Pregnancy and Birthing Glossary
Abruption or Abruptio Placentae—The placenta detaches from the wall of the uterus earlier than it should. A cesarean section may be necessary if this occurs.
Active Labor—This is the second phase of the first stage of labor. Active labor begins when the cervix is 3-4 centimeters dilated. Regular contractions no more than 10 minutes apart. The contractions are stronger and occur more often than during the early phase (latent phase) of stage 1. The cervix dilates from 7-10 centimeters toward the end of this phase.
Afterpains—These are sharp abdominal pains caused by the uterus contracting after delivery. It is normal and ideal for the uterus to contract as it returns to its prepregnancy size. Afterpains are most common during breastfeeding. Breastfeeding stimulates the release of oxytocin, which causes the uterus to contract. Afterpains typically subside by the third day.
Alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) Test—Alpha-fetoprotein is a protein produced by the fetus. During pregnancy, the fetus excretes AFP into the amniotic fluid and the mother’s blood. The AFP screening test measures the level of AFP. An abnormal level may indicate an increased risk of certain birth defects, such as neural tube defects, or congenital conditions, such as Down syndrome. This test can only indicate increased risk, it cannot diagnose a specific condition. This test is currently done as part of a set of 3 tests (Triple Screen) or 4 tests (Quad Screen).
Amnion—See amniotic sac.
Amniocentesis—This is a procedure where a sample of amniotic fluid is removed from the uterus. Most often this test is done to allow examination of the baby’s chromosomes in order to check for some genetic diseases. It can also be used to look for infection inside the uterus.
Amniotic Fluid—This is the fluid inside the amniotic sac. The fluid serves to cushion and protect the fetus.
Amniotic Sac (also called Amnion)—This lining inside the uterus contains the fetus and the fluid that cushions the fetus. This fluid is called amniotic fluid. The term “water breaks” refers to the amniotic sac breaking. This often occurs at the beginning of labor.
Analgesic—a medication used to relieve pain
Anesthesiologist or Anesthetist—This is a physician trained in anesthesiology. The physician is able to give any medicine that numbs the feeling of pain. This doctor can deliver epidural medicine.
Antibody—This is a type of protein that is part of the immune system. Antibodies are designed to fight off specific factors that may cause sickness or disease. The mother’s antibodies are given to her baby through breast milk. This helps strengthen the baby’s immune system.
Apgar Score—This index is used to evaluate the condition of a newborn infant. A rating of 0, 1, or 2 is given for each of 5 characteristics: color, heart rate, response to stimulation, muscle tone, and respiration. A perfect score is 10. Most healthy babies will score a maximum of 9 because it is normal for babies to have blue hands and feet in the first minutes of life. The Apgar score is determined 1, 5, and 10 minutes after birth. Healthy babies only get the first 2 scores.
Areola—This is the colored ring around the nipple. If a baby is properly latched on during breastfeeding, both the areola and the nipple should be in the baby’s mouth.
Artificial Insemination—This treatment for infertility involves the sperm being brought to the uterus or oviduct by a way other than the natural means. For example, the doctor may insert a catheter through the vagina to deposit the sperm in the uterus.
Assisted Delivery—The doctor takes steps to speed up delivery after the cervix is fully dilated. 2 common methods are forceps delivery and vacuum-extractor assisted delivery.
Augmentation—The doctor takes steps to resume labor if a woman is in labor and the contractions slow or stop. The doctor may augment labor by rupturing the amniotic sac or giving oxytocin. Oxytocin is a drug that stimulates the uterus to contract.
Baby Blues—Feelings of sadness, crying, anxiety, or irritability can occur in the first few weeks after having a baby. There are many possible causes, including hormonal changes, lack of sleep, the baby’s crying, and loss of time to yourself. Feelings of sadness that do not get better with time or that include thoughts of hurting yourself or your baby are signs of a more serious condition ( postpartum depression).
Basal Body Temperature (BBT)—This is body temperature in the morning before getting out of bed. Measuring and tracking daily BBT with a special thermometer can help determine when the ovary releases an egg (ovulation). It can also help a couple figure out the most fertile days of the month. BBT rises on the first day of ovulation.
BBT Thermometer—This thermometer can detect temperature changes of at least one-tenth of a degree. It is used to track daily basal body temperature (BBT) in order to determine the days a woman is most likely to get pregnant. A BBT thermometer can be purchased at a drug store.
Bassinet—This is a basket-like bed used for infants. It often has a hood over one end and handles for easy carrying.
bHCG—This is a hormone made in high levels in pregnancy. Blood levels of bHCG are used to tell if a woman is pregnant and to see whether the pregnancy is developing normally. The hormone HCG can also be used to find the probability of a chromosomal problem in a developing fetus. In nonpregnant women, it can be used to check for certain types of cancer.
Bilirubin—This reddish yellow pigment is normally cleared from the blood by the liver. A newborn’s liver is still learning how to remove bilirubin, so it may build up in the blood causing a baby to have a slight yellow tinge to the skin and eyeballs. If a baby has this yellow tinge, the condition is called jaundice. This may occur between the second and fifth day of life. This condition is usually easily treated.
Biotinidase Deficiency—Biotinidase is an enzyme that breaks down biotin, which is a B vitamin. If a baby cannot make this enzyme, the baby has a biotinidase deficiency. This deficiency can cause serious neurologic effects, including convulsions, hearing loss, and breathing problems. If this deficiency is identified and treated early, the effects can be prevented. A newborn screening test can check for this disease before any symptoms occur.
Birth Canal—This is the pathway through which a baby travels in order to be born. The birth canal is formed by the cervix, vagina, and vulva.
Birth Plan—The birth plan is a written list of your preferences to be used as a guide for how you would like your labor and delivery to go. As labor can be unpredictable, you may need to deviate from this plan at times during labor.
Birthing Center—This is a healthcare facility usually staffed by nurse-midwives, with an obstetrician available in case of emergency. A birthing center provides a more home-like setting than a hospital.
