Termination (end) of a pregnancy. This can be achieved either through a surgical procedure or by taking a combination of prescribed medications (medical abortion).
Acceleration of labour:
The speeding up of labour by the use of drugs, usually via a Syntocinon drip.
Active labour: 
Also known as the first stage of labour.  This is the period after the latent (early) stage of labour when a woman is experiencing strong, regular contractions and her cervix continues to dilate from 4cms until she is fully dilated (10cms).
Albumin (ALB):
This is a protein. If it’s present in your urine, it may be a sign of pre-eclampsia or of an infection such as cystitis.
Amniotic fluid:
Sometimes called liquor (lie-kwa) or waters, this is the fluid that surrounds the baby in the uterus (womb).
Amniotic sac:
The bag in which the fetus and amniotic fluid are contained during pregnancy.
A drug that gives total or partial loss of sensation of a part or the whole of the body.
A doctor who specialises in giving anaesthetic.
A term that means ‘before birth’ (alternative terms are ‘prenatal’ and ‘antepartum’).
An injection given to rhesus negative women if they are having a baby that is found to be rhesus positive after testing.
Apgar score:
Is a simple way to quickly assess the health of a newborn baby immediately after birth and is done at 1 and 5 minutes. The 1-minute score determines how well the baby tolerated the birthing process. The 5-minute score assesses how well the newborn is adapting to its new environment.
Artificial rupture of membranes (ARM):
Sometimes called ‘breaking the waters.  If the neck of your womb (the cervix) is slightly open because you have had some contractions, it is possible to use a long hook to break the bag of waters where they bulge down in front of your baby’s head. Breaking the waters in this way may stimulate the onset of strong labour.
Antepartum haemorrhage (APH):
Bleeding from the vagina during pregnancy, before the birth of the baby.
Assisted delivery:
The use forceps or ventouse to speed up the delivery, or to move the baby if they have become stuck.



Birth canal:
The passageway (made up of the cervix and vagina) that the baby travels through during birth.
Birth plan:
A written document describing a woman’s preferences for her care during labour and birth.
Blood transfusion:
A procedure where blood is given to a person. 
Braxton Hicks contractions:
a tightening of the uterus (womb) that may feel like a labour contraction. Braxton Hicks contractions are not painful and do not get stronger and closer together like true contractions (also called ‘false labour’).
Breech (presentation):
When the baby is positioned inside the uterus with its bottom or feet down, instead of its head.
Blood pressure (BP):
Is a measure of the force that your heart uses to pump blood around your body.  It’s important to have your blood pressure measured in pregnancy as a rise could mean a problem developing.



Caesarean section:
Delivery of the baby through an incision in the lower abdominal and uterine walls.
The baby is head down and in the lower part of the uterus.
Changes in the baby’s heart rate pattern:
contractions in labour can be stressful for the baby, however, most cope well with the stress.   Sometimes contractions can reduce the baby’s oxygen supply, causing changes in the baby’s heart rate pattern.
Chorionic villi sampling:
Prenatal (during pregnancy) test that is used to look for genetic abnormalities.
Present from birth.
The process of becoming pregnant, when a sperm and egg join to form a single cell (alternative terms include ‘fertilisation’, ‘impregnation’ and ‘insemination’).
The often strong and painful tightening of the uterus during labour that causes the woman’s cervix to dilate and that helps push the baby through the birth canal.
The point during birth when the widest part of the head of the baby reaches the opening of the vagina.



This is an injection like pethidine sometimes given for pain relief in labour.  Like pethidine, it can cause drowsiness and nausea.
In the first stage of labour the cervix, or neck of the womb, gradually opens up to make space for the baby. It needs to open to approximately 10 centimetres before the baby’s head can pass through. This process is called dilation of the cervix.
This is a small handheld machine that picks up your baby’s heartbeat by ultrasound.



A serious complication of pregnancy, characterised by seizures or convulsions in a pregnant person with pre-eclampsia.
Ectopic Pregnancy:
A fertilised egg implants itself outside the womb, usually in the fallopian tube.  This pregnancy can’t be saved and can put your health at risk.
Expected Date of Delivery (EDD) or Expected Date of Confinement (EDC):
The date your baby is due.
The name given to a fertilised egg from the time of conception until the eighth week of pregnancy.
Engaged (ENG):
This means that the widest part of the baby’s head has passed into the pelvis in preparation for the birth.
A mixture of oxygen and nitrous oxide, inhaled through a mask or mouthpiece during labour for pain relief.  It is also called gas and air or gas and oxygen.
An injection of local anaesthetic into the lower back, given for pain relief during labour.  This can be topped up via a catheter (a thin tube) that is left in place during labour.  For most people an epidural takes away all the pain of contractions.
A cut made in the perineum (the area between the vagina and anus) to allow the baby to be born more quickly if required.



