caused by pregnancy swelling usually goes away after delivery.

Catheter: A small flexible tube used to draw fluids, like urine, from the body. Women who have received epidurals and can’t urinate during delivery often have catheters placed into their bladders.

Cephalic presentation: The typical presentation for a full-term baby when he or she is positioned headfirst toward the mother’s pelvis as labor nears.

Cephalopelvic disproportion: Occurs when a baby’s head is too large to pass through the mother’s pelvis, typically resulting in a cesarean section.

Cerclage: A stitch placed in a mother’s weakened cervix to keep it closed and support a pregnancy to full-term.

Cerebral palsy: A disorder occurring in the baby caused by a prenatal brain defect or brain injury during birth. It affects a child’s ability to move, as well as to maintain balance and posture. It can result in seizures and, in some cases, can lead to mental or learning disabilities.

Certified nurse-midwife (CNM): A registered nurse (RN) who has completed graduate-level programs in midwifery and is licensed by the state.

Certified professional midwife (CPM): A certified midwife who typically exclusively assists in home births.

Cervical cap: Birth control that fits over a woman’s cervix and keeps sperm from entering. Classified as a barrier-method device.

Cervical mucus: Menstrual cycle secretions that can be indicators for ovulation. It typically resembles raw egg white and is very stretchy when a woman is preparing for ovulation, and it can be white, thick, and cloudy when conception is less like to happen.

Cervical os: The opening of the cervix.

Cervical ripening: The process that makes the cervix soft and thin, preparing it for labor. It either occurs naturally or artificially using prostaglandins or misoprostol.

Cervidil: A medication used to ripen or soften the cervix before an induced labor.

Cervix: The narrow, lower end of the uterus. During labor, the cervix softens, thins, and opens to facilitate the baby exiting the uterus.

Cesarean section (C-section): A surgical procedure that results in a baby being delivered through a cut in the mother’s abdomen and uterus. Also called “C-section.”

Chadwick’s sign: An early sign of pregnancy that occurs when blood flow to the cervix and vagina increases around week 4 of pregnancy, causing those tissues to become engorged and a purplish red color.

Chlamydia: A common sexually transmitted disease — often with no visible symptoms — that can cause infertility in a woman if left untreated. If an expectant mother has it, she can pass the infection on to the baby, causing pneumonia, eye infections, and even blindness. It is treatable with antibiotics. As a precaution, all newborn babies receive antibiotics in their eyes after they are born to protect against chlamydia.

Chorioamnionitis: Classified as the inflammation of the membranes and amniotic fluid in a mother’s womb surrounding the developing fetus.

Choriocarcinoma: A rare form of cancer that grows in the uterus, typically during pregnancy.

Chorionic villus sampling (CVS): An early genetic diagnostic test typically administered between weeks 10 and 13 of pregnancy, wherein a small amount of tissue from the cells that line the placenta is removed through the woman’s cervix or abdomen with a needle and screened for Down syndrome and other fetal abnormalities.

Chromosomal abnormality: A problem with the fetus’ chromosomes that typically leads to Down syndrome or other abnormalities.

Cleansing breath: A deep, cleansing breath a laboring woman takes by inhaling through her nose and exhaling out of her mouth, used at the beginning and end of a contraction.

Cleft lip: A birth defect in which the baby’s upper lip isn’t formed properly. It can be repaired with surgery when the child is a year old.

Cleft palate: A birth defect in which the baby’s upper lip and palate aren’t connected. There is a sense of urgency with correcting this, as it can cause feeding issues, so surgery is typically performed between 9 months and 14 months to repair it.

Clubfoot: A birth defect in which the baby’s foot or ankle is deformed. It can be treated with exercises, splinting, or, in more severe cases, surgery.

Colostrum: The thin, yellow fluid secreted by an expectant mother’s breasts before the production of breast milk. It’s rich in fats, protein, and antibodies, and is the “first food” your newborn typically ingests to prepare his or her body for breastmilk or formula. Some women notice small amounts of colostrum leaking from their breasts toward the end of pregnancy.

Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM): This method focuses on the body’s ability to heal itself using natural elements like herbs, physical manipulation, and the mind. Some examples of CAM practices that women can use during pregnancy include acupuncture, chiropractic medicine, massage, and hydrotherapy.

Complete miscarriage: When all the fetus and corresponding tissue are expelled from a woman’s uterus.

Conceive: When a sperm fertilizes an egg and starts the pregnancy.

Conception: When a sperm and egg form a single cell called a fertilized egg that then travels into the uterus where it implants in the uterine lining.

Congenital disorder: Classified as a condition existing from birth.

Contraception: Methods of preventing pregnancy. Also called birth control.

Contraction: The tightening of the woman’s uterus during labor. Frequent, strong, and painful contractions dilate the cervix and push the baby through the birth canal during childbirth.

Contraction stress test (CST): This test monitors how the baby is doing while still inside the uterus and determines how it responds to contractions.

Cord blood banking: The collection and storage of the baby’s umbilical cord blood for future medical use should the child or another family member develop a serious disease.

Cord blood harvesting: Blood taken from the newborn’s umbilical cord and placenta after the cord has been clamped and cut that can then be banked or stored for future use.

Cord compression: Occurs when the umbilical cord is squeezed during labor or delivery, causing a reduction of blood flow and, therefore, oxygen to the baby.

Cord knots: Knots that occur when the umbilical cord becomes knotted during childbirth or when the baby moves around in utero. These knots usually remain loose and pose no threat to the fetus, but if the knot is pulled tight, blood flow to the baby can be compromised.

Cord prolapse: When the umbilical cord slips through the cervix or into the vagina ahead of the baby during delivery. If the prolapsed cord is compressed, it may cut off the baby’s blood and oxygen supply.

Corpus luteum: A small, yellow tinted collection of cells that forms after ovulation and occupies the space in the ovarian follicle that previously housed the egg. It produces progesterone and estrogen and, during pregnancy, supports pregnancy until the placenta takes over that role around 10 weeks.

Corpus luteum cyst: Occurs when the corpus luteum fails to regress around 10 weeks into pregnancy and turns into a cyst.

Cortisol: A stress hormone that increases during pregnancy.

Couvade syndrome: When an expectant father exhibits similar symptoms as his pregnant partner, including weight gain, backache, food cravings, and mood swings. Also called sympathetic pregnancy.

Cradle hold: A breastfeeding position wherein the mother places her baby on her lap, turns the baby on his or her side, and supports their head in the crook of her arm.

Crossover hold: A breastfeeding position wherein the mother holds the baby’s head with the hand opposite to the breast her baby is feeding from.

Crowning: When the baby’s head reaches the opening of the mother’s vagina during labor and can be seen from the outside.

Curettage: The scrapping of the uterine lining to remove any residual products of conception after an incomplete miscarriage.


Demerol: An analgesic medication used to reduce a woman’s pain during labor and delivery.

Depo-Provera: A high dose of the hormone progestin, which is typically injected every three months as a form of birth control.

DES: A synthetic form of estrogen given to a woman once to prevent miscarriage. The daughter of a woman who took DES while pregnant with her may be at a higher risk for specific forms of cancer and fertility issues.

Diaphragm: A barrier method of birth control that covers the cervix and prevents sperm from reaching an egg.

