Your labour and birth dictionary

Posted on March 1st, 2018

Start swatting up on the terms your doctor and midwife will be using when you give birth. By Lisa Witepski

Birth and labour dictionary

Not quite sure what vernix is? Or where to find your fundus? It turns out there’s a whole world of words related to birth. Knowing them will make you feel a lot more confident and empowered – so read on.

  • Active labour: A stage of labour where the cervix has dilated to almost 10cm and contractions are roughly two to five minutes apart.

ALSO SEE: What to expect during the different stages of labour

  • Amniotic fluid: The liquid surrounding your baby while she is inside your stomach, made up of (brace yourself) foetal urine and water.
  • Apgar: Your baby’s first test, measuring appearance, pulse, grimace (reflexes), activity (muscle tone) and respiration.

ALSO SEE: 12 newborn screening tests your baby will have in hospital

  • Braxton Hicks: False labour pains, which may be differentiated from true labour by the lack of regularity. They also tend to disappear with a change in activity.

ALSO SEE: Braxton Hicks contractions explained

  • Colostrum: The nutrient-rich fluid produced before you start breastfeeding, possibly as early as the last weeks of pregnancy.
  • Contractions: Regular tightening of the uterus as the baby prepares for birth.
  • Dilation: The opening of the cervix as your body prepares for labour.
  • Eclampsia: A serious condition caused by high blood pressure, which may be life threatening for both mother and baby.

ALSO SEE: Everything you need to know about pre-eclampsia

  • Effacement: The thinning of the cervix ahead of labour.
  • Epidural: A form of anaesthetic commonly used during labour.

ALSO SEE: What you need to know about epidurals

  • Episiotomy: A cut made to the tissue between the rectum and vagina to widen the canal during the birth.
  • Failure to progress: Slow labour.
  • Foetal distress: A condition that results from complications during birth, for example insufficient oxygen reaching the baby.
  • Induced labour: The introduction of hormones through an IV drip, or deliberate rupturing of membranes, to speed labour.
  • Labour: Contractions of the uterus during birth.
  • Lightening: Also known as engagement, this process readies the baby for its birth as it moves into position. Your friends and family may tell you that “the baby has dropped”.
  • Meconium: A green-black, tar-like substance excreted as the baby’s first bowel movement.

ALSO SEE: Baby poo – here’s what’s normal and what’s not

  • Pre-term: A baby born before 37 weeks.
  • Post-term: A pregnancy which extends beyond 42 weeks.
  • Post-partum: The period immediately after birth.
  • Ruptured membranes: Also known as “waters breaking”; when the amniotic sac surrounding the baby breaks as a prelude to labour.

ALSO SEE: How to know when your waters break

  • Uterus: The organ where the fetus develops. The Fallopian tubes open into the upper end of the uterus, known as the fundus, while the lower part – while the cervix opens into the vagina.
  • Vernix: A white, greasy substance covering the baby at birth.


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