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Glossary of pregnancy-related terms

Written by    Last updated: September 12, 2007

Find out what pregnancy‐related medical terms, such as ‘Amniocentesis’,’Neonate’ and ‘Zygote’, really mean…

Letters Baby

Find out what pregnancy‐related medical terms, such as ‘Amniocentesis’,’Neonate’ and ‘Zygote’, really mean…

A&B spells (Apnoea and Bradycardia spells)

Episodes when the baby stops breathing for at least 15 seconds and the baby’s heart rate slows down to less than 100 beats per minute (normal is around 120‐160 beats per minute).


The abnormal joining of adjacent tissues following infection or other inflammation. This is often used to refer to fallopian tubes that can develop adhesions and prevent conception.


The placenta and other associated membranes which are passed from the uterus after the birth

Alpha‐Fetoprotein (AFP)

A plasma protein normally produced by the foetus’ liver. AFP eventually finds its way into the mother’s blood and the amniotic fluid. When too much or too little AFP enters the mother’s blood stream it can be a sign of foetal problems, such as birth defects. High AFP levels in the mother’s blood indicate an increased risk of Foetal Spina Bifida or other malformations. Low AFP levels are associated with an increased risk of Down’s Syndrome and other chromosomal problems.


The absence of menstruation


Amniocentesis‐Sometimes called an “amnio”, this minor surgical diagnostic test allows the doctor to obtain a sample of the amniotic fluid by inserting a long, thin, hollow needle through the mother’s abdomen into the uterus. The amniotic fluid is then analysed to look for genetic characteristics of the baby.

Amniotic fluid

Fluid inside the membrane that forms a sac around the embryo and later the foetus. This buoyant fluid helps the foetus grow uniformly, helps the bones and muscles develop, and allows the baby to move within the uterus.

Amniotic Sac

The membranous bag that surrounds the foetus and becomes filled with amniotic fluid as pregnancy advances.

Antenatal care

Medical care for a pregnant woman and her developing baby for the duration of the pregnancy

Antenatal tests

Medical tests conducted during pregnancy to determine any genetic disorders in the foetus or to check the well‐being of the woman

Anterior position

A baby in the anterior position faces the back of the mother’s pelvis during pregnancy and/or during labour


Refers to any medication that relieves pain while allowing the patient to remain conscious.

Apgar test

The first test most babies are given (at one and five minutes after birth). It assesses five basic indicators of health

respiration, pulse, activity level, response to stimulation, and appearance

Artificial insemination

A medical procedure to place sperm inside the reproductive tract. Baby Blues During the first few weeks after delivery up to 15% of new mothers experience post natal depression. This is characterized by mood swings, lethargy, feelings of inadequacy, and anxiety.

Basal body temperature

Just before ovulation, a woman’s basal (resting) temperature increases. The temperature should be taken early in the morning, which is usually the lowest temperature of the day to time intercourse to increase the likelihood of conception.

Birth Canal

The tunnel comprising of the vagina and cervix through which the baby must pass from the uterus during birth.


The rapidly dividing fertilised egg at around the stage when it enters the uterus.

Bloody Show

As the cervix dilates, blood and the cervical mucous plug (from the cervical canal) pass from the vagina. The bloody show is a classic indicator of beginning or progressing of labour

Braxton Hicks Contractions

“Practice” contractions, starting around the eighth month, which prepare the uterus for labour.

Breast Pump

A breast pump is designed to extract milk from a mother’s breasts so that she can feed her baby later with the expressed milk in a bottle. Pumps range from inexpensive manual models to powerful machines which can empty both breasts at the same time within a few minutes

Breech position

When baby is aligned in the uterus to come out buttocks first, as opposed to head first

Caesarean Section

Delivery of the baby through an incision in the abdominal and uterine walls when delivery through the birth canal is impossible or dangerous

Cephalopelvic disproportion

Sometimes the baby’s head is larger than the mother’s pelvis, therefore, the safest way to deliver the infant is to do so by caesarean section

Cervical incompetence

Inability of the cervix to remain closed during pregnancy, which may result in miscarriage or premature delivery. To avoid premature delivery, the cervix may be stitched up or the mother may be confined to bed

Cervical mucous method

This is a natural birth control method accomplished by timing intercourse according to the consistency of the woman’s cervical mucous. Mucous similar to raw egg white signifies a time close to ovulation, when a woman is most fertile, while thick and cloudy mucous indicates a time when conception is less likely


The cervix keeps the foetus from falling out of the uterus. During labour, the cervix thins and dilates to allow the baby to pass out of the uterus and into the vagina


A shortened form of Chlamydia trachomatis, a bacterium that is the most common cause of sexually transmitted disease in women of reproductive age.


Brown markings on the skin of a pregnant woman caused by hormonal changes, often seen on the face, in a pattern called ‘butterfly’ marking. These fade after pregnancy.


The outermost layer of the two foetal membranes, which envelope the growing foetus and serves as a protective barrier against infection

Chorionic villus sampling (CVS)

A method of diagnosing abnormalities in a foetus, done at 8‐10 weeks of pregnancy, in which a small sample of chorionic tissue is taken from the placenta for laboratory analysis

Colic (infantile)

Episodes: when an infant, who is otherwise completely well, is irritable, cries or screams excessively and draws up the legs. Common in 6%‐13% of all infants.


