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Pregnancy terminology decoded!

Don’t worry, if you start feeling a little lost when trying to work out pregnancy terminology you certainly aren’t the only one! We’ve compiled a list of some of the most commonly used terms, as well as some lesser-known ones to help you along the way.

Learn what basic terms like contraction and foetus mean and also get to grips with lesser-known pregnancy words and meanings like pre-eclampsia and streptococcus.

Pregnancy glossary: words and their meanings

Active labour
Considered part of the first stage of labour when the cervix dilates from three to seven centimetres. Contractions during this period are strong.

Placenta and associated membranes that are delivered from the uterus during childbirth.

After childbirth, this is the cramping triggered by contractions of the uterus as it shrinks and sinks back into the pelvis.

Amniotic fluid
While the baby is in the uterus it floats within a membrane filled with amniotic fluid. This membrane is ruptured naturally during labour or is ruptured artificially by a doctor.

A condition that causes low iron levels and leads to tiredness and lethargy.

Medicine that causes loss of sensation. Local anaesthetic stops pain by only making one area of your body numb during a procedure, while general anaesthetic puts you to sleep.

These are white blood cells that your body manufactures in order to fight and protect against infection.

The darker area of skin around a woman’s nipple. When breastfeeding, a baby extracts breast milk by compressing the areola.

Baby blues
Hormonal swings that cause mild depression or mood swings after childbirth.

Braxton Hicks

During the last months of pregnancy you may experience these painless contractions which are essentially your body’s way of practising and warming up to giving birth.

When a baby is positioned the wrong way in the womb – instead of the head being born first it is laying bottom down, which means feet or buttocks will be born first.

This is the neck-like part of the womb that opens during birth so the baby can be born.

A group of genes that influences how a baby will develop.

Also called ‘the mask of pregnancy’. These are patches of darker skin that may appear on the nose, cheeks and forehead during pregnancy.

During and towards the end of pregnancy while the breasts are producing breast milk, they also occasionally produce colostrum, a sticky yellow fluid that is rich in protein and antibodies.

When the muscles in the uterus tighten during labour it is known as a contraction – these help push the baby out.

The cervix opens slowly during labour, a process known as dilation. It is considered fully dilated when it reaches 10cm.

Ectopic pregnancy
When the developing baby grows outside the uterus.


Also called perineotomy, this is a planned surgical incision on the perineum and the posterior vaginal wall during the second stage of labour.

Between eight weeks and birth, this pregnancy terminology is used to describe a baby in the womb.

The time from conception to birth – period which usually lasts about 40 weeks.

The medical term used to describe sudden and severe bleeding.

This is when labour is started by a doctor on purpose and may occur if the baby is in distress or late.

In utero
Another term for ‘in the uterus’.

The term used to describe the birth process, from the first contraction to the moment the placenta is discharged.

The soft, fluff-like hair that covers a foetus.

When the baby drops down into your pelvis around two or three weeks before labour.

The area of skin and muscle between the vulva and anus.

A large, fleshy organ that nourishes your baby within the womb and works to take waste products away.

A problem during pregnancy when the blood pressure rises and becomes potentially dangerous.

Spina bifida
Usually detected before a baby is born, this birth defect causes the incomplete development of the spinal cord.

Common bacteria that is found within a woman’s urinary bladder, rectum and vagina.

An infection caused by a single-cell parasite toxoplasma gondii. It is commonly acquired through coming into contact with cats and their faeces or raw and undercooked meat. If you are pregnant your doctor may suggest a blood test to determine whether you have toxoplasma antibodies.

An image of a baby in utero made by high frequency sound waves used to monitor development and health.

Umbilical cord
Flexible tissue that connects the foetus to the placenta and allows oxygen and nutrients to travel from mom to baby, as well as for waste products to be removed.

This is a muscular and extremely strong organ in which your baby lives for the nine months of pregnancy.

Also known as the birth canal in pregnancy terminology, this is the canal that leads from your external genitals to the cervix, which is the neck-like entrance to the womb.

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