Birthing Room—Both labor and delivery take place in this hospital room. Birthing rooms are designed with warm colors and furnishings so women feel more comfortable during labor and birth than in a normal hospital room.
Blastocyst—This is a hollow ball of cells that develops from the fertilized egg. The blastocyst moves to the uterus and attaches to the uterine lining. The blastocyst continues to grow and divide until it becomes an embryo.
Bloody Show—This refers to the release of stringy mucus or thick brown, pink, or reddish discharge from the vagina. This is a sign that labor will begin soon; usually within 72 hours.
Body Mass Index (BMI)—This is the ratio of weight (in kilograms) to height squared (in meters). Overweight is defined as a BMI greater than 25. Obesity is defined by a BMI greater than 30.
Bradley Method—This approach to birth stresses labor and delivery as a natural process. This method also calls for an active role for the baby’s father as birth coach. Good nutrition and exercise during pregnancy are encouraged. Relaxation and deep-breathing techniques are taught to cope with labor pain. Also called husband-coached birth.
Braxton-Hicks Contractions (also called false labor)—These contractions occur toward the end of pregnancy. As the due date approaches, they may become stronger and more painful. Braxton-Hicks contractions are irregular and do not get closer together. They may stop when you walk or change positions.
Breast Engorgement—This is an uncomfortable feeling of fullness and hardness in the breasts. This occurs around the third or fourth day post partum when mature milk is coming in. Breastfeeding often and using both breasts at each feeding can help reduce this discomfort. Between feedings, take a hot shower or use warm compresses or ice packs.
Breast Pump—A machine (either manual or electric) removes milk from a woman’s breasts. Women use breast pumps to pump and store their breast milk for future use. Breast pumping is also useful for women who are away from their babies for several hours and need to relieve the pressure of full breasts.
Breast Shells—These are small cushions worn inside a bra to protect nipples from chaffing and to collect leaking breast milk. Some are ventilated, which means they have holes that allow air to circulate around the breast. The ventilated shells are used to protect sore or cracked nipples and help them heal quickly.
Breech Birth (or Breech Presentation)—This occurs when the baby presents for delivery with his or her buttocks or feet, rather than head, first.
Catheter—This tubular medical device is used for insertion into vessels, passageways, or body cavities. Usually it is used to inject medications or withdraw fluids, or to keep a passage open.
Cell-Free Fetal DNA—This is a blood test done in early pregnancy that can detect certain fetal chromosomal disorders, such as Down syndrome.
Cephalopelvic Disproportion (CPD)—This occurs when the baby’s head is too big to fit through the mother’s pelvis. In this case, a cesarean section may be needed.
Certified Nurse-midwife (CNM)—A CNM is a registered nurse who has earned a graduate degree in midwifery, which trains him or her to handle normal, low-risk pregnancies and deliveries. Most CNMs deliver babies in hospitals or birth centers, although some do home births.
Cervical Mucus Method—This is one method for determining fertile times during the month. This method involves tracking changes in cervical mucus (the fluid at the opening of the cervix). Hormonal changes that control ovulation also affect the type and quantity of cervical mucus.
Cervix—Part of the female reproductive system, the cervix is the narrow opening at the bottom of the uterus. During labor, the cervix thins and opens to allow the baby to pass through the birth canal.
Cesarean Section (C-section)—This surgical delivery of a baby involves incisions that are made into the abdomen and uterus. The baby is lifted out of the mother’s womb.
Chlamydia—This is a sexually transmitted infection. If a pregnant woman has chlamydia bacteria in her vagina or cervix, the disease may be passed to her child during birth. This may cause an infection of the eye (conjunctivitis) or pneumonia in the baby.
C-hold—This is a method to help the baby latch on during breastfeeding. Cup your breast with your fingers underneath and your thumb on top. Support your breast this way at each feeding for the first 6 weeks.
Chorionic Villus Sampling (CVS)—A few cells from the placenta are removed during pregnancy in order to examine the baby’s chromosomes and look for some genetic diseases.
Circumcision—This is the removal of the foreskin from a male baby’s penis. This is done as a religious rite by those of Jewish or Muslim faith, and as a common practice by many other people.
Colostrum—This is the first milk produced and secreted by a woman’s breast after her baby is born. Colostrum is a yellow/gold color and is high in protein and antibodies.
Conception—The beginning of pregnancy is marked by the fertilization and implantation of an egg.
Constipation—This involves abnormally delayed or infrequent bowel movements. When a bowel movement occurs, the feces are often dry and hard. Constipation may occur during pregnancy or after delivery. A high intake of fluids and fiber, as well as exercise, may help ease constipation. Your doctor may also recommend stool softeners.
Cradle Hold—This is a way to hold your baby during breastfeeding. Sit with your arm bent across your lap. The baby’s head rests in your elbow and his body along your forearm and lap. The baby’s chest should be against your skin so he does not have to turn his head to reach the nipple.
Cross-cradle Hold—This is a way to hold your baby during breastfeeding. Sit with your arm bent across your lap. The baby’s head is in your hand and her body extends toward your elbow. This is helpful in learning to get the baby latched on, as you can control her head better.
Crowning—During delivery, the baby’s head is pushing through the vagina and is beginning to be seen at the vulva.
Cystic Fibrosis—This is an inherited disease that occurs in early childhood. Glands that produce important fluids do not function properly leading to difficulty breathing, altered digestion, and excessive loss of salt in the sweat.
Delivery—This is the act of giving birth.
Dilation—The cervix must open, or dilate, to allow the baby to pass through and be born. Measured in centimeters from 0-10, dilation tells you how far the cervix has opened. Your doctor will examine you during labor and tell you how dilated your cervix is. Dilation of 10 cm is called "fully" or "completely."
Distraction—This is the use of photographs, massage, mental imagery, or other visual or audio stimulation during labor to keep your mind off the pain. This is one method used in natural childbirth.
