Understanding your labour and birth dictionary


Not quite sure what vernix is? Or where to find your fundus? It turns out there’s a whole world of words related to birth. Knowing them will make you feel a lot more confident and empowered – so read on.

  • Active labour: A stage of labour where the cervix has dilated to almost 10cm and contractions are roughly two to five minutes apart.
  • Amniotic fluid: The liquid surrounding your baby while she is inside your stomach, made up of (brace yourself) foetal urine and water.
  • Apgar: Your baby’s first test, measuring appearance, pulse, grimace (reflexes), activity (muscle tone) and respiration.
  • Braxton Hicks: False labour pains, which may be differentiated from true labour by the lack of regularity. They also tend to disappear with a change in activity.
  • Colostrum: The nutrient-rich fluid produced before you start breastfeeding, possibly as early as the last weeks of pregnancy.
  • Contractions: Regular tightening of the uterus as the baby prepares for birth.
  • Dilation: The opening of the cervix as your body prepares for labour.
  • Eclampsia: A serious condition caused by high blood pressure, which may be life-threatening for both mother and baby.
  • Effacement: The thinning of the cervix ahead of labour.
  • Epidural: A form of anaesthetic commonly used during labour.
  • Episiotomy: A cut made to the tissue between the rectum and vagina to widen the canal during the birth.
  • Failure to progress: Slow labour.
  • Foetal distress: A condition that results from complications during birth, for example, insufficient oxygen reaching the baby.
  • Induced labour: The introduction of hormones through an IV drip, or deliberate rupturing of membranes, to speed labour.
  • Labour: Contractions of the uterus during birth.
  • Lightning: Also known as engagement, this process readies the baby for its birth as it moves into position. Your friends and family may tell you that “the baby has dropped”.
  • Meconium: A green-black, tar-like substance excreted as the baby’s first bowel movement.
  • Pre-term: A baby born before 37 weeks.
  • Post-term: A pregnancy which extends beyond 42 weeks.
  • Post-partum: The period immediately after birth.
  • Ruptured membranes: Also known as “waters breaking”; when the amniotic sac surrounding the baby breaks as a prelude to labour.
  • Uterus: The organ where the fetus develops. The Fallopian tubes open into the upper end of the uterus, known as the fundus, while the lower part – while the cervix opens into the vagina.
  • Vernix: A white, greasy substance covering the baby at birth.



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