Fallopian tubes:
Part of the reproductive system.  The eggs produced in the ovaries travel down the fallopian tubes where they are fertilised before embedding in the lining of the uterus.  Occasionally a fertilised egg will embed in the tube, causing an ectopic pregnancy.
Fetal blood sampling (FBS):
A test occasionally performed during labour to ensure that the baby has enough oxygen and is coping well with the birth.  It involves taking a tiny amount of blood from the baby’s scalp with the result available very quickly.
Medical name for the baby before it’s born.
Fetal heart (FH):
You may see ‘FH heard’ or ‘FHH’ on your notes – that means your baby’s heartbeat has been heard.
Fetal Movement (FM):
It may say ‘FM felt’ or ‘FMF’ on your notes. That means your baby had been felt to move.
First stage of labour:
The time from the beginning of active labour until the cervix is fully dilated to 10cm. The first stage can vary from a few hours to 12 hours or more.
First trimester:
The first 12 to 14 weeks or 3 months of pregnancy.
Folic acid:
A B vitamin found naturally in green leafy vegetables that helps prevent anaemia and has been shown to reduce the incidence of some birth defects including spina bifida (see definition below).
The six soft spots on a baby’s head that allow its skull to compress during birth so it can pass through the birth canal.
Tong-shaped instruments placed around the baby’s head to help it travel through the birth canal during childbirth.  When this happens, it is known as a forceps or instrumental birth.
This is the top part of the womb that grows upward during pregnancy. The fundal height is used to check the growth of the baby and how many weeks pregnant you are. It’s the length in centimetres between the pubic bone and the top of the womb or uterus.



Gestation/Gestational age:
the length of time a baby is in the uterus measured from the first day of your last menstrual period.  It is usually measured in weeks and days.
GTT (Glucose Tolerance Test):
A blood test for diabetes.  Women don’t eat and only drink water from the night before.  On the morning of the test, blood is taken.  After this, women are given a glucose drink and then wait two hours.  After two hours have passed, another blood test is taken and the whole test if finished.



Haemoglobin (Hb):
This is a substance in the blood that carries oxygen.  It may appear lower in pregnancy due to the blood becoming more diluted or it can be low if you have low iron levels (anaemia).
Excessive bleeding.  During pregnancy, it is usually called antepartum haemorrhage and after birth, it is called postpartum haemorrhage. Any bleeding in pregnancy should be reported to a doctor or midwife.   Sudden heavy bleeding, especially if accompanied by signs of shock – pale skin, sweating, feeling faint and a weak pulse – all indicate a medical emergency.  Call an ambulance and/or doctor straight away.
Higher than normal blood pressure.
Lower than normal blood pressure.



The giving of a vaccine, often by injection, that makes the body resistant to certain bacteria or viruses.
Induction (of labour):
Starting labour artificially using medication and/or by breaking the waters.
In utero:
Means ‘inside the uterus’.
Not being able to control your bladder or bowel movements.



A condition where a person’s skin and the whites of their eyes take on a yellowish tinge. It is caused by an excess of a chemical called bilirubin in the blood.  Jaundice (neonatal) is common in newborn babies and often resolves itself, however, it needs to be monitored.



These are substances found in the blood and urine which show that the body has used up all the available sugar for energy and has begun to use fat instead.   Often in labour ketones are present and this could cause labour to slow down. Eating little and often in early labour can help prevent this from happening.



The folds of skin around the vagina.
Last Menstrual Period (LMP):
This is the first day your last period (before becoming pregnant).  This date is used to work out how many weeks pregnant you are.
Latent phase of labour:
Also known as early labour. This is when you start to experience contractions, which can be irregular in strength and frequency and can last from a few hours to several days.  You could also have backache.  The contractions will, over a period of time, usually increase in strength and frequency until they cause your cervix (the neck of the womb) to dilate.  Once the cervix is 4cm dilated the labour is said to have become established and active labour starts.
Lithotomy position:
A position used for assisted deliveries, where the mother lies flat on her back with her legs raised and apart, supported by stirrups.
This is the blood lost from the vagina for a few weeks or so after the birth of the baby and is a mixture of blood and mucus.  It is like a very heavy period at first but gets less over time.  It usually starts bright red and gradually turns a brownish colour until it finally stops.  Occasionally it can become bright red again especially after too much activity.  Following rest, it should reduce however if it continues it could be a sign of haemorrhage.