Doula—Someone trained to help a woman stay relaxed during labor and delivery. A doula often gives massage and can also help communicate with the medical team for the mother.
Down Syndrome (also called Trisomy 21)—Individuals with this condition have 3 copies of chromosome #21 instead of 2. The condition is characterized by intellectual disability and certain physical traits. Several tests are available during pregnancy to determine whether a baby will have Down syndrome. The most accurate tests, amniocentesis and CVS (chorionic villus sampling), count the baby’s chromosomes to determine the number of copies of #21.
Dropping (also called lightening)—This is the movement of the baby down into your pelvis. Your doctor uses “stations” to describe how far the baby has dropped. The term “-3 station” means that the baby’s head is not yet in the pelvis. “0 station” means that the head is at the bottom of the pelvis. This is also called fully engaged. When the head is beginning to emerge from the birth canal, the term “+3 station” is used. +3 occurs during delivery and is also called crowning.
Early Labor (also called the Latent Phase)—This is the first phase of the first stage of labor. During early labor, the cervix is dilated from 0-3 centimeters. You may have mild to moderate contractions every 5-20 minutes. You may be uncomfortable, with a backache, feeling of fullness, or menstrual-like pain. Phase 1 is the longest section of labor. It may last from hours to days for first-time moms. Women who have already had a baby will have a shorter latent phase.
Early Risk Assessment Testing—
Echocardiogram —This diagnostic tool examines the size, shape, and motion of the heart using high-frequency sound waves (ultrasound).
Eclampsia—These are seizures caused by worsening of pre-eclampsia. Eclampsia is a serious condition for a pregnant mother and her baby that requires immediate medical attention.
Effacement—The cervix thins in preparation for delivery. Effacement is reported as a percentage. If you are “50% effaced,” your cervix has thinned to half of its original thickness. When you reach “100% effaced,” the cervix is completely thinned out.
Electrocardiogram—This test is used to evaluate the rhythm and electrical activity of the heart.
Embryo—This is the period of development from the time of implantation to the end of the eighth week after conception. After eight weeks, the developing baby is called a fetus.
Endometriosis—In this condition, tissue normally found lining the inside of the uterus (endometrium) is growing in other places in the body. This condition can cause several problems including severe pain and infertility.
Endometrium—This is part of the female reproductive system. The endometrium is the tissue lining the uterus. The endometrium is shed monthly when a woman menstruates. In pregnancy, the embryo implants into the endometrium and receives nourishment through it.
Epididymis—This is part of the male reproductive system. The epididymis are coiled tubes that connect each testicle to the vas deferens. These tubes hold sperm during maturation.
Epidural—An epidural is a common method of giving pain relief during labor. A catheter is inserted through the lower back into a space near the spinal cord. Anesthesia is given through this catheter, and results in decreased sensation from the abdomen to the feet.
Episiotomy —This incision is made into the perineum during childbirth. The perineum is the area between the vagina and rectum that stretches and sometimes tears during delivery. This incision is closed with stitches after delivery.
Estriol—This hormone is a form of estrogen in the body. It is secreted by the placenta and fetus during pregnancy. One of the tests (with AFP) in a Triple Screen or Quad Screen.
False Labor—This is the experience of contractions that do not open or thin the cervix. Compared to true labor, false labor contractions may occur irregularly and do not get closer together. False labor contractions may stop when you walk or change position. It may be difficult for you to tell the difference between true and false labor. The most important difference is that these contractions do not result in the thinning or dilation of the cervix.
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS)—This is a group of birth defects that occur in children whose mothers drank large amounts of alcohol during pregnancy. The defects include intellectual disability, deficient growth, and malformations of the skull and face.
Fetal Distress—A baby does not get enough oxygen or experiences some other complication in the uterus. Immediate delivery may be required. Often, babies are monitored with fetal heart rate monitors during labor and delivery to check for signs of fetal distress.
Fetal Heart Rate Monitor—This monitor tracks and records your baby’s heart rate during labor and delivery. Monitoring can be done externally or internally.
Fetus—This refers to the developing baby after 8 weeks of pregnancy until delivery. Before 8 weeks, it is called an embryo.
First Trimester Screen—A combination of tests are done between weeks 11 and 14 to help determine the chance that a developing fetus has any chromosomal abnormalities. It includes an ultrasound to measure the nuchal lucency and two blood tests for pregnancy-associated plasma protein-A (PAPP-A) and free ß-hCG.
Focused Breathing—This is a relaxation method that can be used during childbirth. It is one means of natural childbirth.
Folate—This B vitamin is important for normal development of a fetus. A low intake of folate by a pregnant mother is associated with a greater risk for neural tube defects in her baby. It is recommended that pregnant women have 400 micrograms of folate per day from the very beginning of pregnancy (and before pregnancy, if possible). Folate is found in prenatal vitamins, leafy green vegetables, citrus fruits, and enriched grain products. A woman who has previously had a baby with a neural tube defect will need a higher dose of folate during subsequent pregnancies.
Football Hold—This is a way to hold your baby during breastfeeding. Sit with your arm bent alongside your body. The baby’s head rests in your hand, with his head facing your breast and his body extended along your forearm next to your body. This position is more comfortable if you have engorged breasts, sore nipples, or plugged ducts. It is also good after a C-section because the baby is not resting on your sensitive stomach.
Forceps Delivery—This is the use of medical forceps to help deliver the baby. If the baby is not moving down the birth canal and there is a medical need to speed the delivery, forceps may be used. The forceps, which look like a long pair of tongs, are gently inserted along either side of the baby’s head. The baby can then be pulled out.
Full-term—This describes a baby that is born 38-42 weeks after the mother’s last menstrual period.
Fully Engaged—The baby has dropped in preparation for delivery. Fully engaged means the baby’s head is at the bottom of the pelvis. This is also called “0 station.”
Galactosemia—With this inherited metabolic disorder, a form of sugar called galactose (found in milk products) builds up in the blood because the body cannot make the enzyme that would normally break galactose down. If not treated, galactosemia can cause poor weight gain, irritability, and convulsions, and in the long term, learning disabilities and poor growth. Most states screen for galactosemia at birth with a simple blood test. If treatment is started early, symptoms and effects can be minimized.
