Obstetric Terminology Glossary

An A to Z Obstetric Terminology Glossary with simple definitions of common terms through pregnancy, birth, and postpartum.


The tummy area from the lower ribs to the pelvis.


Of the abdomen.


Ending a pregnancy using either medicines (medical abortion) or an operation (surgical abortion).

Acceleration of labour

The speeding up of labour by the use of drugs, usually via a drip.

Active labour

Also known as the first stage of labour. This is the period after the latent (early) stage of labour when a woman is experiencing strong, regular contractions and her cervix continues to dilate from 4cms until she is fully dilated (10cms).


Sudden and severe.


Endometriosis in the muscle wall of the uterus.


Scars that connects two or more body structures together.

Albumin (ALB)

This is a protein. If it’s present in your urine, it may be a sign of pre-eclampsia or of an infection such as cystitis.

Alpha fetoprotein (AFP)

A substance present in the blood of pregnant women. This is tested as part of the Down’s syndrome screening tests. You may need further tests if your levels appear higher or lower than normal.


A way of testing the fluid surrounding a baby in the womb by taking a small sample with a needle inserted into the womb through the abdomen. It can be carried out after the 15th week of pregnancy, and can detect some conditions, like Down syndrome.

Amniotic fluid

Sometimes called liquor (lie-kwa), this is the fluid that surrounds the baby in the uterus (womb)

Amniotic sac

The pregnancy sac containing the baby and the amniotic fluid. It is sometimes also called "the membranes".


A condition when the level of haemoglobin, the protein in blood which carries oxygen round the body, is lower than normal. It can be mild or severe and can cause tiredness, breathlessness, fainting, headaches. It can also cause your heart to beat faster.


A medical way of relieving pain.


A doctor trained to administer anaesthetics.

Anal sphincter

The muscle around the anus that is squeezed to prevent passing wind or opening the bowels involuntarily.


Anaphylaxis is a severe and potentially life-threatening allergic reaction that needs immediate treatment.

Antenatal (or prenatal)

Before the birth

Antepartum haemorrhage (APH)

Bleeding before the birth.


Antibiotic drugs used in cancer chemotherapy.


Medicines to fight an infection caused by bacteria.


Blood protein that helps fight attacks on the immune system, such as those caused by bacteria and viruses.

Anticoagulant medication

Medicines to reduce clotting in the blood vessels.


See RhD antigen.


A substance in the blood that helps trigger the immune system to develop antibodies. See blood group.

Anti-inflammatory drugs

Medicines to stop or reduce swelling and redness.

Antiphospholipid syndrome

A condition caused by your immune system mistakenly attacking healthy cells in your body. It can increase your risk of blood clots and of pregnancy complications such as recurrent miscarriage or stillbirth

Antiretroviral drugs/therapy

Medicines used to block the action of retroviruses (such as the HIV/AIDS virus) and the progress of infection. See also HAART, HIV and retrovirus.

Antispasmodic drugs

Drugs which relieve cramps or spasms of the stomach, intestines, bladder and womb (uterus).


The opening of the rectum to the outside of the body.

Apgar score

An Apgar is a quick test performed at 1 minute and 5 minutes after birth. The 1 minute score determines how well the baby tolerated the birthing process. The 5-minute score assesses how well the newborn is adapting to their new environment. The rating is based on a total score of 1 to 10, with 10 suggesting the healthiest infant

Artificial rupture of membranes (ARM)

If the neck of your womb (the cervix) is slightly open because you have had some contractions, it is possible to use a long hook to puncture the bag of waters where they bulge down in front of your baby’s head. Breaking the waters in this way may stimulate the onset of strong labour

Assisted conception/assisted reproductive techniques (ART)

Treatments to help people conceive a baby. See also: intrauterine insemination, in vitro fertilisation, intracytoplasmic sperm injection, donor insemination.

Assisted delivery / birth

The use forceps or ventouse to speed up the delivery, or to assist delivering the head

Autoimmune response

When the body produces antibodies which react against the body’s own tissues.