Diastasis recti: The separation of the abdominal muscles running down the middle of a woman’s stomach from the bottom of her rib cage to the top of the pubic bone. This condition occurs during pregnancy, but it’s typical for the muscles to slowly return to normal following childbirth.

Dilation: The opening of the cervix, measured in centimeters.

Dilation and curettage (D&C): A medical procedure performed after an incomplete miscarriage where the cervix is mechanically dilated and the contents of the uterus are scraped or suctioned out.

Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA): A polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acid that is a major component of the brain and retina. It is critical for proper brain growth and eye development in a fetus and newborn. It’s important for a mother to eat a DHA-rich diet while pregnant and nursing.

Doppler: A handheld ultrasound device that doctors use to amplify the sound of a fetus’s heartbeat so the parent(s) can hear it.

Doula: Childbirth assistants who are specially trained to provide comfort and support to the expectant mother during labor and delivery, as well as to serve as a liaison among the practitioner, nurses, and the parents-to-be.

Dropping: When the fetus descends into the mother’s pelvic cavity in preparation for delivery. This typically occurs 2–4weeks before delivery in first-time pregnancies, but not until labor in subsequent pregnancies.

Due date: The estimated date a baby might be born. It is typically determined based on the first day of a woman’s last menstrual cycle. See also Naegele’s rule.

Dystocia: When contractions do not become stronger, causing labor to not progress.


Early term: Describes a baby born between weeks 37 and 39 of pregnancy.

Eclampsia: Occurs when a mother’s untreated preeclampsia (protein in the urine and high blood pressure) involves her central nervous system, leading to seizures, coma, or possibly death in critical cases. While serious, it’s a rare condition that occurs in late pregnancy, during labor, or those first few weeks of the postpartum period. The only way to cure a woman of eclampsia is to deliver her baby.

Ectopic pregnancy: When a fertilized egg implants outside of the uterus, usually in the fallopian tube. Symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy typically include abnormal bleeding, severe abdominal pain, or shoulder pain. It must be surgically removed to prevent the rupture and consequential damage of the fallopian tubes. Also called an “extrauterine pregnancy.”

Edema: Swelling due to the accumulation of fluids in the tissues. Many pregnant women experience swelling in the ankles and feet.

Effacement: Also called “ripening,” this is the thinning of the woman’s cervix in preparation for childbirth.

Egg: A female’s reproductive cell produced by the ovary and fertilized by sperm to form an embryo. Also called an ovum.

Ejaculate: The fluid containing sperm that is ejected from a man’s penis.

Ejaculation: When a man expels semen from his penis during orgasm.

Elective induction: When drugs are chosen to stimulate labor instead of waiting for it to begin naturally.

Electronic fetal monitor: A medical device used to check a fetus’s progression and vital signs during pregnancy and labor that records the fetal heartbeat and the mother’s contractions. It can be used externally or internally.

Embryo: Classified as a fertilized egg that develops from the time of implantation through the eighth week after conception.

Embryonic stage: Classified as 2 to 4 weeks after conception.

Embryo transfer: A part of assisted reproductive technology when a fertilized egg is inserted into a woman’s uterus with the goal that she becomes pregnant.

Endodermal germ layer: The inner layer of embryonic cells that develops into the baby’s digestive tract, respiratory organs, vagina, bladder, and urethra.

Endometriosis: The resulting condition when endometrial cells develop outside of the uterus — often on the fallopian tubes, ovaries, or abdominal cavity.

Endometrium: The lining of the uterus where the embryo implants itself.

Engaged: When the baby’s head moves down into the mother’s pelvis in preparation for delivery.

Engagement: When the fetus descends into the mother’s pelvic cavity in preparation for birth. For first-time mothers, this typically happens 2–4 weeks before delivery. Also called lightening or dropping.

Engorgement: When a new mother experiences swollen and tender breasts in the postpartum period due to her milk coming in.

Epidural: Anesthesia administered to a laboring woman at the base of her spine to numb her lower body and reduce pain by eliminating the feeling of contractions during labor and delivery.

Episiotomy: An incision made in the mother’s perineum to enlarge the vaginal opening right before the baby’s head emerges from the mother’s vagina.

Estimated date of birth (EDB): A term used by midwives that is determined based on the first day of a woman’s last menstrual cycle. This term is preferred over “due date” because it shifts the focus on the mother instead of the practitioner.

Estimated date of confinement (EDC): An archaic term for the estimated date a baby might be born. It is determined based on the first day of a woman’s last menstrual cycle. See also Naegele’s rule.

Estimated date of delivery (EDD): A term used by midwives that is determined based on the first day of a woman’s last menstrual cycle to establish the baby’s estimated day of birth.

Estriol: A hormone produced by the fetus and passed into the mother’s bloodstream. When combined with high levels of other hormones, low levels of estriol can indicate an increased risk of the unborn baby having Down syndrome.

Exclusive breastfeeding: Breastfeeding a baby without the supplement of formula.

Expressing breast milk: Extracting milk from the breasts using a pump or other suction device (or hands) to store for later feeding or to provide physical relief to the nursing mother.

External cephalic version (ECV): Refers to turning a breech baby to the preferred head-down position. A medical practitioner will typically gently guide the fetus into a head-down position using ultrasound guidance by applying pressure to the mother’s abdomen with their hands.

External fetal monitoring: A medical device that records the fetal heartbeat and the mother’s contractions to monitor a fetus’s progress and vital signs during pregnancy or when a woman is in labor.


Fallopian tubes: The narrow pathways in a woman’s abdomen that carries the egg from her ovaries to the uterus. Also the location where fertilization most often occurs.

False labor: Contractions that are irregular, do not increase in frequency or severity, and do not efface or dilate the cervix.

Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA): The U.S. Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 requires up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year for employees (of companies with more than 50 employees) to care for a newborn or newly adopted child. Under this act, people can also take time off to care for a sick child, parent, or spouse.

Fecal incontinence: The inability to hold in bowel movements. Women who experience a tear or episiotomy during labor can experience this condition.

Fertility: The ability of a woman’s body to conceive and carry a baby to term.

Fertility medications: Medications that enable a woman’s body to conceive a baby.

Fertility specialist: A licensed obstetrician-gynecologist (OB-GYN) who specializes in treating people with fertility problems.

Fertilization: Occurs when a woman’s egg and a man’s sperm join together to form an embryo, typically in one of the fallopian tubes.

Fertilization age: The age of the fetus based on the actual date of conception rather than on the first day of a woman’s last menstrual cycle.

Fetal acoustic stimulation: Also called vibroacoustic stimulation (VAS), this test uses a sound- and vibration-producing instrument to determine how the fetus is doing inside the mother’s uterus, as well as its response to sound or vibrations when placed on the mother’s abdomen.

Fetal alcohol effects (FAE): Moderate drinking of alcohol (one to two drinks daily) during pregnancy can cause FAE in the baby, a syndrome characterized by numerous developmental and behavioral problems. The symptoms are subtle early on and become apparent when the child is older and has trouble with school and socialization.

Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS): Heavy drinking of alcohol during pregnancy (four or more drinks a day) can cause numerous physical and mental birth defects in the baby.

Fetal anomaly: An abnormality or malformation in the fetus.

Fetal blood sampling: A genetic test that screens the blood from a fetus’ umbilical cord for abnormalities.

Fetal diagnostic testing: Tests that determine how a fetus is faring during pregnancy.