Gamete—This refers to a male or female sex cell. The female gamete is the ovum. The male gamete is the sperm. When fertilization occurs, the two gametes fuse.
Gel Pads—Pads made from glycerin help relieve pain from sore or cracked nipples.
General Anesthesia—This is pain-numbing medication that puts you to sleep. Some women will need to have general anesthesia for a cesarean section.
Genetic Testing—A person’s DNA is examined for abnormalities that may be a sign of disease. Some conditions are known to be passed through genes. If you have a family history of certain conditions, your doctor may recommend you talk to a genetic counselor and/or have genetic testing to see if your baby is at risk. Genetic testing is often done during pregnancy.
Gestation (also called pregnancy)—This is the period of development in the uterus from conception until birth.
Gestational Age—This refers to the length of pregnancy. A baby’s gestational age, usually given in weeks, is the length of the pregnancy when the baby was born.
Gestational Diabetes—Gestational diabetes is diagnosed when a pregnant woman has high blood glucose levels, but does not have a history of diabetes.
Gestational Hypertension—This is the development of high blood pressure after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Women with this condition do not have protein in their urine or other signs of pre-eclampsia and are at very low risk for severe illness. This condition used to be called pregnancy-induced hypertension.
Gonorrhea—This is a sexually transmitted infection that can cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID is a serious infection that can cause infertility.
Group B streptococcus (GBS)—This type of bacteria can live in a woman’s vagina and anus without causing an infection. With the exception of a GBS urinary tract infection, most women with GBS present are “carriers” and do not have any signs of an infection. A pregnant woman can pass GBS to her baby during pregnancy or delivery. In a newborn, GBS can cause mild to very serious infection. Because of this, most pregnant women in the United States are screened for GBS at 35-37 weeks gestation. Women who are positive for GBS are given antibiotics in labor to prevent infection in the baby after birth.
Heartburn—This is a burning sensation in the lower chest. Many women experience heartburn during pregnancy.
Hemorrhage—This is excessive bleeding.
Hemorrhoids—These enlarged veins in the anus or rectum are usually caused by constipation or straining. Hemorrhoids are common during childbirth and after delivery.
Hepatitis—This inflammation of the liver is often caused by a viral infection of which there are several forms. The most common are hepatitis A, B, and C. Women are screened for hepatitis B and C during pregnancy.
Homocystinuria—This is an inherited disorder in which the body cannot break down the amino acid methionine. Symptoms and effects of homocystinuria include nearsightedness, failure to thrive, and intellectual disability. In most states, newborns are screened for homocystinuria. Treatment, which includes a special diet and medication, can prevent or minimize some of the effects.
Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (HCG)—This is a hormone secreted by the placenta. Home pregnancy kits test for this hormone.
Husband-coached Birth—See Bradley method.
Hypothyroidism—In this disease, the thyroid gland does not produce enough thyroid hormone. Sometimes a mother’s hypothyroidism can affect her baby’s thyroid gland. Infants are screened for hypothyroidism before leaving the hospital.
Immunity—This is the ability to resist a particular disease. Breast milk transfers immune proteins to the baby and helps build the infant’s immunity to some conditions.
Implantation—The embryo attaches to the wall of the uterus.
In vitroFertilization (IVF)—This is a method of assisted reproduction. Medications are used to stimulate a woman’s ovaries to produce multiple eggs. The eggs are removed when they are mature. The eggs are placed in a laboratory dish with sperm, so that fertilization may occur. The fertilized eggs are then placed into the woman’s uterus or fallopian tubes.
Induction—This is the use of artificial means to begin labor. These may include medication to soften the cervix, rupture of the amniotic sac, or medication to cause the uterus to contract, such as oxytocin (Pitocin).
Infertility—This is the inability to achieve pregnancy over a considerable period of time (such as 1 year) in spite of frequent sexual intercourse without the use of birth control.
Insomnia—This is the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep despite having the opportunity to sleep.
Intrauterine Insemination (IUI)—In this method of assisted reproduction, a catheter is used to place sperm from a woman’s husband or a sperm donor directly into the uterus. IUI is often used in conjunction with ovulation-stimulation medications (also called artificial insemination).
Jaundice—This is a slight yellow tinge to the skin and eyeballs. Jaundice is caused by a high level of bilirubin in the blood. Bilirubin is a pigment that is normally cleared from the blood by the liver. A newborn’s liver is still learning how to remove bilirubin, so many babies may appear jaundiced around the second to fifth day of life. This condition often clears within 2 weeks without treatment. If treatment is necessary, the baby is placed under artificial light. The light breaks down bilirubin in the baby’s skin. In rare cases, prolonged jaundice may be a sign of something more serious. Jaundice needs to be monitored by your baby's doctor.
Kegel Exercises—These exercises are done to strengthen the pelvic floor, which can help a woman push more efficiently during delivery and can help recovery. To do Kegel exercises, contract and hold the muscles used to stop the flow of urine.
Labor—These are regular contractions of the uterus that cause the cervix to open (dilate) and thin (efface).
Lamaze—This is a method of managing pain during childbirth. This technique focuses on relaxation, controlled breathing, and distraction. The Lamaze approach is neutral about pain medication. Women are encouraged to learn about all options and decide what is right for them.
Latched on—A baby is latched on during breastfeeding when both the nipple and the areola (colored area around the nipple) are in his or her mouth. Being latched on properly allows the baby to feed well and reduces pain for the mother.
Latent Phase—See early labor.
Let-down Reflex—This is a physiologic response to an infant sucking at the mother’s breast. The pressure from sucking stimulates the release of milk from the milk ducts, through the nipples, and to the baby.
Local Anesthesia—This is medicine that is given in a specific area of the body. The numbing effect does not extend past the area where the anesthetic is injected (unlike spinal or epidural anesthesia).
