Birth Terminology


Dad and Grandma Celebrating a Succesful C-section

Amniotic Fluid - The liquid that surrounds the baby while in the uterus. Also known as the waters

Anaesthetic - A drug that gives total or partial loss of sensation of a part or the whole of the body

Anaesthetist - A doctor who specialises in giving anaesthetic

Antenatal/Prenatal - A term that means ‘before birth’. Also known as prenatal and antepartum

Antepartum Haemorrhage - Bleeding from the vagina during pregnancy

Apgar Score - A test given one minute after a baby is born, then again five minutes later, that assesses a baby’s appearance (skin colour), pulse, grimace (reflex), activity (muscle tone) and respiration. A perfect Apgar score is 10; typical Apgar scores are seven, eight or nine. A score lower than seven means that the baby might need help breathing

Birth Canal - The passageway (made up of the cervix and vagina) that the baby travels through during birth

Birth Plan - A written document describing a woman’s preferences for her care during labour and birth

Braxton Hicks Contractions - A tightening of the uterus that may feel like a labour contraction. Braxton Hicks contractions are not painful and do not get stronger and closer together like true contractions also called ‘false labour

Breech - When the baby is positioned inside the uterus with its bottom or feet down, instead of its head

Caesarean Section - A surgical procedure in which a baby is delivered through a cut in the abdomen and uterus (also called a ‘C-section’)

Cervix - The narrow, lower end of the uterus that softens and opens during labour to allow the baby to come out


Conception - The process of becoming pregnant, when a sperm and egg join to form a single cell

Contraction - The often strong and painful tightening of the uterus during labour that causes the woman’s cervix to dilate and that helps push the baby through the birth canal

Crowning - Time during labour when the baby’s head has reached the external vaginal opening and can be seen from the outside

Dilation - The opening of the cervix, measured as the diameter of the cervix in centimetres

Ectopic Pregnancy - When a fertilised egg implants and grows outside of the uterus, usually in the fallopian tube. In most cases, an ectopic pregnancy is not viable

Epidural - A type of anaesthetic commonly used in labour where drugs are used to numb the lower half of the body

First Degree Tear - A tear involving only the perineal skin (adjacent to the vaginal opening) that occurs at the time of delivery that doesn’t always require stitches

Second Degree Tear - A tear of the perineum involving both skin and muscles, but not the anus. Second-degree tears often require stitches

Third Degree Tear - A severe tear of the perineum involving the skin, muscles and anus. Stitches are used to repair these tears

Fontanelle - The six soft spots on a baby’s head that allow its skull to compress during birth so it can pass through the birth canal. The fontanels completely fuse by the time the child is two years old

Forceps - Tong-shaped instruments placed around the baby’s head to help it travel through the birth canal during childbirth

Preterm - When a baby is born before 37 weeks’ gestation

Full-term - When a pregnancy is a normal duration 37+ weeks

Gestation - The length of time (in days or weeks) that a baby is in the uterus


Gestational Diabetes - A condition that develops during pregnancy when the woman’s blood sugar levels become too high because inadequate levels of insulin. The condition is treatable and usually disappears after pregnancy

Gynaecologist - A doctor who has undertaken specialist training in women’s health

Haemorrhage - Excessive bleeding

Induced - When a healthcare professional tries to artificially ‘start’ a woman’s labour

Jaundice - A condition where a person’s skin and the whites of their eyes take on a yellowish tinge. It is caused by an excess of a chemical called bilirubin in the blood and in newborns often resolves itself

Lactation Consultant - A healthcare professional who is trained to provide information and support about breastfeeding

Meconium - A tar-like substance passed by a baby as their first poo. Passing meconium before birth may be a sign of fetal distress

Midwife - A person who has been specially trained to care for women during pregnancy, labour, birth and the post-birth period

Morning Sickness - Nausea, vomiting and aversions to certain foods and smells that affect most pregnant women to some degree. Morning sickness can occur at any time of day, usually begins at four to eight weeks gestation and generally subsides by week 16 of the pregnancy

Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) - A unit in the hospital for babies who need a high level of special medical care

Obstetrician - A doctor who has undertaken specialist training in pregnancy and childbirth

Ovulation - The monthly release of a mature egg from an ovary. A woman is most fertile around the time of ovulation

Paediatrician - A doctor who has undertaken specialist training in treating children


Perineal Haematoma - A collection of blood, resembling a bruise, in the area between the vagina and the anus

Perineum - The area between the vagina and anus

Placenta - The organ that connects to the wall of the uterus, that nourishes the baby through the umbilical cord

Postpartum Haemorrhage - When a woman loses more than 500 ml of blood after birth

Spina Bifida - A birth defect that occurs during the first month of pregnancy when a baby’s backbone does not fully close, leaving part of the spinal cord exposed. Spina bifida cannot be cured, but a range of treatments and management options is available

Stillbirth - The death of a baby after 20 weeks’ gestation but before birth

TENS Machine - A ‘trans-electrical nerve stimulation’ machine used for pain management during labour

First Stage Labour - The time from 1-10cm in dilation

Second Stage Labour - The time from the complete dilation of the cervix (10 cm) to the birth

Third Stage Labour - The time from the birth of the baby to the birth of the placenta

Trimester - A time span of three months during pregnancy, each marked by different phases of fetal development

Ultrasound - A scan of a woman’s uterus (womb) and baby during pregnancy umbilical cord – the cord that connects the baby to the placenta, allowing nutrients (vitamins and minerals) and oxygen to be carried from the woman to her baby

Vacuum - A suction cap that is sometimes used during birth to help to pull the baby out of the birth canal


Vaginal Birth After Caesarean (VBAC) - When a woman has a vaginal birth after having had one or more previous caesarean sections

Walking Epidural - An epidural that may still enable the woman to walk

Water Birth - Where a baby is born fully submerged in water

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