Fetal distress: Occurs when a fetus is not receiving enough oxygen. Signs that this is occurring include an absence of fetal movement or a slowed heartbeat. Immediate delivery of the baby may be necessary when there is fetal distress.

Fetal fibronectin (FFN): A protein detected in cervical-vaginal secretions that can indicate that labor is imminent. It is typically reserved for women who are at risk for preterm labor.

Fetal heart rate: The rate of the baby’s heartbeat while in the uterus or during delivery. The normal fetal heart rate is typically between 120 and 160 beats per minute.

Fetal loss: A tragic event that occurs when a fetus dies inside the mother’s uterus.

Fetal-maternal exchange: The transfer of oxygen and nutrients from the expectant mother to the baby through the umbilical cord and the transfer of waste from the baby to the placenta.

Fetal monitoring: Tracking a fetus’s heartbeat and a woman’s uterine contractions during labor.

Fetal movement counts: After 27 weeks of pregnancy, women are encouraged to perform periodic counts to measure how often their baby moves within an hour. Times can vary, but 10 or more movements within one to two hours is considered normal.

Fetal period: The stage of fetal development following the embryonic stage, lasting from eight weeks gestation until birth.

Fetal presentation: The position of the baby, feet down (breech) or head down (vertex), inside a woman’s uterus.

Fetal scalp stimulation: A test to check on how the baby is doing while inside the uterus. This test assesses how a fetus reacts to pressure on, or pinching of, the scalp.

Fetoscopy: A diagnostic procedure in which a doctor inserts a laparoscope (a small viewing instrument) through a small incision in a pregnant woman’s abdomen and uterine wall to look for any abnormalities in the fetus.

Fetus: The name given to a baby in utero from eight weeks of development until birth.

Fever: When body temperature rises above its normal level (usually 98.6° F). A fever is the sign of an immune system at work and usually indicates an infection.

Fibroids: Growths on the uterus. Fibroids can be small or large and are almost always benign.

Focal point: A spot in a room — on the ceiling, floor, or wall, or a photograph or picture, for example — that a laboring woman can concentrate on to help her maintain control during contractions.

Folic acid: This B vitamin — found in prenatal vitamins and its natural form, folate, found in green, leafy vegetables — prevents anemia and has been shown to reduce the incidence of neural tube defects such as spina bifida.

Follicle: An egg-containing cavity in the ovary that ruptures and releases an egg during ovulation.

Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH): A hormone produced by the pituitary gland that stimulates the growth of eggs in the ovaries.

Fontanels: The soft spots on a baby’s head that allow its skull to compress during birth and pass through the birth canal. At birth, there are six fontanelles — they completely fuse by a child’s second birthday.

Football hold: The position during breastfeeding in which the baby’s legs rest under the arm as the baby faces the mother and nurses.

Footling breech: When one of the fetus’s legs is lowered over the mother’s cervix at term.

Forceps: Tong-shaped instruments that are inserted into the vagina and placed around the baby’s head to ease it out of the birth canal during childbirth.

Frank breech: When the fetus is positioned buttocks down and his legs are stretched up with feet near the head at term.

Fraternal twins: Twins born at the same time but resulting from the fertilization of two different eggs.

Full-term: A baby born between 39 and 41 weeks gestation.

Fundal height: The distance between the top of a pregnant woman’s uterus (fundus) to her pubic bone. The fundal height is measured to determine fetal growth.

Fundus: The rounded top part of the uterus.


Gamete intra-fallopian transfer: An infertility treatment similar to IVF in which sperm and surgically removed eggs are inserted into the fallopian tube at the same time, in the hope that the egg will be fertilized and implant in the uterus.

General anesthesia: Drugs that make a person unconscious and unable to feel pain. General anesthesia is sometimes used for emergency cesarean sections.

General practitioner: A physician who provides basic care. See also family practitioner.

Genetic: Determined by genes. Inherited conditions are genetic.

Genetic counseling: Counseling with a healthcare professional to help prospective parents understand and evaluate their risks of having a child born with birth defects. Appropriate prenatal screening and testing, as well as treatment options, also are discussed.

Genetic disorder: A disease or condition caused by abnormal genes.

Genetic screening: Any test used to determine the risk of genetic abnormalities.

Genital herpes: A virus that affects the genital area. A mother with untreated genital herpes can pass the infection onto her newborn during childbirth.

Genitals: External sex organs in the male and female.

Gestation: Refers to the period of time a baby is carried in the uterus, counted from the first day of the last menstrual period; synonymous with “pregnancy.” Early-term gestation is between 37 to 39 weeks; full-term gestation is between 39 and 41 weeks; late-term gestation is between 41 and 42 weeks; post-term gestation is 42 weeks or more.

Gestational age: The age of the fetus while in the mother’s uterus. It’s counted from the first day of her last menstrual period.

Gestational diabetes: Occurs when the mother’s blood sugar levels become too high because she isn’t producing enough insulin. It is a treatable condition and typically disappears after pregnancy.

Gingivitis: Red, tender, bleeding gums. If left untreated can develop into periodontitis — a serious gum disease.

Glucose: Sugar present in the blood.

Glucose screening test: Also called a glucose challenge test (GCT), this is a preliminary test used to screen for diabetes in which a person consumes a super sweet glucose drink one hour before having blood drawn. If the blood work shows elevated levels of glucose, it’s possible that not enough insulin is being produced to process the extra glucose, which requires a glucose tolerance test to be ordered.

Glucose tolerance test: Required if a glucose screening test comes back elevated. A fast is required prior to this three-hour study, which consists of consuming a highly concentrated sweet glucose drink before having blood drawn at specific intervals. If the blood work of a pregnant woman comes back again with elevated numbers, there’s a high probability that she has gestational diabetes.

Glucosuria: Glucose in the urine.

Gonorrhea: A sexually transmitted disease that can lead to preterm delivery or serious eye problems for the baby if it’s contracted and not treated during pregnancy.

Gravida: The technical medical term for a pregnant woman.

Group B streptococcus (GBS): A bacterium found in a vagina that can be picked up by the baby as he or she passes through the vaginal canal during childbirth, which causes a very serious infection. Testing for GBS is usually scheduled between the 35th and 37th weeks of pregnancy. The practitioner typically uses vaginal and rectal swabs to conduct the test. If it comes back positive, the treatment is either IV antibiotics administered during labor or oral antibiotics to be taken in the last few weeks of pregnancy.

Gynecologist (GYN): A medical physician who specializes in gynecology. See also OB-GYN.


Habitual miscarriage (or abortion): Classified as three or more consecutive miscarriages.

Heartburn: A burning sensation felt in the chest and throat when acid from the stomach leaks up into the esophagus. During pregnancy, the muscle at the top of the stomach that usually prevents digestive acids from going back up relaxes, allowing gastric juices to splash back. The growing uterus also puts pressure on the stomach, allowing acid to travel back.

Hegar’s sign: Used by physicians and midwives as a sign of pregnancy. Known as the area between the cervix and the uterus that softens in early pregnancy.

Hematocrit: The number of red blood cells collected during a blood test.

Hemoglobin: A type of protein found in red blood cells that transports oxygen to bodily tissues.

Hemolysis, Elevated Liver Enzymes, Low Platelet Count (HELLP) Syndrome: A rare, serious condition occurring during pregnancy either on its own or in association with preeclampsia. Symptoms include severe upper-right abdominal pain, nausea, full-body itching, and vomiting in the third trimester. The treatment is to deliver the baby.

