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).
Alpha fetoprotein (AFP): A substance present in the blood of pregnant women. . This is tested as part of the Down’s syndrome screening tests. You may need further tests if your levels appear higher or lower than normal.
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), 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.
Antenatal: Before the birth.
Apgar score: An Apgar is a quick test performed at 1 minute and 5 minutes after birth. 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 their new environment. The rating is based on a total score of 1 to 10, with 10 suggesting the healthiest infant.
Artificial rupture of membranes (ARM): 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 nick 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 before the birth.
Assisted delivery: The use forceps or ventouse to speed up the delivery, or to move the baby if they have become stuck.
Blood pressure (BP): It’s important to have your blood pressure measured as a rise could mean a problem.
Cephalic (Ceph): This means the baby is lying with its head in the lower part of the uterus.
Chorionic villi sampling: A prenatal test that scans for genetic abnormalities.
Congenital: Present at birth.
Crowning: The point in labour when the head of the baby can be seen at the vagina.
Dilation/Dilatation: 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.
Doppler: This is a small handheld machine that picks up your baby’s heartbeat by ultrasound.
Ectopic Pregnancy: A pregnancy that develops somewhere other than the uterus, usually in the fallopian tube. This pregnancy cannot be allowed to continue as it is dangerous.
Expected Date of Delivery (EDD): The date when your baby is due. Sometimes called EDC (Expected Date of Confinement).
Engaged (ENG): This means that the widest part of the baby’s head has passed into the pelvis in preparation for giving birth.
Entonox: A mixture of oxygen and nitrous oxide, inhaled through a mask or mouthpiece by the mother during labour for pain relief. Also called gas and air or gas and oxygen.
Epidural: 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 women an epidural takes away all the pain of contractions.
Episiotomy: A cut made in the mother’s perineum (the area between the vagina and anus) to allow the baby to be born more quickly and prevent tearing.
Fetal blood sampling (FBS): This is a test that is sometimes needed on the baby during labour. If the baby’s heart rate tracing shows a heart rate pattern that is worrying, the doctor may want to check that the baby is coping well with the labour to make sure it is safe to let the labour continue. It involves taking a tiny amount of blood from the baby’s scalp using a speculum and can reduce unnecessary interventions during labour.
Fetal distress: Sometimes the strength of labour contractions can reduce the baby’s oxygen supply, causing the baby to become distressed. This is usually indicated by a persistently abnormal heartbeat or an irregular rhythm.
Fetus: 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 labour until the cervix is fully dilated to 10cm. The first stage can vary from a few hours to 12 hours or more.
Fontanelles: The two soft spots on a newborn’s head where the skull bones do not yet meet.
Forceps: A pair of hollow blades, rather like large salad servers, which are placed either side of the baby’s head to assist with the birth. When this happens, it is known as a forceps delivery.
Fundus: This is the top of the uterus. The ‘fundal’ height helps assess the growth of the baby and how many weeks pregnant you are. It’s the length in centimetres between the top of the uterus and the pubic bone.
Haemorrhage: Sudden and severe bleeding. In pregnancy it is usually called antepartum haemorrhage and after the birth it is called postpartum haemorrhage. Any bleeding in pregnancy should be reported to a doctor or midwife. Spotting or slight bleeding is not unusual in early pregnancy and not usually an emergency. Sudden 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.
Hypertension: High blood pressure.
Hypotension: Low blood pressure.
Latent phase of labour: Also known as early labour. This is when a woman starts to experience contractions, which which can be irregular in strength and frequency and can last from a few hours to several days. Some women will also experience 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 the active phase commences.
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.
Lochia: For a couple of weeks or more after the birth the woman loses a mixture of blood and mucus through the vagina, like a very heavy period at first but lessening over time. It generally begins as a bright red discharge and gradually turns a brownish colour. Some women find it becomes bright red again if they are too active too soon.
Membrane sweep: A traditional method of trying to nudge the body into labour when overdue. The doctor or midwife does an internal examination and attempts to stretch the cervix and sweep a finger around the membranes. Sometimes this is enough to get labour going if the cervix is ripe.
Miscarriage: Spontaneous ending of a pregnancy before 24 weeks’ gestation.
Multigravida: A woman who has been pregnant before.
Multipara: Also called a multip – a woman who has given birth at least once before.
Neonate: A newborn infant.
Neonatologist: A doctor who specialises in the care of newborn babies.