This is in the baby’s bottom at birth and appears black/dark green.  It will usually be in the first few dirty nappies until it gradually changes as the baby feeds on milk.
Membrane sweep:
This is used to try and stimulate contractions and start labour. The doctor or midwife does an internal vaginal examination and attempts to stretch the cervix and sweep a finger around the membranes.
A pregnancy that ends on its own before 24 weeks of gestation.
Missed (or silent) miscarriage:
Is one where the baby has died or not developed but has not been physically miscarried.  In many cases, there are no signs that anything was wrong.
Morning sickness:
feeling sick, being sick (vomiting) and aversions to certain foods and smells that can affect lots of pregnancies to some degree. Morning sickness can occur at any time of day, usually begins at four to eight weeks gestation and generally subsides by week 16 of the pregnancy.
Someone pregnant who has been pregnant before.
Also, multip – a pregnant person who has had had at least one previous pregnancy and given birth to a viable (> 24 week) baby.
Multiple pregnancy:
A pregnancy with more than one baby – twins, triplets.



NAD - Nothing Abnormal Detected:
The midwife or doctor may write this on your notes when they don’t find any problems.
A baby from birth to four weeks old.
A doctor who specialises in the care of newborn babies.
Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU):
A unit in the hospital for babies who need a high level of special medical care



A doctor who specialises in the care of women during pregnancy and childbirth.
This describes the position of a baby’s head in the womb when the back of the head is toward the front. You may see LOA or ROA on your notes which means Left (or Right) occipito-anterior and this means the head is toward the left or the right.
This describes the position of a baby’s head in the womb when the back of the head is toward the back.  You may see LOP or ROP on your notes which means Left (or Right) occipito-posterior and this means the back of the head is toward the left or the right of your back.
This is swelling where fluid builds up and can be seen in your ankles, fingers and elsewhere such as the face. You may see it measured in your notes as + or ++.
A smaller than normal amount of amniotic fluid.
The hormone which, in labour stimulates the contractions. The same hormone also stimulates milk flow from the breasts by contracting the muscle fibres in the milk ducts.
The reproductive organs that release eggs into the fallopian tubes, where they may be fertilised if sperm are present.
The monthly release of a mature egg from an ovary. Someone is most fertile around the time of ovulation.
A human egg.



A doctor who specialises in the care of children.
When the midwife of doctor feels the baby by moving their hands across your stomach.
Pelvic floor:
The layers of muscles around your vagina and anus that are attached to your pelvis and hold the bladder and uterus in place.
The area of skin between your vagina and anus.
Perineal block:
A local anaesthetic injection given into the perineum before an episiotomy (cut) is carried out.
A special type of medication designed to be inserted into the vagina. Prostaglandin pessaries are a type of medication sometimes used to induce labour.
A form of pain relief given by injection into the thigh or bottom. Pethidine usually makes the person in labour sleepy and very relaxed.  Occasionally it can make the baby slower to breathe when they are born and the midwife will watch out for this.
The organ that develops in the uterus during pregnancy and uses the umbilical cord to transfer nourishment and oxygen to the baby and to take the baby’s waste matter back.
Placental abruption:
This is where the placenta starts separating from the wall of the uterus or womb before the baby is born. 
Placenta Praevia:
This is when the placenta is low down in the womb or uterus. Sometimes it covers the cervix and blocks the baby’s exit, in which case a Caesarean section would be needed.
A larger than normal amount of amniotic fluid.
How the baby is lying, for example to the right or left of the pelvis.
After the birth. Relates to the 28 day period after giving birth.
Relating to the period of a few days after the birth.
This is a complication of pregnancy where the blood pressure increases and protein appears in the urine.
The part of the baby which is coming first (usually the crown or back of the baby’s head).
Preterm (premature):
A baby born before 37 weeks of pregnancy.
Someone pregnant for the first time.
Sometimes called the primi or primip – someone giving birth for the first time.
Prolapsed umbilical cord:
Usually, the baby’s cord is born along with the baby and it continues to supply oxygen to the baby until it is clamped and cut. Occasionally the cord slips down in front of the baby and the oxygen supply to the baby is reduced or cut off. This can happen with a breech baby or with a transverse or unstable lie. This is a medical emergency and the baby has been delivered very quickly, usually by an emergency Caesarean section.
A natural substance used in pessaries to soften the cervix and stimulate the start of labour.
Pudendal block:
A local anaesthetic is given inside the vagina to block pain around the cervix, vagina and perineum and sometimes used before using forceps.