Hemophilia: A hereditary blood disorder in which blood does not clot properly. It almost always occurs in males, though women can be carriers.

Hemorrhage: Heavy bleeding; hemorrhage from the uterus is rare, but can occur during the postpartum period.

Hemorrhoids: Varicose veins of the rectum that are caused by increased blood volume and pressure from the uterus on the veins in the pelvis. Afflicting 20–50 percent of pregnant women, the swollen veins in the rectum can look like a pile of grapes and cause itching, pain, and bleeding. They can also appear postpartum as a result of pushing during labor. Constipation can cause hemorrhoids or compound them.

Hepatitis B: An infection of the liver caused by a blood-borne virus or through sexual contact. It can be passed from mother to child during pregnancy, though there is a vaccine for it that all newborns receive.

Herpes: A sexually transmitted disease involving the genital area. A woman with untreated genital herpes can pass the infection onto her newborn during childbirth.

High-risk pregnancy: A pregnancy with a higher than normal risk of developing complications. Risk may be related to a woman’s age, a woman carrying multiple fetuses, Rh incompatibility, preterm labor, placenta previa, and gestational diabetes, among other conditions.

HIV: The virus that causes AIDS, often sexually transmitted. If untreated, an HIV-positive mother can transmit the virus to her fetus.

Home birth: Labor and delivery that takes place at home, usually with a midwife present.

Home pregnancy test: A test taken at home that diagnoses pregnancy by detecting the presence of the hormone hCG in the urine. Some home pregnancy tests can be used even before the day the next menstrual period is due.

Hormone: A chemical secretion that the body produces to stimulate or slow down various body functions.

Human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG): A hormone produced during pregnancy. Excreted in urine, hCG is used in testing to detect pregnancy.

Hydatidiform mole: An abnormal pregnancy in which there is no fetus, only an abnormal mass growth.

Hydramnios: When there is too much amniotic fluid in the uterus.

Hydrocephalus: A relatively rare condition caused by an abnormal amount of fluid in the brain. It is sometimes the first sign of spina bifida.

Hydrotherapy: A CAM technique that uses the therapeutic use of warm water, usually in a spa bathtub, that is often used to help relax a laboring woman and reduce her discomfort.

Hyperemesis gravidarum: An exaggerated form of morning sickness characterized by extreme, frequent, and severe nausea and vomiting during pregnancy, and sometimes leading to dehydration and hospitalization.

Hyperglycemia: Having too much glucose in the blood. Hyperglycemia is usually a sign of gestational diabetes.

Hypertension: Also known as high blood pressure.

Hyperthyroidism: Elevated levels of the thyroid hormones. It can cause problems during pregnancy if left untreated.

Hypnobirthing: The use of hypnosis during labor.

Hypnosis: A type of CAM technique that can be useful in providing pain management during labor and delivery. It can also help to turn a breech baby and hold off premature labor.

Hypotension: Also called low blood pressure, which some women experience when they get an epidural during labor.

Hypothyroidism: A deficiency of thyroid hormones due to an under-active thyroid gland. It can cause problems during and/or after pregnancy if left untreated.

Hypoxia: A lack of sufficient oxygen to the baby caused by cord compression or the mother’s low blood pressure.

Hysterectomy: The surgical removal of a woman’s uterus.


Identical twins: Occurs because of the division of one fertilized egg that grows into two fetuses that are are genetically identical and who will look exactly alike.

Implantation: When a fertilized egg attaches itself to the lining of the woman’s uterus.

Inborn errors of metabolism: Classified as genetic defects in which a baby is missing an enzyme or other chemical substance, making it impossible for him/her to metabolize a particular dietary element. These can typically be tested for at birth or diagnosed prenatally.

Incision: A cut made to open the body during surgery. During a cesarean section, an incision is made in the mother’s abdomen and uterus to deliver her baby.

Incompetent cervix: When the cervix opens too soon without contractions before a pregnancy has reached term because it is under so much pressure from the mother’s growing uterus. It can cause a miscarriage in the second trimester or preterm labor in the third. Incompetent cervix is often treated with a cerclage.

Incomplete miscarriage: A miscarriage in which not all of the uterine contents are expelled from the mother’s body. The remaining tissue is usually removed with a D&C.

Incontinence: A person’s inability to control their bladder and/or bowel movements.

Induction: When labor is initiated using artificial means, including drugs like Pitocin or prostaglandins, or by rupturing the membranes.

Inevitable miscarriage: When bleeding and cramping occurs during a pregnancy resulting in a miscarriage that cannot be prevented.

Inferior vena cava: The vein that carries blood from the lower body to the heart. The inferior vena cava can be compressed during pregnancy if the mother frequently lies face up (supine).

Infertility: The inability for a child to be conceived or carried to term.

Inhibin-A: A hormone produced by the placenta that is passed into the mother’s bloodstream. High levels of this hormone combined with high levels of other hormones can indicate an increased risk of the baby having Down syndrome. A blood test can be conducted during the second trimester to check for this condition.

Insomnia: A person’s inability to fall or stay asleep. Pregnant women often struggle with insomnia.

Intracytoplasmic sperm injection: When a single sperm is injected into a single egg and the resulting embryo is transplanted into the uterus as a form of assisted fertilization.

Intrapartum fever: An elevated body temperature that occurs in pregnant women during labor and/or delivery

Intrauterine device (IUD): A contraception device made of plastic or metal that is placed inside of a woman’s uterus to prevent the sperm from reaching the egg.

Intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR): Classified as slower than normal growth of a fetus in the mother’s womb.

Intrauterine insemination: When sperm are inserted into the woman’s uterus using a catheter to help couples who are trying to conceive and natural methods aren’t working.

In utero: Meaning “inside the uterus.”

Inverted nipples: A condition in which a woman’s nipples retract into the breast tissues instead of sticking out when cold or when the breast is compressed at the edge of the areola. Women with this condition may have to try techniques to draw them out before breastfeeding.

In vitro fertilization (IVF): A procedure in which an egg and sperm are combined outside the womb to cause fertilization and then implanted in a woman’s uterus.

Involution: When the mother’s uterus returns to its normal size after childbirth.


Jaundice: The yellowish discoloration of skin caused by the body’s inability to break down excess red blood cells. It’s common for newborns to be jaundiced, and while it is treatable, it should be monitored.


Kegel exercises: Designed to tone the muscles in a woman’s vaginal and perineal area. This is particularly useful for strengthening them in preparation for delivery and childbirth. To complete Kegels, a woman simply tenses the muscles around her vagina and anus, like when wanting stop the flow of urine, and holding it as long as possible, then slowly releasing the muscles before cycling through the process again.


Labor: The process of childbirth, starting with the rhythmic contractions of the uterine muscles that will open the cervix to facilitate a baby being born and ending with the expulsion of the placenta.

Labor-delivery-postpartum room (LDPR): A room typically in a hospital or birthing center that is designed to accommodate a woman’s labor, delivery, recovery, and postpartum stay.

Labor-delivery-recovery room (LDR): A room typically in a hospital or birthing center that is designed to accommodate a woman’s labor, delivery, and recovery (but not her postpartum stay).

Laceration: A tear in the woman’s perineal area that occurs during labor.

Lactation: A woman’s natural breastmilk production that begins two to five days after childbirth.

Lactation consultant or specialist: A person who is professionally trained to assist breastfeeding women.

Lactose intolerance: A condition in which the body has difficulty digesting lactose, a sugar found in dairy products. Symptoms of lactose intolerance include bloating, diarrhea, gas, pain, or cramps.

Lamaze: A childbirth-preparation technique focused on controlling pain through knowledge and relaxation. It uses rhythmic breathing patterns by the laboring woman in conjunction with the support of her coach to deal with the pain of labor and delivery.

Lanugo: The fine, temporary hair covering the fetus by the middle of pregnancy. It starts to shed by the eighth month, but can remain present at birth.

Large for gestational age (LGA): Typically a newborn weighing more than most babies at birth (10+ pounds).

Last menstrual period (LMP): The first day of a woman’s last menstrual period. This is the date used to calculate the 40 weeks of pregnancy and a woman’s due date.

Latching on: When a baby takes the mother’s nipple and areola properly into his/her mouth to breastfeed.

Latent labor: The first and longest phase of labor when the cervix effaces and dilates to 3 centimeters.

Late-term pregnancy: A pregnancy between weeks 41 and 42 that has gone past term (40 weeks) and is considered late, but it’s not yet post-term (42+ weeks).

Lay midwife: An uncertified or unlicensed midwife who has no formal medical training, but who does have experience with childbirth. Only a few states allow lay midwives to practice, and even then only at home births.

Layette: Clothing and other supplies for newborn babies.

Leboyer birth: A childbirth technique that advocates for a trauma-free birth, which can include putting the baby on the mother’s abdomen immediately after delivery, dimming the lights, massaging the baby, or giving the newborn a warm bath.

Leopold’s maneuvers: Techniques used by physicians and midwives when they position his/her hands on the woman’s abdomen to feel for the baby’s head, back, and buttocks to determine fetal presentation and position in utero.

Letdown: An involuntary reflex that causes a breastfeeding mother’s milk to flow freely as a response to the suckling of the baby.

Leukorrhea: A thick, milky, mild-smelling vaginal discharge that is typical during pregnancy. It can increase in amount and occurrence as the pregnancy progresses.

Linea alba: The white line that runs down the center of the mother’s abdomen to the top of the pubic bone.

Linea nigra: The darkened linea alba line that runs down the center of the abdomen to the top of the pubic bone.

Listeriosis: An infection caused by bacteria found in certain foods, like unpasteurized milk products, undercooked meats, fish, shellfish, poultry, deli meats, and unwashed vegetables. The symptoms of listeriosis are similar to those of the flu. It can be transmitted in utero to a baby and lead to serious complications.

Lochia: The discharge of blood, mucus, and other fluids from the vagina after childbirth.

Low birth weight baby: A full-term infant weighing less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces at birth.


Macrosomia: When a newborn has a high birth weight of 9 pounds, 15 ounces or more. Commonly occurs in babies born from diabetic mothers.

Magnesium sulfate: A medication that can prevent and treat eclampsia.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): A diagnostic tool that can yield a clearer picture of the fetus than traditional ultrasound.

Malpresentation: An abnormal position of a baby’s body or head during labor and delivery.

Mammary glands: The glands in the breast that produce milk.

Mastitis: An infection of a milk duct in the breast. Symptoms include swelling, tenderness, redness, and fever. It is treatable with massages, warm compresses, continued breastfeeding from the infected side, and antibiotics.

Maternal-Fetal Medicine specialist: An OB-GYN who specializes in high-risk pregnancies.

Maternal Serum Alpha-Fetoprotein Screening (MSAFP): A blood test administered to the expectant mother between the 15th and 20th weeks of pregnancy to screen for an increased risk of the baby having a birth defect. High levels of MSAFP may be associated with a neural tube defect, and low levels can be associated with Down syndrome. The test is used to decide whether a woman should undergo more invasive testing, like an amniocentesis.

Maternity center: A facility designed and equipped for low-risk pregnancies and childbirth. Also called a birthing center.

Maternity leave: A mother’s paid or unpaid time off work to care for her newborn. Under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, companies with 50 or more employees are required to offer eligible employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year to care for a new baby.

Meconium: A greenish-brown substance emitted from a baby’s digestive tract as his/her first stool. The meconium can sometimes be passed before birth, in which case it stains the amniotic fluid, turning it greenish-brown.

Meconium aspiration: When meconium is present in the amniotic fluid during delivery and the newborn inhales it, irritating and possibly damaging the airways. The mouth and nose are suctioned to prevent aspiration of meconium-stained fluid.

Meconium staining: When the baby passes meconium before childbirth into the amniotic fluid.

Membranes: The sac that surrounds the baby in the uterus and contains amniotic fluid in which the baby floats. Also called the bag of waters or amniotic sac, the membranes will rupture naturally or be ruptured artificially during labor.

Menstrual cycle: The regular monthly reproductive cycle of a woman, including the growth of the lining of the uterus, the release of an egg, and, if no fertilized egg is implanted, the expulsion of the uterine lining (the menstrual period). The typical cycle lasts 28 to 30 days and is counted from the first day of the period to the first day of the next period.

Mercury: A toxic substance that can harm an unborn baby’s developing brain and nervous system. It’s typically found in high concentrations in certain types of fish including shark, swordfish, tilefish, and king mackerel.

Midwife: A person with training and professional experience who cares for women during pregnancy and through labor and delivery. They typically take a holistic and women-focused approach to pregnancy and childbirth, and many work with the backup support of a licensed medical doctor.

Miscarriage: The spontaneous and involuntary loss of a pregnancy before 20 weeks, estimated to occur in 15 to 20 percent of all pregnancies. Most miscarriages occur in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Many occur before a woman even knows she’s pregnant.

Misoprostol: A drug used to soften the cervix and induce labor.

Missed miscarriage: When an embryo or fetus dies in the womb during the first 20 weeks of pregnancy, but does not expel from the uterus. Many women prefer to have a D&C done to remove the tissue rather than letting it happen on its own.

Molar pregnancy: An abnormal pregnancy in which there is an abnormal mass growth instead of a fetus.

Molding: The temporary reshaping of a baby’s head to facilitate its passage through the mother’s birth canal.

Montgomery’s tubercles or follicles: Small, bumpy glands that appear on the expectant mother’s areola during pregnancy.

Morning sickness: Nausea, vomiting, and food and smell aversions that affect more than 70 percent of pregnant women. The name is misleading because it can occur any time of day. It typically begins around 4 to 8 weeks gestation and subsides by week 14 or 16.

Mucus plug: A gelatinous “cork” of mucus often tinted with blood that seals the opening of the uterus during pregnancy. At the start of labor, or in some cases, a few weeks before labor actually begins, this thick, gloppy, bloody plug becomes dislodged from the cervix and passes through the vagina. See also bloody show.

Multigravida: A woman who has been pregnant before.

Multipara: A woman who has had one or more babies.

Multiple birth: Occurs when a woman delivers more than one baby.

Multiple pregnancy: When a woman has more than one fetus in the womb, like in the case of twins, triplets, or other higher-order multiples.

Mutation: A non-inherited genetic disorder that happens when an egg, sperm, or embryo undergoes spontaneous changes on the DNA level.


Naegele’s rule: The method used for estimating a pregnant woman’s due date by taking the first day of her last menstrual period, subtracting three months, adding seven days, and adding one year.

Narcotics: Drugs used to block or relieve the sensation of pain during labor and delivery, like Demerol, which is a narcotic analgesic.

Natural childbirth: Describes labor and delivery without the aid of medication and/xor medical intervention.

Neonatal: The time from a baby’s birth to 4 weeks of age.

Neonatal death: The death of a live-born baby anytime between birth and 4 weeks of age.

Neonatal intensive care unit (NICU): A special care nursery for sick and premature newborns that are staffed with specialists who are trained to care for babies with special needs and use advanced technology in the care of those babies.

Neonate: Another term for a newborn.

Neonatologist: A medical physician who specializes in the care of newborns.

Nesting: When expecting mothers feel an urge to prepare for the impending birth toward the end of their pregnancy by doing things like cleaning the house or organizing the nursery.

Neural tube defect: A birth defect related to the baby’s brain or spine.

Newborn: Describes a baby’s age between birth and one month old.

Nipple confusion: Occurs when a newborn switches back and forth between a bottle and a breast because the sucking techniques are different for each. This can make breastfeeding difficult.

Nonreassuring fetal status: An indication that a fetus might be in distress based on a nonstress test or other tests.

Nonstress test (NST): A way to determine how the baby is doing in utero during which the expectant mother is hooked up to a fetal monitor and the response of the fetal heart rate to fetal movements is observed.

Nuchal cord: When the umbilical cord wraps around the fetus’s neck in utero.

Nuchal fold thickness: A thickening of skin behind the fetal neck that may indicate an increased risk of Down syndrome. It is visible via ultrasound.

Nuchal translucency: An abnormal collection of fluid behind the fetal neck during the first trimester. It is visible via ultrasound, and the presence of fluid can indicate a chromosomal disorder.

Nulliparous: A woman who has never delivered a baby.

Nurse-midwife: A registered nurse who has completed graduate-level programs in midwifery.

Nurse practitioner: A nurse who has completed a master’s program in a specialty and is able to diagnose/treat conditions and prescribe medications.


OB-GYN: Abbreviation for obstetrician-gynecologist, which is a physician specializing in women’s reproductive health.

Obstetrician: A physician who specializes in obstetrics.

Obstetrics: The medical field that encompasses the management of pregnancy, labor, and postpartum.

Obstructed labor: Occurs when labor does not progress.

Oligohydramnios: Occurs when there is too little amniotic fluid in the uterus.

Operative vaginal delivery: When forceps or vacuum extraction is used during a vaginal delivery.

Oral contraceptives: Also called birth control pills, these oral contraceptives contain hormones that prevent a woman’s ovaries from releasing an egg, thus preventing conception.

Ovaries: The female reproductive organs that release eggs into the fallopian tubes where they can be fertilized by sperm.

Ovulation: The monthly release of a mature egg from a woman’s ovary. A woman is most fertile around the time of ovulation.

Ovum: A female human egg


Palpation: A procedure in which a doctor or midwife feels the mother’s abdomen to determine the baby’s position in utero.

Pap smear: A routine medical test to check for abnormalities in the cells of a woman’s cervix.

Partial molar pregnancy: An abnormal pregnancy in which there is an abnormal mass growth and identifiable fetal tissues in the uterus.

Parturition: The process of giving birth.

Patient-controlled analgesia: Intravenous pain medication controlled by a small pump that is activated by a laboring woman and allows her to choose the amount of medicine administered.

Peak day: Classified as the best time to conceive during ovulation.

Pediatrician: A physician who specializes in treating infants and children up to adolescent age.

Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID): A bacterial infection of the female reproductive organs that can sometimes lead to infertility.

Pelvimetry: Measurements of a woman’s pelvic dimensions to determine whether a vaginal birth might be problematic.

Pelvis: The bowl-shaped lower part of the abdomen between the hip bones through which the baby passes during labor and delivery.

Percutaneous umbilical blood sampling: A genetic test that screens blood from the fetus’s umbilical cord for abnormalities while the baby is still in utero.

Perinatal: The time before, during, and immediately after giving birth.

Perineal massage: A method of stretching a woman’s perineum in preparation for childbirth to help minimize the stinging sensation when the baby’s head passes through the vaginal opening. It may help avoid an episiotomy or tear and is typically performed by a trained midwife or medical practitioner.

Perineal tear: A rip in the skin and muscles between the vagina and the rectum.

Perineum: The area between the vagina and rectum, which is cut during an episiotomy.

Periodontitis: A severe gum disease that increases an expectant mother’s risk of having a premature baby or one with a low birth weight.

Phenylketonuria (PKU): A genetic abnormality in which the body lacks an enzyme needed for normal metabolism. If not carefully regulated by diet early in infancy, it can cause mental disability.

Pica: The desire some pregnant women experience to eat nonfood items such as dirt, chalk, or clay. It can be linked to an iron-deficiency anemia.

Pitocin: The brand name of a synthetic oxytocin that is used to induce labor.

Placenta: A pancake-shaped organ that develops in a pregnant woman’s uterus and provides nutrients and oxygen for the fetus and eliminates its waste products.

Placenta accreta: When the placenta becomes too firmly attached to the uterine wall, making it difficult to be fully removed after childbirth.

Placental abruption: A condition in which the placenta begins to separate from the wall of the uterus before the baby is born.

Placenta previa: A condition in which the placenta attaches too low in the mother’s uterus, causing the cervix to be fully or partially covered. The condition can cause bleeding during pregnancy or even make vaginal delivery impossible.

Plasma protein A: A hormone produced by the fetus and passed into the mother’s bloodstream. Levels of this hormone can be checked via a blood test during the first trimester. High levels, combined with high levels of other hormones, can indicate an increased risk of the baby having Down syndrome.

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS): A condition in women where a hormonal imbalance may prevent the egg-containing follicles on the ovaries from maturing and releasing an egg and instead forming ovarian cysts, often causing infertility.

Polyhydramnios: Occurs when there is too much amniotic fluid in the uterus.

Post-term pregnancy: A pregnancy that lasts 42+ weeks.

Postdural puncture headache: A severe headache that results from the epidural needle puncturing the covering of the spinal cord, allowing spinal fluid to enter the epidural space.

Posterior presentation: When the baby’s head is facing away from the mother’s spine. Known as back labor, this can cause tremendous back pain for the laboring mother.

Postmature pregnancy: Resulting in an infant born at 42 weeks or later.

Postnatal period: The time following delivery until four to six weeks after birth.

Postpartum: Classified as the first six weeks after delivery.

Postpartum anxiety: Often associated with postpartum depression, symptoms can include constant or near-constant worry that can’t be eased; feelings of dread about things you fear will happen; sleep disruption even when the baby is sleeping peacefully; and racing thoughts. Consult your doctor if this is a concern.

Postpartum depression: A condition afflicting women between the postpartum period after childbirth until sometimes years later that is often characterized by crying, irritability, sleep problems, restlessness, feelings of hopelessness, and the inability to care for the baby. Professional treatment is recommended for women who think they may be struggling with this.

Postpartum hemorrhage: When heavy bleeding from the uterus occurs after delivery.

Postpartum psychosis: More serious than postpartum depression, the symptoms of postpartum psychosis include loss of reality, hallucinations and/or delusions, and suicidal or aggressive thoughts. Women must seek professional treatment immediately if they believe they are dealing with this.