Tiny organisms that may cause certain infections.

Bacterial vaginosis (BV)

A very common vaginal infection which results in discharge and soreness. It is caused by an imbalance in the types of bacteria in the vagina. It is not sexually transmitted and does not affect men.

Bicornuate uterus (womb)

A heart-shaped uterus and sometimes with two wombs.

Bile acids

Bile acids are made in your liver and they help you to digest fat and fat soluble vitamins. Intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy (obstetric cholestasis) is where you have a build up of bile acids in your body.


The taking of a small sample of tissue for examination.

Birth asphyxia

When a baby has experienced a reduced level of oxygen around the time of birth. Affected babies may not breathe normally and may have a low heart rate.


The organ in the pelvis which stores urine before it is passed out through the urethra.

Bladder training

A way of teaching your bladder to hold more urine. It helps to reduce the number of times you need to pass urine and reduce urgency.

Blood group

The way blood is classified by proteins (known as antigens) on the surface of your red blood cells. Group A blood has A antigens, group B blood has B antigens, group AB blood has both A and B antigens and group O blood has no antigens.

Blood pressure (BP)

Measuring the pressure and flow of the blood in your arteries.

Body mass index (BMI)

A measurement to work out the range of healthy weights for a person. It is calculated by dividing your weight (in kilograms) by your height (in metres squared – that is, your height in metres multiplied by itself). The healthy range is between 19 and 25.

Brachial plexus injury

Damage to the nerves in a baby’s neck.


The name “BRCA” is an abbreviation for “BReast CAncer gene.” BRCA1 and BRCA2 are two different genes that have been found to impact a person's chances of developing cancer. Every human has both the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, which play an essential role in keeping our DNA intact.  Alterations (mutations) causing loss of function in either of these genes are associated with an increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer. Mutations in BRCA2 are also associated with prostate and pancreatic carcinoma, melanoma and sarcomas.

Breech presentation (BR)

This means your baby is lying bottom or feet down in the uterus.


A protein in the blood that is raised in ovarian cancer. It can also be raised in endometriosis, pregnancy and infection.

Caesarean birth / section

Delivery / birth of an infant through an incision in the abdominal and uterine walls. It may be done as a planned (elective) or an emergency procedure.


A disease of the cells.

Candida albicans

See vaginal thrush.

Cardiotocography (CTG)

A machine which traces the baby’s heart rate and the woman’s contractions before and during birth to assess the baby’s wellbeing.


A small tube that can be passed through a part of the body, for example through the urethra (to empty the bladder).


The tiny building blocks which make up the organs and tissues of the body.


A bruise on the newborn’s head caused by a suction cup being used to help deliver the baby.

Cephalic (Ceph)

This means the baby is lying with its head in the lower part of the uterus.

Cervical screening

An internal swab test to check your cervix is healthy. It is sometimes called a smear test.


The entrance or neck of the womb, at the top of the vagina.


A viral infection (also called herpes zoster, varicella or varicella zoster). If a pregnant woman catches chickenpox, it may cause problems for her baby.


A swelling on the baby’s head as a result of a ventouse birth. It settles within a day or so.

Chlamydia trachomatis

A sexually transmitted infection which can damage the reproductive system of both men and women if it is not treated promptly. Chlamydia is treated with antibiotics. Both partners require treatment.

Chocolate cysts

Cysts which form on the ovaries in some women who have endometriosis. Also known as endometriomas.


The name for a group of blood fats. It includes LDL, or low-density lipoprotein, which is ‘bad’ cholesterol; HDL, or high-density lipoprotein, which is ‘good’ cholesterol; and triglycerides (TG). A high level of cholesterol in the blood is a major risk factor for heart attack and indirectly increases your risk of stroke.


An infection inside the uterus affecting the membranes (called the chorion and amnion) which surround the amniotic fluid.

Chorionic villi sampling

A prenatal test that scans for genetic abnormalities.