The thin, human breast milk produced shortly after delivery and before the regular breast milk is produced.


Examination of the cervix under illuminated magnification


Conception occurs when a sperm and an egg join to form a single cell. It usually takes place in the Fallopian tubes. The fertilised egg then travels into the uterus, where it implants in the lining before developing into an embryo and then a foetus.


The contracting of the muscles of the uterus during labour. The uterus contracts in an effort to expel the foetus into and out of the birth canal Cradle Cap A waxy, scaly, skin rash that is common in newborn infants. The medical name is seborrhoeic dermatitis

D&C (Dilatation and Curettage)

Surgical procedure in which the cervix is dilated and the lining of the uterus scraped. A D&C may be necessary to empty completely the uterus after a miscarriage. The D&C is also used on occasion to investigate abnormal menstrual bleeding.


This injected form of birth control requires injections of progestin every two or three months

Doppler Ultrasound

Doppler ultrasound is used early in high‐risk pregnancies to evaluate the blood flow through the foetus’s umbilical artery


A doula is a person specially trained to help during labour and after the birth of a baby. A doula might help a new mother to breastfeed, or cook, clean, and care for older children.

Due Date (EDD)

The estimated date of delivery. The due date is also called the estimated date of confinement (EDC). Calculation of the EDC or due date is performed by counting forward 280 days (40 weeks) from the first day of the last menstrual period.


A rare, serious condition of late pregnancy, labour and the period following delivery, characterised by convulsions in the mother which can be life threatening.

Ectopic Pregnancy

Pregnancy in which the embryo develops outside of the uterus, most commonly in the fallopian tubes.


The estimated date of delivery. The due date is also called the estimated date of confinement (EDC). Calculation of the EDC or due date is performed by counting forward 280 days (40 weeks) from the first day of the last menstrual period.


This is the thinning (sometimes called ripening) of the cervix in preparation for delivery. During effacement, the cervix goes from more than an inch thick to paper thin.

Electronic Foetal Monitor

This device monitors the progress and vital signs of a foetus during labour. It records the foetal heartbeat and a woman’s contractions.


The name given to a developing infant from about two weeks after conception to the end of the second month of pregnancy, when it is then called a foetus.


The endometrium is the tissue which lines the uterus. Endometriosis is a disease where endometrial cells grow outside the uterus, most often on the ovaries, Fallopian tubes, or the exterior of the uterus. It is estimated that 10‐15% of women of childbearing age have this condition, many of them without symptoms, although the condition is also associated with infertility.


Engagement is when the foetus descends into the pelvic cavity. In first‐time mothers, this usually happens two to four weeks before delivery.


A gas, made up of 50% oxygen and 50% nitrous oxide. The vast majority of maternity hospitals pump gas and air to all of their delivery rooms from a central supply, so it’s always available when you want it.

Epidural Block

An anaesthetic technique that reduces pain during childbirth without altering the mother’s level of consciousness. This type of local anaesthesia is often given during labour to relieve the pain of contractions and delivery. A needle is inserted through the skin of the back into the epidural space. Anaesthetic is then injected around the spinal cord which anaesthetises the nerves of the lower part of the body.


A minor surgical procedure which widens the birth canal by cutting the vaginal opening to prevent the jagged, less controlled tearing of tissue during the stretching associated with delivery.

Fallopian Tube

The ducts that conduct the egg from the abdomen to the uterus after ovulation and conception. It is within the fallopian tube that the sperm usually meets and fertilises the egg.


It occurs when a sperm penetrates an egg. The moment when a sperm fertilises an egg is also called conception, and conception usually takes place in one of the Fallopian tubes.

Foetal Alcohol Syndrome

This syndrome involves physical and mental birth defects caused by a baby’s mother drinking large amounts of alcohol (often defined as more than five or six drinks a day) during pregnancy.

Foetal presentation

This describes the position of the baby ‐ such as feet down (breech) or head down (vertex) ‐ inside a woman’s uterus. About 96% of babies present in the vertex position; some who initially present in breech position turn before delivery begins.


A procedure for directly observing a foetus inside the uterus by means of fibre optic, tubular telescope inserted via a tiny incision in the mother’s abdominal wall.

Foetus or Fetus

The name given to the embryo after the 8th week. Technically this name should be used until the baby is completely outside of the mother’s body.

Folic Acid

A vitamin which plays a crucial part in foetal growth, especially in the development of the nervous system and the formation of blood cells.

Forceps Delivery

The use of forceps (A tweezer like instrument) used by an obstetrician to ease out the baby’s head during a difficult birth.

Full term

Refers to a full term pregnancy. Infants who are not prematurely born are considered to be full‐term. The World Health Organisation considers full‐term any infant born after 38 completed weeks of gestation.

Fundal Height

The distance between the top of a pregnant woman’s uterus (called the fundus) to her pubic bone. It is measured to determine foetal age.

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