During pregnancy, you hear a lot of new words. Amniotic fluid. Placenta. Gestational diabetes. Fundal height. It can be a lot to take in, especially as a first-time mom! But knowing what your doctor is talking about is important, especially when it comes to childbirth terms. When you know what’s going on and what options you have, you’re more empowered and you can make informed decisions for yourself and your baby.
I recently realized that even after having three babies of my own, there were several childbirth terms that I didn’t know! Since childbirth is always different and your experiences might be different with each baby, doing a little research before you go into labor can be really helpful! Here are some childbirth terms you should know, regardless of what type of birth you are planning on:
Vaginal birth: I’m assuming you know this one, but we’re starting off with the most basic. Vaginal births are the most common type of birth, and obviously it’s when your baby is born via your vagina.
Cesarean section: You probably know this one, too, and it’s more commonly referred to as a C-section. A cesarean section is the delivery of your baby through an incision in your abdomen and uterus. There are a variety of reasons why this might happen. Sometimes it’s planned and sometimes it’s not. Either way, it’s also quite common and totally fine if it happens.
VBAC: Vaginal birth after cesarean. Just because you have one C-section doesn’t mean every birth you have has to be a C-section. You may be able to have a vaginal birth after!
Natural birth: This refers to going through labor and delivery without medications or interventions.
Nonstress test: A test done during pregnancy to check on baby’s heart rate and movements.
Preeclampsia: A pregnancy complication characterized by high-blood pressure, swelling of the hands and feet, and protein in the urine in the mother. It’s manageable, but it can also be dangerous to you and your baby.
Braxton Hicks: They’re basically warm-up contractions where your uterus tightens, but they don’t dilate your cervix or cause you to go into labor. They aren’t usually painful, but they can be uncomfortable. You can read more about the difference between Braxton Hicks and real contractions here.
Prodromal labor: I didn’t learn about this until my third baby (because I had it). During prodromal labor, you have contractions that are real, unlike Braxton Hicks, but they come and go and they don’t end in labor. They’re painful and get closer in frequency, but they go away after a while. I got them three nights in a row before I actually went into labor with my third.
Mucus plug: The blob of mucus, kind of like a giant booger(gross, I know), that plugs up your cervix during pregnancy to prevent bacteria from getting in. You’ll lose it before delivery, but it can “grow back” and you may lose it two or three times before labor actually starts.
Bloody show: NOT to be confused with the mucus plug, because they are different. When your cervix starts “ripening” and getting ready for childbirth, the capillaries burst and cause a little bit of blood in your undies. It can be brown, pink, or red. It just depends.
Posterior position: When your baby is posterior, it means they are head down, but facing your abdomen (face-up).
Anterior position: When your baby is anterior, it means they are head down, but facing your back. This is the best position for childbirth.
Transverse position: When your baby is transverse, it means your baby is sideways.
Breech presentation: When your baby is bum-down. It’s not a preferred positon for delivery.
Dilation: Dilation refers to when your cervix starts opening for childbirth, and it’s a sign that you are progressing! You have to dilate to 10cm to deliver your baby.
Effacement: Effacement is when your cervix starts getting ready for delivery. As your baby engages, he will drop closer to the cervix. It starts to soften and get thinner. Your doctor or midwife will say things like “50% effaced” or “ripen.” When it’s 100%, that means it’s go-time!
Lightening: When your uterus starts to drop and the head of your baby begins to engage in the pelvis. When people say your baby “drops,” this is what they are talking about.
Engagement: Another way to refer to lightening.
Posterior placenta: When the placenta develops in the back of the uterus (along the mother’s back).
Anterior placenta: When the placenta develops in the front of the uterus (along the mother’s abdomen).
Placental abruption: The separation of the placenta from the uterine lining. It’s bad because it can deprive your baby of oxygen and nutrients.
Placenta previa: When the placenta lies low in the uterus and either partially or completely covers the cervix. Later in pregnancy, it can cause bleeding and other complications.
Rupture of membranes: Aka, when your water breaks.
Meconium: When there is meconium in your fluid, it means your baby has pooped in utero and the NICU team will probably have to be there for the delivery to make sure your baby hasn’t ingested any. My first baby had this and he was totally fine.
Bradley Method: A couple-focused, natural childbirth method.
Induction: Using medication or other techniques to start labor.
Foley bulb: A form of induction where a catheter is inserted into your cervix and inflated, putting pressure on your cervix and encouraging dilation.
Cervidil: A vaginal insert that slowly releases medicine to help your cervix dilate. Once inserted, you have to lay down for two hours before you can get up and move. It’s a form of induction.
Pitocin: A medicine that is delivered through an IV that stimulates contractions. Unless your cervix is “ready,” pitocin is not a good option because it won’t dilate your cervix (it only stimulates contractions).
Misoprostol: A medicine that is sometimes used to soften the cervix and induce contractions, as well as stop bleeding after delivery. It is not approved by the FDA for these uses, so be wary.
Demerol: A pain medicine that is injected and used for relief during labor. It wears off quickly, though.
Stadol: A pain medicine given as an IV that is good to relieve pain if you haven’t dilated enough for an epidural.
Fentanyl: A pain medicine that can be given as an injection or an IV. It doesn’t cause a loss of bodily sensation, so you can still move, but it does help take the edge off the pain.
Epidural: A very common pain medication that is inserted via a catheter into your spine and causes loss of sensation in your lower half. It takes the pain away, but you also can’t move your legs. Because it uses a catheter, you can receive medication continually.
Spinal block: A pain medication that is inserted via a needle into your spine, and it can provide relief for as long as two hours.
Catheter: A tube that is inserted somewhere into your body to either deliver medication or drain fluid. In labor, if you get an epidural, you’ll get a catheter in your bladder to drain your urine.
Hypnobirthing: A form of pain management that emphasizes natural childbirth and teaches self-hypnosis techniques to combat fear and pain during labor.
Lamaze: A natural birth method that focuses on natural pain relief methods (like breathing, massage, and position changes).
Early labor: The onset of labor until you are 3cm dilated.
Active labor: Labor from 3cm dilated to 7cm dilated.
Transition: Labor from 7cm to full 10cm dilated.
Ring of fire: When your muscles and skin around your lady parts are stretching as far as they can as your baby’s head comes out. It’s also called crowning.
Bear down: Reference to the strong urge a woman feels to push (kind of like a feeling she needs to poop) at the end of labor.
Vocalize: When you moan or groan during labor. A great way to release stress and tension and get through contractions.
Perineum: The area between your vagina and anus.
Episiotomy: Making a small incision in the perineum to prevent it from tearing during childbirth.
Cephalopelvic disproportion (CPD): When a baby’s head is too big to fit through the mother’s pelvis.
Dystocia: Slow or difficult labor or birth.
Shoulder dystocia: When the baby’s shoulders get stuck in the birth canal after delivery of the head.
Prolapsed cord: When baby’s umbilical cord falls out of the cervix before the baby does.
Vernix: A thick, cheesy-like substance that covers baby’s skin in utero. Sometimes it is still present at birth.
Breast crawl: The instinct of babies to find their mother’s nipple and start breastfeeding. Immediately after birth, the baby is placed on his mother’s chest and allowed to move towards the nipple and latch on by themselves.
Skin-to-skin: When your baby is placed on your chest immediately after birth (your skin on their skin). Dads can also participate in skin-to-skin by removing their shirts and holding baby. It can be done after birth as well.
APGAR: A method used to test the health of a newborn. It’s done at one minute and five minutes after birth.
I told you there were a lot of new childbirth terms you should know! Whether you plan on having a natural home birth or a birth at the hospital with an epidural, it’s helpful to know these terms, because you never know what’s going to happen, and you want to know the words that are being thrown around so you can make the best choice for you and your baby!