Postpartum rage: A less common mental health disorder than some new mothers struggle with, postpartum rage typically manifests in eruptions of anger toward those close to you for seemingly small issues, the inability to control your anger, and the feeling of your heart racing and being on edge. Consult your doctor if this is a concern.

Postpartum thyroiditis: Classified as a fluctuating thyroid function after childbirth. Symptoms typically begin with hyperthyroidism and can include fatigue, irritability, increased sweating, and insomnia, followed by the symptoms of hypothyroidism like depression, muscle aches, hair loss, dry skin, and poor memory.

Post-term pregnancy: A pregnancy that has lasted 42+ weeks.

Precipitous birth: Classified as a labor and delivery that lasts less than three hours.

Preeclampsia: A complication of pregnancy characterized by high blood pressure and protein in the urine after the 20th week of pregnancy. Symptoms typically include rapid weight gain and increased swelling throughout the body. If left untreated, preeclampsia can lead to more serious eclampsia, so consult your doctor should this be a concern. Also called toxemia.

Pregnancy Discrimination Act: A federal law that bars discrimination against women for conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth.

Pregnancy-induced hypertension (PIH): An elevation of a pregnant woman’s blood pressure, typically in the last trimester.

Pregnancy test: A test of a woman’s urine or blood to determine if she’s pregnant by screening for the pregnancy hormone, hCG.

Premature baby: Classified as an infant born before 37 weeks gestation.

Premature rupture of membranes (PROM): The bursting of the amniotic sac before the onset of contractions. Labor typically begins soon after the rupture, but if it doesn’t begin within 24 hours, the practitioner will likely induce labor.

Prenatal: Meaning “before birth.”

Prenatal care: Medical care during pregnancy.

Presentation: The position of the baby such as feet down (breech) or head down (vertex) inside a woman’s uterus at term.

Presenting part: The part of the baby’s body that leads the way during labor and delivers first.

Preterm baby: A baby born before 37 weeks gestation.

Preterm delivery: The birth of a baby before 37 weeks gestation.

Preterm labor: When labor occurs after 20 weeks gestation, but before 37 weeks. Prompt medical treatment can sometimes halt or postpone early labor, improving the baby’s chances for survival.

Primigravida: Classified as a woman who is pregnant for the first time.

Primipara: Classified as a woman who has given birth for the first time to a baby older than 20 weeks gestation.

Prodromal labor: Contractions like Braxton Hicks that occur before true labor begins. Classified as false labor.

Progesterone: A hormone produced by a woman’s ovaries that help to regulate her reproductive cycle and to keep the uterus from contracting during pregnancy. It also promotes the growth of the blood vessels in the uterus.

Prolactin: The hormone that activates a mother’s milk-producing glands.

Prolapsed cord: When the umbilical cord slips through the cervix or into the vagina ahead of the baby during delivery. If compressed, it may cut off the baby’s blood and oxygen supply.

Prolonged labor: A labor that lasts 18–24 hours.

Prolonged pregnancy: A pregnancy that lasts longer than 40 weeks of gestation.

Prostaglandins: Uterine hormones that prepare the cervix and ignite labor.

Proteinuria: When excess protein is found in the urine. This is often a sign of preeclampsia.

Protracted labor: Classified as a labor that lasts longer than expected.

Pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy (PUPPP): Small, itchy pimples that break out on the stretch marks, thighs, buttocks, or arms of a pregnant woman. They’re uncomfortable, but not dangerous, and typically go away after childbirth.

Pruritus gravidarum: Itching during pregnancy.

Pubic symphysis: The front part of the pelvis from which a medical practitioner measures the growth of a woman’s uterus during pregnancy.

Pudendal block: A regional nerve block used during labor administered through a needle into the perineal or vaginal area. It reduces pain in the region, but not overall uterine discomfort. It’s also used when forceps or vacuum extraction are required.

Pyogenic granuloma of pregnancy: A harmless lesion a pregnant woman may have on her gums that bleeds easily and typically goes away on its own after delivery.


Quad screen: A prenatal blood test administered between 15 and 22 weeks of gestation to check levels of the four substances — AFP, hCG, estriol, and inhibin-A — that help determine whether a fetus is at increased risk for chromosomal abnormalities or neural tube defects.

Quickening: The first fetal movements felt by a pregnant woman, usually between 18 and 22 weeks gestation. Also called fluttering.


Rectus abdominis: The central muscle that runs down the front of the abdomen and supports the back. It may separate during pregnancy, but it will return to normal after childbirth.

Recurrent miscarriage: When a woman has had two or more miscarriages.

Regional anesthesia: Numbing a certain body part during labor.

Relaxin: The hormone that causes joints and ligaments to soften and become stretched during pregnancy, which allows the pelvic bones to expand more easily during labor and delivery.

Retained placenta: A placenta that remains in the uterus for 30 minutes or more after delivery.

Retroverted uterus: Occurs in 20 percent of women when the top of the uterus is tilted toward the back instead of the front. Also called tilted or tipped uterus.

Retrovir (AZT): An antiretroviral drug used to treat an HIV-positive pregnant mother.

Rh factor: A protein found on red blood cells. If the Rh factor protein is present on the cells, a person is Rh-positive. If there is no Rh factor protein, the person is Rh-negative. An Rh-negative woman carrying an Rh-positive fetus may produce antibodies that attack the fetus’s blood.

Rh incompatibility: A condition in which a baby’s blood type and Rh factor are incompatible with the mother’s. A woman whose Rh factor is incompatible with her fetuses will usually give birth to a healthy baby as long as it is monitored and maintained.

RhoGAM (RhIg): RhoGAM (Rh immunoglobulin) is a specially developed blood product that can prevent an Rh-negative mother’s antibodies from attacking the fetus’s Rh-positive cells. Rh-negative women will receive Rh immunoglobulin around the 28th week of pregnancy or at the time of amniocentesis.

Ripening: Thinning and softening of the cervix before delivery.

Rooming-in: When a newborn stays in the same hospital room as the mother instead of the nursery.

Rooting: An instinctual reflex present at birth in which the baby opens his or her mouth and turns the head to nurse when their cheek is stroked.

Round ligament pain: Discomfort in the expectant mother’s lower abdomen and groin during pregnancy as the ligaments that hold the expanding uterus stretch.

Rubella: Also called German measles, rubella is a highly contagious viral disease with a mild red rash that can cause serious birth defects in a fetus if a pregnant woman is afflicted.


Saddle block: A regional nerve block anesthetic injected into the fluid surrounding the mother’s spinal cord and used to block the pain associated with a forceps or vacuum extraction delivery.

Sciatica: A painful condition characterized by pain in the lower back, buttocks, and leg that is often caused in pregnant women by the pressure of their enlarging uterus on the sciatic nerve.

Sea-Bands: Used to treat morning sickness, these are elastic bands worn on both wrists that put pressure on acupressure points on the inner wrists and relieve nausea.

Secondary infertility: When a woman is unable to get pregnant or carry a pregnancy to term after already having a child.

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI): A class of antidepressant medications prescribed to new mothers who suffer from postpartum depression.

Semen: White fluid containing sperm ejaculated from a man’s penis.

Shoulder dystocia: When a baby’s shoulders get stuck in the birth canal after the head has been delivered.