Chromosomal abnormality

A different number or arrangement of chromosomes from the usual pattern.


The genetic structures within cells which contain our DNA (the material that carries genetic information). A normal cell contains 46 chromosomes. See also gene.


Something that persists or continues for at least six months.

Clear margins

When no cell changes are present along the edge of tissue removed during treatment for cervical cell changes.

Clinical guidelines

Statements based on properly researched evidence which help healthcare professionals and patients to make decisions about medical care and treatments.


A small organ under a fold of skin at the top of the vulva. The external part is about the size of a pea. When a woman is sexually aroused it swells with blood and produces feelings of sexual pleasure when stimulated.


A common infection caused by the herpes simplex virus that is spread from person to person by bodily fluids (blood, breast milk, saliva and semen). CMV does not usually cause symptoms in healthy people, but if you catch it for the first-time during pregnancy it can sometimes be passed to the baby which can cause them to have health problems.


The first breastmilk produced during pregnancy and in the first few days after your baby is born.


A type of microscope used to see the cervix in detail during colposcopy. It has a light attached and stays outside of the body.

Colposcopist, colposcopy nurse specialist or nurse colposcopist

A doctor or nurse who has completed medical or nursing training and continued onto colposcopy training.


A hospital examination used to diagnose, monitor and treat cervical cell changes.

Complementary therapy

Treatments and therapies that are not part of conventional medicine. Examples include acupuncture, homeopathy and herbal medicine.

Complete miscarriage

When all the tissue associated with a pregnancy has gone and the uterus is empty.


Problems that develop after an operation, treatment or illness.


When an egg is fertilised by sperm and then starts to grow in the womb.


A state of being, like being healthy or fit, or having a problem, such as a heart problem.


Present at birth.


A  consultant led maternity unit is a maternity unit where there are specialist doctors (obstetricians and anesthetists) as well as midwives, available at all times to look after you during your labour and the birth of your baby. There will also be neonatologists (doctors who specialize in the care of new born babies) available to look after your baby if they need additional support at birth. You may be advised to give birth in a consultant led unit if you have risk factors which may make labour or birth more complicated for you or your baby. 


Having full control of the bladder and/or bowel. See also stress incontinence.


Contraception, or birth control, is what you and your partner can use to help prevent an unwanted pregnancy or to space out your pregnancies. There are many different forms of contraception  including condoms, hormonal pills and implants, hormonal and non-hormonal coils and permanent methods such as female sterilization or vasectomy. You can get more information about contraception from your GP or a family planning clinic.


A group of hormones which may be used to suppress the body’s immune response or to reduce inflammation. Also used during pregnancy in women who are thought may have their baby prematurely. They reduce the chance of the baby having problems from being born prematurely. See also steroids.


A trained professional who helps people to make sense of feelings and issues.


The point in labour when the head of the baby can be seen at the vagina.

CTG (cardio-tocograph)

This is a machine that measures your baby's heart beat and your contractions by using sensors that are attached to your abdomen with an elastic belt


When the bladder bulges into the weakened wall of the vagina. A bulging wall may be seen or felt inside your vagina.

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT)

A blood clot that forms in a deep vein.

Delayed cord clamping

Delaying the cutting of the umbilical cord for a few minutes, which allows time for extra blood to flow from the placenta into the baby.

Delayed miscarriage/missed miscarriage/silent miscarriage

A pregnancy that has ended although the fetus is still inside the uterus. Sometimes, because the fetus hasn’t developed, it can no longer be seen and there is just a fluid-filled sac inside the womb.


Birth of a baby and its afterbirth (see placenta). A baby may be delivered through the vagina or by caesarean section.


A condition caused by high levels of glucose (a form of sugar) in the blood. The amount of glucose in your blood is controlled by a hormone called insulin. See also Diabatetes Type 1 and Type 2 below.

Diabetes – Type 1

A serious, lifelong condition where your blood glucose level is too high because your body can't make a hormone called insulin, which controls blood glucose.