Lochia—This refers to a discharge from the uterus and vagina that occurs after delivery. Lochia appears bloody for the first three to four days. It changes to a pinkish-brown within a week of delivery, and then to white or yellow. Lochia will appear less bloody after two weeks, but can continue for 6 to 8 weeks post partum.
Low Birth-weight—This is characterized by a birthweight less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces (2,500 grams).
Luteal Phase Defect (LPD)—There are low levels of progesterone in repeated menstrual cycles. Progesterone is a hormone that is essential to proper endometrial development. It is needed for fertility and the survival of a fetus early in pregnancy.
Luteinizing Hormone (LH)—This is a hormone produced by the pituitary gland in the brain. The level of LH rises around the midpoint of a woman’s menstrual cycle (for example, day 14 of a 28-day cycle). This surge causes the mature egg to leave the ovary, a process called ovulation. A woman is most likely to get pregnant around the time of ovulation. Ovulation predictor kits, which help determine when a woman is most fertile, measure the level of LH.
Mastitis—This is an infection that forms behind a plugged milk duct. A woman with mastitis may have a fever along with a red, warm, painful area of the breast. This infection is easily treated with antibiotics. Neither mastitis nor the antibiotics given for mastitis are harmful to babies, so a woman should continue to breastfeed or pump as usual.
Meningitis—This is inflammation of the meninges, which are the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord. When this disease is caused by a virus, it is usually mild and easily treated. When meningitis is due to a bacterium, it is associated with fever, headache, vomiting, and stiff neck. If untreated, it can progress to confusion, convulsions, coma, and death. There is an immunization available to decrease the likelihood of contracting bacterial meningitis.
Menstrual Cycle—This is the cycle of physiologic changes in a woman’s body from the beginning of one menstrual period to the beginning of the next. On average, the menstrual cycle is 28 days long. Day 1 of your menstrual cycle begins on the first day of your period. Between day 7 and 11, the lining of your uterus begins to thicken, preparing for a fertilized egg to implant. Around day 14 of a 28-day cycle, changes in hormones cause a mature egg to be released from an ovary and travel down a fallopian tube toward your uterus. It is here that a sperm may fertilize the egg, and if this occurs and the egg attaches to the lining of the uterus, pregnancy occurs. If the egg is not fertilized, the lining of the uterus is shed as a menstrual period, and the cycle begins again.
Mental Imagery—This involves focusing your mind to visualize yourself in a certain situation and doing well in that situation. Often used to relieve stress and improve performance, mental imagery is also a tool used in natural childbirth.
Methylmercury—This form of mercury is toxic in high doses and can harm a developing baby if eaten by a pregnant woman. Methylmercury comes from environmental pollution and accumulates in some fish. Certain types of fish should be avoided or limited during pregnancy because of the methylmercury in them. Avoid eating shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish. Pregnant women can safely eat up to 12 ounces per week of fish that is lower in methylmercury (for example, shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, catfish). Canned albacore (white) tuna or tuna steaks should be limited to 6 ounces per week.
Milk Duct—These tubes within the breast connect the alveoli (the glands that produce breast milk) and the nipple. Breast milk is stored in the milk ducts between breastfeeding sessions. When the infant sucks at the breast, a hormone called oxytocin is released. Oxytocin causes the milk ducts to widen, allowing breast milk to move down the ducts toward the nipple, to feed the baby.
Miscarriage—This is a pregnancy loss that occurs before the fetus is able to survive outside the womb. Most miscarriages occur within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy (the first trimester). The cause of a miscarriage is not always known, but it is usually a sign that the pregnancy is not developing normally. Some known causes of miscarriages include chromosomal defects, hormonal problems, infection, and health problems in the mother.
Mouthing—A baby puts her hands or objects in her mouth and/or makes sucking motions with her mouth.
Mucus Plug—During pregnancy, a thick plug of mucus fills the cervical opening. This plug is here to keep bacteria out of the uterus. As the cervix thins and opens, this plug may fall out. When it falls out, you may notice stringy mucus or a thick discharge that is brown, pink, or reddish. Labor usually begins within 72 hours of this “show.”
Multiple Marker Screening (also called Triple Screen)—This is a common prenatal test. The multiple marker screening measures the levels of the hormones estriol and human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), as well as alpha-fetoprotein (AFP), in your blood. Abnormal results can indicate an increased risk of some chromosomal abnormalities. A fourth test, PAPP-A (pregnancy-associated plasma protein-A), is sometimes added to multiple marker screening to improve the ability to detect abnormalities in the fetus (Quad Screen).
Narcotic—This is a pain-relieving medicine. Narcotics act on the central nervous system to relieve pain.
Natural Childbirth—This is a method of managing childbirth in which the mother learns and practices techniques to remain conscious during delivery with minimal or no use of drugs or anesthetics. Natural childbirth includes many supportive techniques such as focused breathing and mental imagery.
Nerve Block—This is a form of local anesthesia, which numbs one area of the body, to help control pain. One type, a pudendal block, is an injection given into the vaginal wall to numb the perineum. Given just before delivery, this injection works quickly to reduce pain. The effects last about 1 hour.
Nesting—This is an urge some women experience at the end of pregnancy to clean and organize the home. Nesting is thought to be an instinct to prepare your home for birth and the baby. These feelings may occur any time during pregnancy, but may be strongest just before labor.
Neural Tube Defect—This is a serious birth defect that occurs when the neural tube does not close during pregnancy. Normally, the neural tube closes during the fourth week of pregnancy, and develops into the brain, spinal cord, and back bones. If the neural tube does not close at the top, the baby will have anencephaly (without a brain). If the neural tube does not close at the bottom, the baby will have spina bifida. Getting enough folate (400 micrograms/day) can help reduce the risk of neural tube defects. Folate is found in prenatal vitamins, citrus foods, leafy green vegetables, and enriched grain products.
Nipple Confusion—A baby forgets how to nurse properly from the breast. Breastfeeding requires greater muscle coordination and is more work for a baby than drinking from a bottle. If a breastfed baby is given a bottle, when she returns to the breast, she may have difficulty feeding because she can forget how to nurse properly. Nipple confusion is only a concern in the first few weeks of breastfeeding while the baby is still learning to feed properly and developing a schedule. Once the baby is feeding well, she is better able to handle switching between breast and bottle.
Nuchal Fold Measurement (also called Nuchal Lucency)—This is the width of the fluid-filled space between the back of the fetal neck and the skin. This space is increased in some chromosomal disorders. The nuchal fold is measured in an ultrasound between 11 and 14 weeks of pregnancy.
Nursing—This is also called breastfeeding.
Obstetrician/Gynecologist (OB/GYN)—This is a doctor with at least four years of training after medical school focusing on women's health and reproduction. An ob/gyn can handle complicated pregnancies, perform cesarean sections, and take care of most of the surgical and medical care related to the female reproductive system.
Onesie—This is a piece of baby clothing that covers the upper body and snaps between the legs, making it easy to change diapers.
Ovaries—These are part of the female reproductive system. The ovaries are two glands that produce eggs and female hormones including estrogen and progesterone.
Ovulation—During a woman’s menstrual cycle, a mature egg is released from the ovary. Ovulation occurs about 14 days before a woman has her period (for example, day 14 of a 28-day cycle). A woman is most likely to become pregnant if she has sexual intercourse around the time of ovulation.
Oxygen Saturation—This is the amount of oxygen in a person’s blood. Some hospitals check an infant’s oxygen saturation level. This level is a measure of how well the baby’s heart and lungs are working.
Oxytocin (Pitocin) —This natural hormone stimulates the uterus to contract. Pitocin is a synthetic form of oxytocin that is often used to induce or speed up labor contractions. Pitocin may be given after delivery to help the uterus return to its normal size. Breastfeeding stimulates the release of oxytocin, also helping the uterus contract and return to its prepregnancy size.
Pelvic Examination—This is a physical examination of a woman’s external and internal reproductive organs. The exam usually has 2 parts: a speculum exam which uses a device to hold the vaginal walls open so the cervix and vagina can be viewed, and a bimanual exam where the size and shape of the uterus and ovaries are estimated by compressing them between a hand on the abdomen and fingers in the vagina.
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)—This is a serious infection of the female reproductive organs. PID can cause scar tissue to form in the pelvis and fallopian tubes. This damage may result in infertility, a future tubal pregnancy, or chronic pelvic pain.
Perinatal—Perinatal is the period around the time of birth.
Perinatologist (also called a Maternal-Fetal Medicine Specialist)—This doctor trained in obstetrics and gynecology is further trained to take care of high-risk pregnancies.
Perineal Tear—This is a tear in the tissue between the vagina and the anus. This area is called the perineum or perineal area. The intense pressure during delivery causes stretching and sometimes tearing of the perineal area. Perineal tears are classified from 1st degree (a very minor tear) to 4th degree (a tear through the muscle of the anus and the lining of the rectum). In some cases, controlled pushing can reduce the risk of such tears. After delivery, a perineal tear will be closed with stitches.
Perineum (also called the Perineal Area)—This is the area between the vagina and the anus.
Phenylketonuria (PKU)—This is a metabolic disorder due to the lack of an enzyme to break down the amino acid phenylalanine. The result is a buildup of phenylalanine in the blood and in the urine. This condition occurs when a child inherits one defective gene from each parent. If not treated quickly and properly, PKU can cause severe intellectual disability, seizures, and eczema. The treatment is total avoidance of phenylalanine in the diet, beginning at birth. Newborns are screened for PKU with a simple blood test.
Pica—This is the craving of nonfood products, such as clay, during pregnancy. Tell your doctor if you have these cravings. Do not eat these or any other nonfood items.
Placenta—This organ develops in the uterus during pregnancy. Its purpose is to nourish the baby. The placenta passes oxygen and nutrients from the mother to the baby and takes waste products away back to the mother's blood.
Placenta Previa—The placenta is not it its normal position and covers all or part of the cervix. The cervix is the lower part of the uterus that opens into the vagina. Placenta previa can cause abnormal bleeding, early separation of the placenta from the uterus, premature birth, or the need for an emergency cesarean section delivery.
Plugged Milk Duct—Milk ducts that have become blocked, inflamed, or sore. Ducts may become plugged when milk is not completely drained from the ducts. This may occur due to incomplete or skipped feedings, an inadequate pump, a poorly fitted nursing bra, an illness, stress, or for no clear reason. If an infection forms behind the plug, it is called mastitis and is treated with antibiotics. Frequent breastfeeding or pumping is the best way to treat plugged milk ducts even when taking antibiotics for mastitis.
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)—This chronic disorder occurs in women. It causes cysts to form in the ovaries. Symptoms of PCOS include irregular menstrual periods or no menstrual periods, hair growth on the face and body, weight gain, acne, and dark patches of skin. PCOS can affect a woman’s fertility.
Polyhydramnios (also called Hydramnios)—This is an excessive accumulation of amniotic fluid.
Postpartum—This refers to the time period after giving birth.
Postpartum Depression— This form of depression affects some women shortly after childbirth. It is common for women to feel emotional for a short time after having a baby. If these feelings do not resolve and/or become more severe, it may be postpartum depression. Common symptoms of postpartum depression include extreme fatigue, loss of pleasure in daily life, lack of interest in the baby, insomnia, sadness, anxiety, hopelessness, feelings of worthlessness and guilt, irritability, changes in appetite, and poor concentration. Postpartum depression requires treatment.
Pre-eclampsia (also called Toxemia)—This is the presence of high blood pressure and large amounts of protein in the urine during pregnancy. Swelling in the hands or face is also another sign of pre-eclampsia. This condition may occur during the second half of pregnancy. If a mother has pre-eclampsia, she may need to be hospitalized for medication or placed on bed rest at home. In some cases, the baby may need to be delivered early.
Pregnancy-associated Plasma Protein-A (PAPP-A)—This is a protein found in maternal blood during pregnancy. Abnormal levels of this hormone may indicate chromosomal abnormalities in the developing fetus. This test is combined with the free ß-hCG (the free beta subunit of human chorionic gonadotropin) and nuchal lucency measurement for a first trimester screen for chromosomal abnormalities.
Pregnancy-induced High Blood Pressure—See gestational hypertension.
Premature—This describes a baby that is born less than 37 full weeks after the mother’s last menstrual period.
Premature Ovarian Failure (POF)—This refers to the loss of natural egg production earlier than age 40. Normally, women are born with enough eggs in their ovaries to support ovulation once per month from puberty until menopause. In POF, there is a loss of eggs, a dysfunction of the eggs, or early removal of the ovaries. The result is that normal ovarian function is lost earlier than expected. POF is one cause of infertility.
Prenatal—This is the time period before birth.
Progesterone—This sex hormone is secreted to prepare the lining of the uterus (endometrium) for implantation of a fertilized egg. Progesterone is also made by the placenta during pregnancy to support continued pregnancy. Additionally, it is used in birth control pills, to treat menstrual disorders, and to treat some cases of infertility.
Prolapsed Cord—This occurs when the umbilical cord is in the birth canal ahead of the baby. The cord may become compressed and cut off the baby’s oxygen supply. This condition may require an emergency cesarean section.
Prostate Gland—This is part of the male reproductive system. The prostate gland produces seminal fluid; seminal fluid is mixed with sperm to produce semen.
Pudendal Block—This is a form of local anesthesia, which numbs one area of the body, to help control pain during crowning. A pudendal block is an injection given into the vaginal wall to numb the perineum. Given just before delivery, this injection works quickly to reduce pain. The effects last about 1 hour.
Pumping (of the Breasts)—Expressing breast milk from the breast can be done manually or with a breast pump. Women may pump to store milk for future feedings for their babies and/or to relieve pressure from very full breasts.
Rh Incompatibility—Rh status, either positive or negative, is determined through a blood typing test. If your red blood cells carry a specific protein, you are Rh positive. If this protein is lacking, you are Rh negative. This status normally does not affect health. One exception is if an Rh negative woman conceives a baby with an Rh positive man. The baby has at least a 50% chance of having Rh positive blood. When an Rh negative mother carries an Rh positive baby, this is called Rh incompatibility. If a few fetal blood cells get into the Rh negative mother’s blood, she will form antibodies against the Rh protein. This will affect any future Rh positive babies she may have causing destruction of their blood cells. When this incompatibility is discovered during pregnancy, it can easily be treated—the mother is given injections to prevent the development of antibodies to the baby’s Rh positive blood.
Rooming In—This involves keeping a newborn infant in the same room as the mom, rather than in the infant nursery.
Rooting Reflex—This is a reflex seen in infants soon after birth. When you stroke the side of the infant’s face, she will turn her head in that direction, open her mouth, and stick out her tongue in search of the nipple to begin feeding.
Rubella (also called German measles)—This is a contagious viral illness that causes tiredness, swollen lymph nodes, and a red, spotty rash. Most children are vaccinated against rubella. If a woman contracts rubella during pregnancy, her baby can develop severe birth defects, including intellectual disability, hearing problems, blindness, and heart defects.
Rupture of Membranes (also called Water Breaking)—The membrane refers to the amniotic sac, which is a fluid-filled sac that protects the baby during pregnancy. Often, this sac breaks before labor begins. You may feel fluid running out of you. The flow can be dripping or gushing. When this happens, call your doctor immediately.
Scrotum—This is part of the male reproductive system. The scrotum is a pouch of skin that hangs outside the pelvis to hold and regulate the temperature of the testes.
Semen—This is part of the male reproductive system. Semen is a fluid that contains seminal fluid and sperm. It is ejaculated from the penis into the vagina to carry sperm to a woman’s egg for fertilization.
Seminal Vesicle—This is part of the male reproductive system. The seminal vesicle produces seminal fluid; seminal fluid is mixed with sperm to produce semen.
Sickle Cell Disease—This is a genetic disease that causes red blood cells to be sickle-shaped rather than round. In order to have sickle cell disease, a baby must inherit the gene from both the mother and the father. When a baby inherits only one gene, this is called sickle cell trait. These babies have few health problems. Many states test infants for this disease. If sickle cell disease is detected, early treatment is advised.
Sitz Bath —This is a shallow, warm-water bath meant to cover only the hips and buttocks. A sitz bath can help ease pain and promote healing after an episiotomy. The water may contain medication.
Stations—The term is used to describe how far the baby has dropped. A “-3 station” means that the baby’s head is not yet in the pelvis. “0 station” means that the head has entered the maternal pelvis and is at the level of the ischial spines. This is also called “fully engaged.” When the head is beginning to emerge from the birth canal, the term “+3 station” is used. +3 occurs during delivery and is also called crowning.
Stem Cells—Unspecialized cells may develop into any type of cell. Stem cells are of great interest among scientific researchers. Many researchers believe that studying stem cells can lead to a better understanding of the causes of diseases and birth defects, as well as some possible treatments. The blood in an infant’s umbilical cord contains stem cells.
Streptococcus— See Group B streptococcus.
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)—This is the unexpected, unexplained death of a child less than one year of age. Most deaths happen between 2 and 4 months. The exact cause of SIDS is unknown, but some steps may help reduce the risk: do not smoke or use drugs during pregnancy; put a baby to sleep on his or her back; and do not allow a baby to sleep on a waterbed or with soft things, such as pillows or stuffed toys.
Surrogacy—If a woman is unable to naturally conceive and/or carry a pregnancy, her embryo can be placed in the uterus of another woman for gestation. This woman acts as a surrogate; she carries the pregnancy until birth. The exact circumstances will differ based on each individual couple's situation and may involve the use of donor eggs, donor sperm, or an in vitro procedure transferring an embryo derived from the couples own egg and sperm.