Occipito Anterior: When the back of your baby’s head is toward your front. You may see LOA or ROA on your notes which means Left (or Right) occipito anterior and described whether the baby’s head is toward the left or the right. LOA is usually the best position for a shorter labour and an easier birth.
Occipito Posterior: As above but the baby’s head is toward your back.
Oedema: Means swelling. Fluid retention can cause swelling in your ankles, fingers and elsewhere. You may see it measured in your notes as + or ++.
Oxytocin: The hormone secreted by women when they are in labour which stimulates labour contractions. The same hormone also stimulates milk flow from the breasts by contracting the muscle fibres in the milk ducts.
Palpation: When the midwife of doctor feels the baby by moving their hands across your abdomen.
Pelvic floor: The sling of muscles that holds the pelvic organs in place.
Perineum: The area of skin between your vagina and anus.
Perineal block: A local anaesthetic given before an episiotomy is carried out.
Pessary: A special type of medication designed to be inserted into the vagina. In labour, prostaglandin pessaries are sometimes used to induce labour.
Pethidine: A form of pain relief given by injection into the thigh or bottom. Pethidine usually makes women in labour sleepy and very relaxed. It can make the baby slow to breathe when they are born, in which case they may need an antidote.
Placenta: The organ that develops in the uterus during pregnancy to transfer nourishment and oxygen to the baby from the mother’s system, and to take away the baby’s waste matter.
Placental abruption: Premature separation of the placenta from the uterine wall.
Placenta Praevia: When the placenta is low down. Sometimes it covers the cervix and blocks the baby’s exit, in which case you would need a Caesarean section.
Polyhydramnios: An excessive amount of amniotic fluid.
Position: How the baby is lying, for example to the right or left of the pelvis.
Postnatal: After the birth. Relates to the 28 day period following giving birth.
Postpartum: Relating to the period of a few days after the birth.
Pre-eclampsia: This is a complication of pregnancy where the blood pressure increases and protein appears in the urine.
Pregnancy Induced Hypertension (PIH): This means that your blood pressure is high a result of the pregnancy.
Presentation: The part of the baby which is coming first (usually the crown or back of the baby’s head).
Preterm: Born before 37 weeks of pregnancy.
Primigravida: A woman pregnant for the first time.
Primipara: Sometimes called the prim or primip – a woman 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 be delivered very quickly, usually by an emergency Caesarean section.
Prostaglandin: A natural substance used in pessaries to soften the cervix and stimulate the start of labour.
Pudendal block: A local anaesthetic given to block pain around the cervix and vagina before using forceps.
Rooming in: Most maternity units now recommend that babies stay with their mums 24 hours a day. This helps with feeding and bonding. It also reduces the risk of infection.
Rubella: Also called German measles. If contracted by woman during pregnancy, it can result in birth defects.
Show: A show 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: Skin-to-skin contact with your baby after birth (your baby is dried and put straight onto your chest).
Syntocinon: This is a synthetic version of a naturally made hormone called oxytocin which increases contractions. It is sometimes used to speed up labours that have become slow, or to reduce bleeding after a baby is born. It is also sometimes given to speed up the delivery of the placenta. It is always given as an injection, either into a muscle or vein.
Syntometrine: This contains two drugs (syntocinon and ergomerine) that help the womb contract after the baby is born. It is sometimes used to speed up the delivery of the placenta or to stop bleeding after birth.
Term: This used to describe the period of time at the end of a pregnancy when a baby might be expected to be born. It is 37-42 weeks which is the normal duration of a human pregnancy.
Third stage: Delivery of the placenta (afterbirth).
Transition: 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 horizontally, rather than vertically. In this position the baby cannot be born and there is a high risk of the cord prolapsing.
Trial of labour: A woman with known complications, for example a previous Caesarean birth, may be given a trial of labour to see if she is able to give birth naturally. After a certain time, if labour fails to progress satisfactorily and it seems unlikely that the baby can be delivered safely through the vagina, she will be offered a Caesarean.
Trimester: One third of a pregnancy.
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 changes position often and cannot be considered to be in any definite position.
Uterus or womb: The hollow muscular organ in which the baby lives until birth.
Ventouse: This is the name given to a method of vacuum extraction to help the baby be born at the end of the labour, either if the mother is very tired or if the baby has become distressed.
Vernix: A white, waxy substance that covers the fetus in the uterus.
VX: Stands for vertex, which means the crown or top of the baby’s head.