The first movements of the baby that may be felt.



Rhesus (Rh):
The rhesus blood group system is a way of categorising your blood type.
Rooming in:
Maternity units now recommend that babies stay with their mothers 24 hours a day. This helps with feeding and bonding. It also reduces the risk of infection.
Also called German measles. If contracted during pregnancy, it can result in birth defects.




Second-degree tear:
A tear of the perineum involving both skin and muscles, but not the anus. Second-degree tears normally require stitches.
Second stage of labour:
This is from full dilation of the cervix to the moment when the baby is birthed.  Pushing during the second stage can last from a few minutes up to a couple of hours.
This is when the thick mucus which plugs the narrow channel of the cervix during pregnancy comes away. It is a sign that the body is getting ready for labour.
Skin-to-skin contact is usually referred to as the practice where a baby is dried and laid directly on their mother’s bare chest after birth, both of them covered in a warm blanket and left for at least an hour or until after the first feed.
Slate Grey Nevus (Blue-grey spots):
A blue-grey birthmark resulting from pigment in the skin and found on the lower back, bottom, sides, arms, legs and sometimes shoulders.  It usually disappears by age 3-5 years.  They are more likely to be found in people with darker skin.
Spina bifida:
A birth defect that occurs during the first month of pregnancy when a baby’s backbone does not fully close, leaving part of the spinal cord exposed.
When a baby is born dead after 24 weeks of pregnancy.
A synthetic version of a naturally made hormone called oxytocin which increases contractions. It is sometimes used to induce or speed up labour, or to reduce bleeding after a baby is born. It is also sometimes given to speed up the birth of the placenta. It is always given as an injection, either into a muscle or vein.
A medication containing two drugs (syntocinon and ergomerine) that help the womb contract after the baby is born. It is sometimes used to speed up the birth of the placenta or to stop bleeding after birth.



TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation):
A device for relieving the pain of labour. Sticky pads are attached to the back to produce electrical impulses which stimulate the body’s own natural painkillers and block some of the pain signals from the uterus. The unit is battery operated and the amount of stimulation can be controlled with a push-button device and a variable control dial.
This is the period of time at the end of a pregnancy when a baby would be expected to be born. It is between 37 and 42 weeks which is the normal length of a human pregnancy.
Termination of pregnancy:
See ‘abortion’ above.
A room where surgical operations take place in a hospital or other health facility.
Third stage labour:
The time from the birth of the baby to the birth of the placenta.
Third- or fourth-degree tear:
A severe tear of the perineum involving the skin, muscles and anus.  Special stitches are used to repair these tears and this is done in the operating theatre.
The tough-going, final part of the first stage of labour, when the mother may begin to feel the urge to push. Contractions may come thick and fast and can feel very hard to cope with.
Transverse lie:
A baby who is lying across the uterus from left to right rather than up and down. In this position, the baby cannot be born and there is a risk of the umbilical cord coming out first.
Trial of labour:
Someone with known complications, for example, a previous Caesarean birth, may be given a trial of labour to see if they are able to give birth vaginally.  After a certain time, if it seems unlikely that the baby can be born safely through the vagina, a caesarean would be offered.
A time span of three months during pregnancy, each marked by different phases of fetal development.



Ultrasound scan:
A screening or diagnostic technique in which very high frequency sound waves are passed into the body, and the reflected echoes are detected and analysed to build a picture of the internal organs or of a fetus in the uterus.
Umbilical cord:
The thick cord of intertwining blood vessels that links baby and placenta, and carries oxygen and nourishment to the baby.
Unstable lie:
The baby continues to change its position inside the uterus.
Uterus or womb:
The hollow muscular organ in which the baby lives and grows until birth.



VBAC (vaginal birth after caesarean):
When someone has a vaginal birth after having had one or more previous caesarean sections.
Vaginal examination (VE):
An internal examination where two fingers are placed inside the vagina to feel the cervix and check dilatation. It is also carried out to break the waters and find out the presentation and position of the baby and if it is moving down during birth.
A suction cap that is attached to the baby’s head and used during birth to help the baby be born at the end of the labour.
A white, waxy substance that covers the fetus in the uterus.
Vertex (VX):
This is the area between the two fontanelles on the top of the baby’s head



giving birth in water using a deep bath or birthing pool


Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists – Medical Terms Explained: