The Must-Know Labor and Delivery Terms for Pregnant Moms
It’s funny how childbirth happens every day but there’s no 100% preparing a mom-to-be for what she is about to experience.
However, knowledge is power, and the more you educate yourself about the process of labor and delivery, the less scary the entire ordeal will seem.
To help you better prepare for this amazing experience, I’ve put together a list of labor and delivery terms you should know as an expectant mother.
FYI: Just because these are labor and delivery terms you should know doesn’t mean that you will be dealing with all of these situations. Just being aware of these terms will help you deal with unexpected situations should they occur.
So, here they are:
Labor and Delivery Terms You Should Know
After your baby is delivered, afterbirth is the process of expelling the fetal membranes and the placenta.
These substances follow your baby through the uterus and out of the vagina.
2. Braxton-Hicks Contractions
Braxton-hicks are caused by the uterine muscles and are also known as “false labor”.
These irregular contractions and relaxation of the uterine muscles feel like labor pain and feel like abdominal cramps and the tightening of the cervix.
Braxton-hicks contractions can occur during the first trimester and increase as your pregnancy continues.
As long as the contractions you are feeling are irregular and following no discernable pattern, there is no need to rush to the hospital.
This is going to be one of those labor and delivery terms you may not have to even worry about.
A breech pregnancy occurs when the baby is in a head-up position in your uterus, with his or her feet and bum pointed toward the birth canal.
Breached babies can be delivered vaginally but can increase the risk of complications.
This one is kind of obvious, but your cervix is the opening between your vagina and your uterus.
During childbirth, the cervix softens in order to accommodate stretching to allow your baby to pass through.
5. Cesarean Section
Commonly known as a C-Section, a Cesarean Section is performed when the baby cannot be delivered through the vagina.
An incision is made through the abdominal and uterine walls in order to deliver the baby. Incisions are often small and horizontal.
The need for a C-Section can arise for multiple reasons:
- You’ve been in labor for too long.
- Your baby is abnormally positioned.
- Your baby is in distress (see Fetal Distress).
- There is a birth defect.
- You have a chronic health condition such as high blood pressure, heart disease or gestational diabetes.
- The umbilical cord has slipped through the vagina ahead of the baby (prolapsed cord).
- Your pelvis is too small to deliver the baby vaginally.
- There are issues with the placenta.
Many women have C-Sections with minimal risks – although recovery can take longer than vaginal birth.
In the early stages of breast milk production, a thin, white fluid will discharge from your breasts.
This is known as colostrum and is high in antibodies and nutrients, which are important in helping your little one fight off infections and bacteria.
Contractions occur when the uterus tightens and releases in an effort to push your baby down to the birth canal.
These movements are rhythmic and can be timed to determine how close you are to labor (see Timed Contractions).
Once you are in labor, your contractions will get stronger, longer and closer together.
Crowning occurs when your baby’s head is visible through the vaginal opening and usually occurs during the second stage of labor (the pushing and delivering part).
You’ll know when your baby is crowning when you feel a sensation of burning and stretching around your vagina.
This is an exciting part of the delivery and some nurses may allow you to use a mirror to see your baby’s crowned head – if you choose to.
9. Dilation of the Cervix
As your body prepares for childbirth, your cervix will begin to thin and open, giving your little one room to get through the birth canal.
Complete dilation occurs at 10 centimeters and the size of dilation is often used to track how far along you are in labor – and how close you are to delivery.
Many health professionals recommend that you walk around to increase your blood flow and encourage dilation.
10. Effacement of the Cervix
As your cervix begins to dilate, it will efface (stretch and thin) as well. This is important in allowing your baby to position itself for birth.
Effacement is measured in percentages and when you are 100% effaced, you will begin pushing.
A popular option for pain management during labor and delivery is an anesthetic called the epidural.
The epidural is inserted into your body via a catheter that is threaded through a needle and placed in the epidural space near your spinal cord.
Despite how it sounds, the process is not significantly painful and can greatly alleviate the pain and discomfort of childbirth.
As much as your cervix dilates and effaces, it’s possible that your child’s birth can cause a tear between your vagina and anus (known as the perineum).
To avoid tearing, and to create more space for your baby, your doctor may perform an episiotomy – an incision made to the perineum to widen the vaginal opening.
13. Fetal Distress
Fetal distress is a condition in which your baby is not receiving enough oxygen or is experiencing some other complication.
These complications are uncommon during labor and delivery but can result in a Cesarean Section.
14. Group B Strep
Group B Strep is a harmless bacteria but it can cause complications in newborns and lead to infections such as sepsis, pneumonia and meningitis.
To protect your baby, your doctor will perform a simple and painless Group B Strep (GBS) test between weeks 35 and 37 of your pregnancy.
If you do test positive for GBS, you will receive an antibiotic treatment at once your water breaks.
If you go past your due date, and your baby isn’t making any moves to enter this world, you may be booked in for an induction.
In simple terms, this means inducing labor. The process stimulates the uterus to encourage contractions in order for you to have a vaginal birth.
Induction can involve placing prostaglandin gel on your cervix to promote effacement and/or using an IV drip with the hormone Pitocin.
Once induction begins, it can take a few hours for labor to begin.