Syphilis—This is a sexually transmitted infection. If syphilis is not properly treated, it can cause brain, nerve, and tissue damage. A pregnant woman with syphilis can pass the disease to her infant; this is called congenital syphilis. In an infant, syphilis causes a variety of serious effects from a rash to deafness to bone formation problems. Syphilis is easily treated with antibiotics.
Testicles or Testes—These are part of the male reproductive system. Testicles are two oval-shaped organs that produce and store millions of tiny sperm cells, as well as male hormones, such as testosterone. They are located in the scrotum.
Testosterone—This is a male hormone (androgen) that induces and maintains male secondary sex characteristics. Testosterone is produced in the testes.
Tranquilizer —This is a drug used to reduce anxiety and tension. Tranquilizers may be used during childbirth to help calm an anxious mother.
Transition—This is the last section of stage one of labor. During transition, the cervix dilates from 7-10 centimeters. These last few inches of cervical opening may occur fairly quickly, but can be quite difficult. Contractions may be stronger and more frequent, putting pressure on your lower back and rectum.
Trimester—This is 1of 3 periods during a pregnancy. Pregnancy is unequally divided into 3 trimesters. The first trimester goes from conception up to 13 weeks, the second trimester from 14-26 weeks, and the third trimester from 27 weeks to delivery.
Triple Screen—See multiple marker screening.
Trisomy 21—See Down syndrome.
Tuberculosis—This is an infectious disease that primarily affects the lungs and can cause a very serious and very contagious pneumonia. Some pregnant women are tested for tuberculosis.
U-hold—This is a method to help the baby latch on during breastfeeding. Cup your breast with your fingers on one side of the breast and your thumb on the other.
Ultrasound (also called Sonogram)—This is a noninvasive examination of the uterus and fetus inside. Ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves. If a Doppler ultrasound is done, the doctor is able to see blood flow in major blood vessels. A gel is spread on the stomach, and a transducer is slid across the stomach through the gel. The transducer sends information to a monitor, where the doctor can view the fetus. Transvaginal ultrasounds use a transducer placed in the vagina.
Umbilical Cord—This is a cord that connects the fetus with the placenta. The placenta provides oxygen and nutrition and removes wastes. The cord comes out of the fetus’ navel. After a baby is delivered, the cord is cut, but a small piece remains attached to the baby’s navel until it dries up and falls off.
Umbilical Cord Blood—This blood is rich in stem cells that are a match to the newborn’s cells. Some researchers advocate storing cord blood for future use. Stem cells can be stored for private use by the newborn and close family members or can be donated to a public bank for use by anyone who may need them.
Urethra—This is part of the urinary system. The urethra is a tube that passes urine out of the body. In men, semen also passes out of the body through the urethra.
Urinary Incontinence—This is the inability to control the outflow of urine. Stress incontinence is the leaking of urine when sneezing, laughing, or coughing. Urge incontinence is loss of urine with a strong urge to void. Incontinence may be due to medications, poor bladder habits, or damage to the muscles and nerves that control the bladder that may occur during pregnancy or vaginal delivery. Many women may also leak late in pregnancy because of the fetal head compressing the bladder. For some women who become incontinent during pregnancy, this problem will go away after. If leaking lasts for more than 6 weeks, you should contact your doctor.
Uterine Fibroids—These are noncancerous growths in the wall of the uterus. Fibroids vary in size from very small to eight or more inches in diameter. Usually more than 1 fibroid is present. Fibroids can cause many symptoms (for example, heavy bleeding or pain) or not cause any problems at all. Fibroids rarely turn into cancer.
Uterine Tubes—See fallopian tubes.
Uterus (also called the Womb)—This is part of the female reproductive system. The uterus is a hollow, muscular structure in which the fertilized egg implants and the fetus grows during pregnancy. The uterus contracts during labor to dilate and efface the cervix and push the baby through the birth canal.
Vacuum Extractor—During this method of assisted birth, a device that has a suction cup on the end is attached to the baby’s head. Gentle suction is applied to hold the baby’s head in place while the mother pushes to help move the baby through the birth canal. This extractor may be used if the baby needs to be born quickly once crowning begins or if the mother needs help pushing the baby out. Serious risks to mother and baby are low, although the baby may have temporary bruising or swelling on the scalp.
Vagina—This is part of the female reproductive system. The vagina is a muscular passage that connects the cervix with the external genitals.
Vaginal Birth After Cesarean Section (VBAC)—It was once believed that if a woman had a cesarean section, she would need to deliver any future babies in the same manner. Today, many women are able to have a vaginal delivery after one cesarean under certain circumstances. If you have had a cesarean section, ask your doctor if a VBAC will work for you.
Vaginal Delivery—This is delivery of a baby through the vagina. A vaginal delivery may be spontaneous or may be assisted with forceps or vacuum.
Vas Deferens—This is part of the male reproductive system. The vas deferens is a muscular tube that transports sperm from the testes to the ejaculatory ducts.
Water Breaking—See rupture of membranes.
X Chromosome—This refers to 1 of 2 chromosomes that determine the genetic sex of a person. Females have 2 X chromosomes. Males have 1 X chromosome and 1 Y chromosome.
Y Chromosome—This is 1 of 2 chromosomes that determine the genetic sex of a person. Males have one Y chromosome and 1 X chromosome. Females have 2 X chromosomes.
Office on Women's Health
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada
Women's Health Matters
Cell-free fetal DNA. Lab Tests Online—American Association for Clinical Chemistry website. Available at: https://labtestsonline.org/understanding/analytes/cell-free-fetal-dna/tab/glance. Updated November 3, 2016. Accessed January 30, 2017.
Stem cell information. National Institutes of Health website. Available at: https://stemcells.nih.gov/info/2001report/chapter1.htm. Accessed January 30, 2017.
Last reviewed January 2017 by Andrea Chisholm, MD