Diabetes – Type 2

A serious condition where the insulin your pancreas makes can’t work properly, or your pancreas can’t make enough insulin. Insulin is a hormone that controls blood glucose levels. If you blood glucose levels are too high it can cause a variety of health problems for you


The way a medical professional recognises a condition or disease.


This is an injection sometimes given for pain relief in labour. It can cause drowsiness and nausea.


A surgical procedure to heat up and destroy body tissue or stop bleeding. Also known as electrocoagulation.

Dilatation and evacuation (D&E)

Surgery using instruments to end the pregnancy.


The process of your cervix opening during labour. In the first stage of labour the cervix, or neck of the womb, gradually opens up to make space for the baby. It needs to open to approximately 10 centimetres before the baby’s head can pass through.

Discharge letter

A letter a hospital doctor sends to a GP once treatment has finished telling the GP what has been done. The patient should be given a copy.

Discharge letter

A letter a hospital doctor sends to a GP once treatment has finished telling the GP what has been done. The patient should be given a copy.


An abnormal condition in the body causing harm.

Donor insemination

When sperm from a donor is put into a woman’s vagina, cervix or womb to help start a pregnancy.


This is a small handheld machine that picks up your baby’s heartbeat by ultrasound. If Ultrasound Doppler is used it can measure the flow of blood, for exmaple through the umblicial cord during pregnancy


Painful periods.


Pain during or after sexual intercourse.

Early miscarriage

When a woman loses her baby in the first three months of pregnancy.

Early pregnancy assessment unit

A clinic that specialises in problems in early pregnancy (under 12 weeks) where a woman receives medical care, counselling and treatment as required.


A serious complication of pregnancy, characterised by high blood pressure and oedema (swelling), which in its worse form can result in a seizure (fit). It is the more severe form of pre-eclampsia.

Ectopic Pregnancy

A pregnancy that develops somewhere other than the uterus, whereby a fertilised egg (embryo) implants outside of the womb, usually in one of the fallopian tubes. This pregnancy cannot be allowed to continue as it is dangerous


See diathermy.


A fertilised egg.

Emergency caesarean delivery

A caesarean delivery which was not planned during pregnancy. It is usually done because labour is not progressing normally or when the baby is unable to cope with labour and becomes distressed.


A condition where cells of the lining of the womb (the endometrium) are found on the outside of the uterus and in rare cases around the pelvis and near the womb.


Inflammation of the lining of the womb, causing fertility problems, discomfort or pain.


The lining of the womb (uterus).

Engaged (ENG)

This means that the widest part of the baby’s head has passed into the pelvis in preparation for giving birth


A mixture of oxygen and nitrous oxide, inhaled through a mask or mouthpiece by the mother during labour for pain relief. Also called gas and air or gas and oxygen


A protein found in cells that speeds up chemical reactions in the body.


An injection of local anaesthetic into the lower back, given for pain relief during labour. This can be topped up via a catheter (a thin tube) that is left in place during labour. For most women an epidural takes away all the pain of contractions


A cut made in the mother’s perineum (the area between the vagina and anus) to allow the baby to be born more quickly and in some cases the cut is used to prevent tearing

Erb’s palsy

Damage to the nerves in the baby’s neck (brachial plexus injury) which reduces movement of and feeling in the baby’s arm.


A female sex hormone produced by the ovaries as part of the menstrual cycle. It encourages an egg to mature and prepares the womb for a pregnancy. Levels vary during the menstrual cycle.

Evidence-based medicine

A way of using reliable, objective, up-to-date evidence about how well different treatments or interventions work. It is also used to diagnose or predict the course of specific conditions.

Expected Date of Delivery (EDD)

The date when your baby is due. Sometimes called EDC (Expected Date of Confinement).

Extended or frank breech

The baby is bottom first, with the thighs against the chest and feet up by the ears. Most breech babies are in this position.

External cephalic version (ECV)

Gentle pressure applied to the abdomen, if the baby is breech, by the obstetrician or midwife towards the end of pregnancy to help the baby turn in the uterus so it lays head first.

Fallopian tubes

Part of the female reproductive system. A pair of hollow tubes leading from the womb to the fimbriae near the ovaries. Each month one ovary releases an egg, which moves down the fallopian tube before embedding into lining of the uterus / womb. The fallopian tube is where the egg is fertilised by sperm in natural conception. Occasionally a fertilised egg will embed in the tube, causing an ectopic pregnancy


Being fertile.

Female genital mutilation (FGM)

The partial or total removal of a woman’s external genitals or other deliberate injury to her genital organs. It is illegal in the UK.


When a sperm enters an egg and an embryo forms. Natural fertilisation takes place inside a woman’s fallopian tubes. It can also take place outside the body, which is known as assisted conception. Techniques include IVF. See IVF and ART.


The ability to conceive a baby and, for a woman, to become pregnant.

Fertility drugs

Treatment to encourage the ovaries to produce an egg. It is used during treatment for infertility.

Fertility problem/infertility/subfertility

When a couple fail to conceive after having regular sexual intercourse for more than a year. ‘Regular’ is defined as two or three times a week.

Fetal blood sampling

This is a bloodsample that is sometimes needed from the baby during labour. If the baby’s heart rate tracing shows a heart rate pattern that is worrying, the doctor may want to check that the baby is coping well with the labour to make sure it is safe to let the labour continue. It involves taking a tiny amount of blood from the baby’s scalp using a speculum and can reduce unnecessary interventions during labour

Fetal distress

Sometimes the strength of labour contractions can reduce the baby’s oxygen supply, causing the baby to become distressed. This is usually indicated by a persistently abnormal heartbeat or an irregular rhythm

Fetal heart (FH)

You may see ‘FH heard’ or ‘FHH’ on your notes – that means your baby’s heartbeat has been heard

Fetal medicine specialist

A doctor who specialises in the growth, development, care and treatment of an unborn baby.

Fetal Movement (FM)

It may say ‘FM felt’ or ‘FMF’ on your notes. That means your baby had been felt to move.


Medical name for the baby before it’s born


Non-cancerous growths that develop in the muscle (myometrium) of the womb (uterus). A woman can have one fibroid or many, and they can be of different sizes. Fibroids are sometimes known as uterine myomas or leiomyomas.


The fern-like ends of the fallopian tubes, near the ovaries.

First stage of labour

The time from the beginning of labour until the cervix is fully dilated to 10cm. The first stage can vary from a few hours to 12 hours or more.

First-degree tear

The least severe of tears, this small injury involves the first layer of tissue around the vagina and perineal area. Small tears (lacerations) affecting only the skin which usually heal quickly and without treatment.

Flexed breech position

The baby is laying bottom first in the womb, with the thighs against the chest and the knees bent.

Folic acid

A B vitamin which reduces the risk of a baby being born with a spinal defect such as spina bifida. Ideally, a woman should take folic acid (400 micrograms) 3 months before conceiving. All women should take it for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. A higher dosage (5 mg) is recommended if you are overweight, on epilepsy treatment, are diabetic or are having twin/triplets.


The part of the ovary where the egg develops.

Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH)

Hormones which help the development of follicles during a woman’s menstrual cycle and regulate sperm and hormone function in men.


The two soft spots on a newborn’s head where the skull bones do not yet meet.

Footling breech

When a breech baby’s foot or feet are lying below its bottom.


A pair of hollow blades, rather like large salad servers, which are placed either side of the baby’s head to assist with the birth. When this happens, it is known as a forceps delivery

Forceps delivery

Smooth metal instruments like large spoons or tongs which are used to help deliver the baby. See also assisted birth.

Fourth-degree tear

A tear during childbirth which extends to the lining of the bowel as well as the anal muscle. This is the least common type of tear during childbirth and will need to be repaired in the operating theatre under an epidural or spinal anaesthetic or very occasionally a general anaesthetic.


This is the top of the uterus. The ‘fundal’ height helps assess the growth of the baby and how many weeks pregnant you are. It’s the length in centimetres between the top of the uterus and the pubic bone.

Gestation/Gestational age

How far into the pregnancy you are, measured from the first day of your last menstrual period.


This is a substance in the blood that carries oxygen and it can be low if you have low iron levels (anaemia).


Sudden and severe bleeding. In pregnancy it is usually called antepartum haemorrhage and after the birth it is called postpartum haemorrhage. Any bleeding in pregnancy should be reported to a doctor or midwife. Spotting or slight bleeding is not unusual in early pregnancy and not usually an emergency. Sudden bleeding, especially if accompanied by signs of shock – pale skin, sweating, feeling faint and a weak pulse – all indicate a medical emergency. Call an ambulance and/or doctor straight away

Hegenberger Retractor

A device used by a qualified midwife of obstetric/gynaecological physician to help optimise the repair of postpartum perineal trauma (tearing or episiotomy) as a result of vaginal childbirth.


High blood pressure


Low blood pressure


Starting the labour artificially



These are substances found in the blood which show that the body has used up all the available carbohydrate for energy and has begun to utilise protein instead. Often a woman in labour with ketones in her blood will feel shaky and weak, and labour can slow down. Eating little and often in early labour can help prevent this happening. Some hospitals put up a drip if a blood test shows that ketones are present

Last Menstrual Period (LMP)

This date is used to work out how many weeks pregnant you are. the count starts from the first day of your LMP.

Latent phase of labour

Also known as early labour. This is when a woman starts to experience contractions, which which can be irregular in strength and frequency and can last from a few hours to several days. Some women will also experience backache. The contractions will, over a period of time, usually increase in strength and frequency until they cause your cervix (the neck of the womb) to dilate. Once the cervix is 4cm dilated the labour is said to have become established and the active phase commences

Lithotomy position

A position used for assisted deliveries and for suturing a tear, where the mother lies flat on her back with her legs raised and apart, supported by stirrups.


For a couple of weeks or more after the birth the woman loses a mixture of blood and mucus through the vagina, like a very heavy period at first but lessening over time. It generally begins as a bright red discharge and gradually turns a brownish colour. Some women find it becomes bright red again if they are too active too soon.


The first bowel contents of the baby at birth

Membrane sweep

A traditional method of trying to induce the body into labour when overdue. The doctor or midwife does an internal examination and attempts to stretch the cervix and sweep a finger around the membranes. Sometimes this is enough to get labour going if the cervix is ripe


Spontaneous ending of a pregnancy before 24 weeks’ gestation.


A woman who has been pregnant before


Also called a multip – a woman who has given birth at least once before


Nothing Abnormal Detected. The doctor or midwife may write this on your notes when they find no problems


A newborn infant


A doctor who specialises in the care of premature and newborn babies.


A doctor who specialises in the care of women during pregnancy and childbirth

Occipito Anterior

When the back of your baby’s head is toward your front. You may see LOA or ROA on your notes which means Left (or Right) occipito anterior and described whether the baby’s head is toward the left or the right. LOA is usually the best position for a shorter labour and an easier birth

Occipito Posterior

As above but the baby’s head is toward your back


Means swelling. Fluid retention can cause swelling in your ankles, fingers and elsewhere. You may see it measured in your notes as + or ++


The hormone secreted by women when they are in labour which stimulates labour contractions. The same hormone also stimulates milk flow from the breasts by contracting the muscle fibres in the milk ducts


A doctor who specialises in the care of children


When the midwife of doctor feels the baby by moving their hands across your abdomen

Pelvic floor

The sling of muscles that holds the pelvic organs in place

Perineal block

A local anaesthetic given before an episiotomy is carried out or before suturing a tear.


The area of skin between your vagina and anus


A special type of medication designed to be inserted into the vagina. In labour, prostaglandin pessaries are sometimes used to induce labour


A form of pain relief given by injection into the thigh or bottom. Pethidine usually makes women in labour sleepy and very relaxed. It can make the baby slow to breathe when they are born, in which case they may need an antidote


The organ that develops in the uterus during pregnancy to transfer nourishment and oxygen to the baby from the mother’s system, and to take away the baby’s waste matter

Placenta Praevia

When the placenta is low down. Sometimes it covers the cervix and blocks the baby’s exit, in which case you would need a Caesarean section.

Placental abruption

Premature separation of the placenta from the uterine wall.


An excessive amount of amniotic fluid


How the baby is lying, for example to the right or left of the pelvis.


After the birth. Relates to the 28 day period following giving birth.


Relating to the period 0-8 weeks post birth.


This is a complication of pregnancy where the blood pressure increases and protein appears in the urine.

Pregnancy Induced Hypertension (PIH)

This means that your blood pressure is high a result of the pregnancy


The part of the baby which is coming first (usually the crown or back of the baby’s head)


Born before 37 weeks of pregnancy


A woman pregnant for the first time


Sometimes called the prim or primip – a woman giving birth for the first time

Prolapsed umbilical cord

Usually the baby’s cord is born along with the baby and it continues to supply oxygen to the baby until it is clamped and cut. Occasionally the cord slips down in front of the baby and the oxygen supply to the baby is reduced or cut off. This can happen with a breech baby or with a transverse or unstable lie. This is a medical emergency and the baby has to be delivered very quickly, usually by an emergency Caesarean section


A natural substance used in pessaries to soften the cervix and stimulate the start of labour

Pudendal block

A local anaesthetic given to block pain around the cervix and vagina before using forceps , ventouse delivery or for suturing a vaginal tear.


The first movements of the baby that the mother feels

Rhesus (Rh)

The rhesus blood group system is a way of categorising your blood type

Rooming in

Most maternity units now recommend that babies stay with their mums 24 hours a day. This helps with feeding and bonding. It also reduces the risk of infection


Also called German measles. If contracted by woman during pregnancy, it can result in birth defects

Second stage of labour

The time from full dilation of the cervix to the moment when the baby is outside the mother’s body. Pushing during the second stage can last from a few minutes up to a couple of hours.

Second-degree tear

This second level of this injury is the most commonly seen tear during childbirth. The tear is slightly bigger, extending deeper through the skin into the muscular tissue of the vagina and perineum. These usually require stitches.


A show is when the thick mucus which plugs the narrow channel of the cervix during pregnancy is discharged. It is a sign that the body is getting ready for labour


Skin-to-skin contact with your baby after birth (your baby is dried and put straight onto your chest)


This is a synthetic version of a naturally made hormone called oxytocin which increases contractions. It is sometimes used to speed up labours that have become slow, or to reduce bleeding after a baby is born. It is also sometimes given to speed up the delivery of the placenta. It is always given as an injection, either into a muscle or vein


This contains two drugs (syntocinon and ergomerine) that help the womb contract after the baby is born. It is sometimes used to speed up the delivery of the placenta or to stop bleeding after birth.


This used to describe the period of time at the end of a pregnancy when a baby might be expected to be born. It is 37-42 weeks which is the normal duration of a human pregnancy

Third stage

Delivery of the placenta (afterbirth)

Third-degree tear

A third-degree tear extends from your vagina to your anus. This type of tear involves injury to the skin and muscular tissue of the perineal area, as well as damage to the anal sphincter muscles. This will need to be repaired in the operating theatre under an epidural or spinal anaesthetic or very occasionally a general anaesthetic.

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS)

A device for relieving the pain of labour. Sticky pads are attached to the woman’s back to produce electrical impulses which stimulate her own natural painkillers and block some of the pain signals from the uterus. The unit is battery operated and the woman can control the amount of stimulation herself with a push button device and a variable control dial.