Jaundice is a common condition in which a newborn’s baby has yellowed skin. This is caused by the liver’s inability to process red blood cells.
Mild cases of jaundice typically clear up naturally within 2-3 weeks. However, for moderate or severe jaundice, the baby may require treatment.
Treatment for jaundice includes enhanced nutrition, light therapy (phototherapy) and IV immunoglobulin if the jaundice is related to blood type.
This is one of the more familiar labor and delivery terms – it’s even in the name!
Labor is the period of contractions that begins with the changing of your cervix and ends when your child is born.
There are 4 stages of labor:
- Effacement and dilation
How long it takes to move through each stage of labor is unique to every mother, but if you’re a first-time mom it could take around 8 hours.
Don’t worry, you’re not going to be struck down during the birth of your child. Lightening simply refers to when your baby changes position in your uterus before labor.
This is commonly referred to as your baby “dropping”. Your baby is getting prepared for delivery and settles his or her head into your pelvic cavity.
This typically occurs around 4-6 weeks before your due date.
Meconium is a fancy term for your baby’s first poop – and it’s not pretty (not that poop is in general).
This poop is made of fats, bile, intestinal secretions, proteins and cells. It’s very thick and can appear to be dark green.
Meconium is usually passed by your baby within the first few hours or days after delivery. However, your baby can also have their meconium poop inside your womb (sorry).
Meconium is completely normal but can be a bit of a pain to clean up.
20. Mucus Plug
The mucus plug is basically a glob of snot that has been held inside your cervix during your pregnancy to protect your body and your baby from infection.
Once your cervix begins to efface and dilate, the mucus plug will disperse in chunks or strings. If you lose a huge chunk at once, this is called the plug and can have a pink or bloody tinge to it.
Not all women notice their mucus plug but losing it is a good indication that labor may begin within days.
This is one of those labor and delivery terms you should know but will not have to necessarily deal with.
NICU stands for Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and specializes in the care of ill or premature newborns.
In the NICU, there is around-the-clock care by a team of specially trained healthcare providers. Most babies who are required to go to the NICU do so within 24 hours of birth and remain in care for as long as is necessary.
The placenta is the tissue that connects you to your baby during its development in order to provide him or her with nourishment and oxygen as well as take away any waste.
The baby is attached to the placenta via the umbilical cord.
After your baby is born, your placenta is expelled from your body during afterbirth. In some cases, you may be guided through more pushing to get the placenta out. However, it sometimes comes right out with your baby.
23. Posterior Presentation
When your baby is positioned head-down but is facing your abdomen, he or she is in a position known as posterior presentation.
This is a very rare occurrence but can lead to delivery complications and pain.
If this is the case, the baby may need to be delivered via vacuum extractor, forceps or C-Section.
Postpartum describes the period of time after childbirth and is technically defined as a six-week period.
During this time, your body is healing from the birth of your child and your mind is adjusting to having a child.
Postpartum is also a time when many women experience postpartum depression or a slightly less intense period known as the “baby blues”.
25. Post-Term Pregnancy
Often known as being “overdue”, post-term pregnancy occurs when you have not yet delivered your baby after 42 weeks of gestation. Pregnancies typically last only 40 weeks.
Going beyond your due date can carry risks for both mother and child. For this reason, many doctors will book an induction once you’ve entered post-term pregnancy.
26. Preterm Pregnancy
A preterm pregnancy occurs when a baby is born earlier than 37 weeks or more than three weeks before the due date.
These babies are referred to as “premature” and often have medical complications that can vary from baby to baby.
Premature babies are cared for in the NICU or the intermediate-care nursery until their health improves.
How far your baby is down in your pelvis is referred to as its “station.” Doctors measure station to determine where your baby is positioned.
A negative 5 is considered to be a “floating baby” where your baby is still up in your womb. Zero station occurs when your baby is positioned in your pelvis and plus five is crowning.
28. Timing Contractions
When you begin to have contractions, it’s important to time them to determine where you are in labor.
Contractions are measured from the beginning of one contraction to the beginning of the next one, taking into consideration how long the contractions last and how far apart they are.
When you go to the hospital or call your doctor once labor begins, they will want to know this information. You can use a contraction timing app on your phone to make this easier.
29. Umbilical Cord
When your baby is nestled in your womb, they receive oxygen and nutrients from your placenta.
These essentials are transported to your baby through its umbilical cord, which attaches the placenta to your baby’s stomach.
Once your baby is born, this cord will have to be cut and cared for during the first few weeks of your baby’s life. After the area has healed, your baby will have a belly button!
30. Water Breaking
While your baby is growing inside of your uterus, he or she is surrounded by a sac of amniotic fluid that protects your baby during your pregnancy.
However, once it’s time to get the show on the road, that bag will rupture and this is what is known as your “water breaking.”
When this happens, you’ll feel a burst of clear fluid coming from your vagina followed by continuous leaking.
Yes, it can be messy, but it’s completely normal and common.
There You Go!
Hopefully knowing these terms will help you feel more at ease when it’s time to have your baby!
Just having this knowledge will help you avoid confusing situations during the process.
Are there any terms on this list you’ve never heard of?
Any that I missed that I should add?
Leave a comment and let me know!