Side-lying position: Breastfeeding position in which the baby and mother lie on their sides facing each other.

Sitz bath: A shallow, tepid bath that soothes the discomfort and pain of episiotomy stitches during the postpartum period.

Small for gestational age (SGA): A baby who is not growing as well as it should be at his or her gestational age due to slow development.

Sonogram: An ultrasound image of a baby.

Sonographer: The technician who performs an ultrasound.

Speculum: A device used to spread a woman’s vaginal opening to make viewing her cervix easier.

Sperm: The male reproductive cells produced by the testicles. Sperm fertilizes an egg to produce an embryo and initiate pregnancy.

Spermicides: Chemical agents that kill sperm and are a form of birth control.

Sperm motility: The ability of sperm to move quickly.

Spider veins: Small red and/or blue blood vessels that appear close to the skin’s surface and result from the hormonal changes of pregnancy. They usually fade after childbirth.

Spina bifida: A neural tube defect resulting from the improper closure of the fetal spine.

Spontaneous labor: Labor that begins on its own without any medical augmentation.

Spontaneous miscarriage: The spontaneous and involuntary loss of pregnancy before 20 weeks, estimated to occur in 15 to 20 percent of all pregnancies.

Spotting: Bloody discharge from the vagina.

Squat bar: A U-shaped bar that attaches to a birthing bed allowing a laboring woman to squat when she’s ready to deliver her baby.

Station: An indication of how far the baby’s presenting part (typically the head) has progressed through the mother’s pelvis.

Steroids: Synthetic hormones some pregnant women take during preterm labor to speed up the maturation of the fetus’s lungs.

Stillbirth: The death of a baby after 20 weeks gestation, but before birth.

Stillborn: A baby showing no signs of life at birth.

Stretch marks: Also called striae, these are discolored linear patterns resulting from stretching of the skin. In pregnancy, stretch marks may appear on the abdomen, breasts, buttocks, and legs. They can fade slowly on their own after delivery. Many women are genetically predisposed to them and can’t avoid them.

Stripping of the membranes: A technique used to encourage the onset of labor when a medical practitioner inserts a finger between the membranes and the wall of the uterus to loosen the membranes. Also called sweeping of the membranes.

Suckling: When the baby breastfeeds.

Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS): The sudden death of an infant from unexplained causes, typically between birth and six months.

Symphysis pubis dysfunction: Pain in the pubic symphysis during or after pregnancy caused by a misalignment of the pelvis and/or pubic bones due to their stretching apart during pregnancy or after delivery.

Symphysis pubis: The front part of the pelvis. During pregnancy, a practitioner will use this point to measure the growth of the uterus.

Systolic blood pressure: The upper number in a blood pressure reading that represents the amount of pressure when the heart is contracted.


Tay-Sachs disease: A genetic disorder where the baby lacks an essential enzyme and dies in early childhood. A preconception test can determine whether potential parents are carriers of the disease.

Terbutaline: A medication used to stop preterm labor contractions.

Term: The length of a pregnancy (40 weeks).

Termination: Synonymous with abortion.

Threatened miscarriage: When vaginal bleeding occurs during the first half of pregnancy.

Tocolysis: The administration of medicine to stop uterine contractions during premature labor.

Toxoplasmosis: A parasitic infection carried in cat feces and uncooked meat that can be dangerous to the fetus if contracted by the expectant mother.

Transducer: The device used in ultrasounds that emits sound waves and transmits them to a computer, resulting in the ultrasound image.

Transitional labor: The end of the first stage of labor when the cervix dilates from 8 to 10 centimeters.

Transverse: When the fetus is turned sideways in utero.

Trial of labor after cesarean delivery (TOLAC): Attempting labor after having a prior cesarean in the hope of having a vaginal birth instead of another cesarean section.

Trimester: A time span of three months. Pregnancy is divided into three trimesters, each approximately 13 to 14 weeks long.

Triple screen: A blood test given to a woman between 15 and 20 weeks of pregnancy to screen for an increased risk of the baby having a birth defect.

Trophoblastic disease: An unusual pregnancy in which there is no fetus, only an abnormal mass growth.

Tubal ligation: A sterilization procedure in which a woman’s fallopian tubes are cut, tied off, or blocked to prevent pregnancy.

Tubal pregnancy: When a fertilized egg implants outside of the uterus, usually in the fallopian tube. Also called an ectopic pregnancy, symptoms include abnormal bleeding, severe abdominal pain, or shoulder pain. The tubal pregnancy must be surgically removed to prevent rupture and damage to the fallopian tubes.


Ultrasound: A procedure that uses high-frequency sound waves to create a moving image of a baby in utero and to monitor the health and development of the fetus.

Umbilical artery Doppler velocimetry: The use of ultrasound to assess the flow of blood through the umbilical artery to the baby in utero. Typically, a weak, absent, or reverse flow indicates the fetus is not getting adequate nourishment.

Umbilical cord: Connects the fetus to the placenta and brings oxygen and nutrients from the expectant mother to the fetus and removes waste products.

Undescended testicles: When a baby boy’s testicles don’t descend into his scrotum by the time he is born.

Unripe cervix: When the cervix is not ready for delivery. Prostaglandins may be needed to ripen it to jump-start labor or to prepare for induction.

Urge to push: The natural impulse felt by a laboring woman toward the end of the first stage of labor to bear down and push the baby out.

Uterine inversion: Occurs if the placenta doesn’t detach completely from the uterus after the delivery of a baby and it pulls the top of the uterus out with it when it emerges.

Uterine rupture: When the scar from previous cesarean ruptures during labor. Symptoms include searing pain in the abdomen and fetal distress. If this occurs, an immediate cesarean is necessary, followed by repair of the uterus, if possible.

Uterus: The hollow, pear-shaped, muscular organ in a woman’s body where a baby grows.


Vacuum-assisted birth: When vacuum extraction is used during childbirth.

Vacuum extraction: A procedure used as an alternative to forceps when a baby is stuck in the birth canal during delivery. A plastic cup is applied to the baby’s head and it is gently eased out of the mother’s birth canal.

Vagina: The female genital that leads from the opening between the labia to the uterus.

Vaginal birth: The birth of a baby through the mother’s birth canal.

Vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC): The vaginal birth of a baby after a woman has already delivered a baby via cesarean.

Varicose veins: Swollen veins that are common during pregnancy because of increased blood volume and increased pressure on the veins from the growing uterus. They typically disappear after delivery.

Vernix caseosa: A greasy white substance that covers the fetus in utero and protects it from the amniotic fluid and makes the baby slippery and easier to deliver.

Vertex presentation: When the baby is positioned head down in the uterus at term.

Very low birth weight baby: A baby weighing less than 3 pounds, 3 ounces at birth.

Viable: A baby mature enough to survive outside the womb.

Vulva: A woman’s external genital organs that include the labia and clitoris.


Walking epidural: An epidural that maintains sensation in the legs and allows a laboring woman to stand or walk.

Water birth: When a woman labors and/or gives birth in a sterile birthing tub or pool filled with water.

Womb: Another name for a woman’s uterus.


Yeast infection: A vaginal infection that is common during pregnancy. Symptoms include itching and a white, strong-smelling discharge emitted from the vagina.


Zygote: Classified as the fertilized egg before it divides and develops into an embryo.


Now you know your pregnancy ABCs!

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