The tough-going, final part of the first stage of labour, when the mother may begin to feel the urge to push. Contractions may come thick and fast and can feel very hard to cope with

Transverse lie

A baby who is lying across the uterus horizontally, rather than vertically. In this position the baby cannot be born and there is a high risk of the cord prolapsing

Trial of labour

A woman with known complications, for example a previous Caesarean birth, may be given a trial of labour to see if she is able to give birth naturally. After a certain time, if labour fails to progress satisfactorily and it seems unlikely that the baby can be delivered safely through the vagina, she will be offered a Caesarean


One third of a pregnancy. You'll often hear people tlak about first, second or third trimester

Ultrasound scan

A screening or diagnostic technique in which very high frequency sound waves are passed into the body, and the reflected echoes are detected and analysed to build a picture of the internal organs or of a fetus in the uterus

Umbilical cord

The thick cord of intertwining blood vessels that links baby and placenta, and carries oxygen and nourishment to the baby through its navel (or bellybutton). It is cut after the birth.

Unstable lie

The baby changes position often and cannot be considered to be in any definite position


The tube through which urine empties out of the bladder.


When the tissues that hold the urethra in place weaken, causing it to move and put pressure on the vagina, sometimes pushing through the wall of the vagina.


Excreted fluids containing waste products of the body.


Tests to assess how the bladder is working.

Uterine rupture

This is when the muscle of your uterus (womb) tears, usually because of contractions while you are in labour. It is rare but more common if you have had previous operations on your uterus including caesarean births. It is an emergency affecting both you and your baby and if it happens you are likely to need an emergency caesarean birth.

Uterine sarcoma

A disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the muscles of the uterus or other tissues that support the uterus, rather than the lining of the womb, as in the case of uterine carcinoma.

Uterus or Womb

The organ where a baby develops during pregnancy. Made of muscle, it is hollow, stretchy and about the size and shape of an upside-down pear. It sits between the bladder and the rectum in a woman’s pelvis.


The canal leading from the vulva to the cervix.

Vaginal discharge

Any vaginal secretion except menstrual bleeding.

Vaginal discharge - abnormal

An abnormal smelling yellow or green discharge which should be assessed by a doctor.

Vaginal discharge - normal

A clear or whitish fluid that comes from the vagina or cervix.

Vaginal examination (VE)

A check to feel the size and position of the vagina and cervix to check there isn’t any abnormality or problem. This may be carried out using a speculum.

Vaginal swab

Similar to a cotton bud, but smaller and rounder. Some have a small plastic loop at the end instead of a cotton tip. It is wiped over the vagina to collect samples of fluid to check for infection.

Vaginal thrush

An infection caused by a yeast known as Candida albicans. Symptoms include redness and itching around the genital area and unusual vaginal discharge.


The medical name for chickenpox. See chickenpox.

Vas deferens

The tube which carries sperm from the testicles to the penis.


A permanent method of contraception for men. It blocks, seals or cuts the tube (the vas deferens) which carries sperm from the testicles to the penis. Also known as sterilisation.


A blood vessel that takes blood towards the heart.

Velamentous cord insertion

Normally the umbilical cord inserts into the centre of the placenta. Velamentous cord insertion is when it runs through the membranes before reaching the placenta

Venous thrombosis

A blood clot that forms in a vein.

Ventouse delivery

A way of helping deliver a baby by using suction through a special cup placed on the baby’s head. Helps the baby be born at the end of the labour, either if the mother is very tired or if the baby has become distressed


A white, waxy substance that covers the fetus in the uterus

Vertex (VX)

The crown or top of the baby’s head.


A micro-organism which invades living cells in order to grow or reproduce. Viruses cause many infections, from the common cold, chickenpox and measles to HIV.


The area surrounding the opening of the vagina. It includes the inner and outer vaginal lips (the labia) and the clitoris.

Weak cervix

When the cervix (the neck of the womb) opens too early in pregnancy, in the second trimester, and without contractions. Used to be known as ‘incompetent cervix’.

White cell

Cells in the lymphatic and blood systems of the body which fight infection. They are part of the body’s immune system.

White cell count

A count to measure the number of white blood cells.


See uterus.




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