Glossary of Pregnancy Words
We are often asked what certain words that relate to pregnancy and childbirth mean, so we've compiled a glossary of the most common pregnancy terms.
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Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) - Debilitating illness that affects the body's ability to respond to infection. Caused by the human immune deficiency virus (HIV).
Aerobic exercise - Exercise that increases your heart rate and causes you to consume oxygen.
Afterbirth - See placenta.
Albuminuria - See proteinuria.
Alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) - Substance produced by the unborn baby as it grows inside the uterus. Large amounts of AFP are found in amniotic fluid. Larger-than-normal amounts are found in the mother's bloodstream if neural-tube defects are present in the fetus; smaller-than-normal amounts may indicate Down syndrome.
Amino acids - Substances that act as building blocks in the developing embryo and fetus.
Amniocentesis - Removal of amniotic fluid from the amniotic sac. Fluid is tested for some genetic defects.
Amnion - Membrane around the fetus. It surrounds the amniotic cavity.
Amniotic fluid - Liquid surrounding the baby inside the amniotic sac.
Amniotic sac - Sac that surrounds baby inside the uterus. It contains the baby, the placenta and the amniotic fluid.
Anemia - Any condition in which the number of red blood cells is less than normal. Term usually applies to the concentration of the oxygen-transporting material in the blood, which are the red blood cells.
Anencephaly - Defective development of the brain combined with the absence of the bones normally surrounding the brain.
Anti-inflammatory medications - Drugs to relieve pain and inflammation.
Apgar score - Measurement of a baby's response to birth and life outside the uterus. Taken 1 minute and 5 minutes after birth.
Areola - Pigmented or colored ring surrounding the nipple of the breast.
Arrhythmia - Irregular or missed heartbeat.
Aspiration - Swallowing or sucking a foreign body or fluid, such as vomit, into an airway.
Asthma - Disease marked by recurrent attacks of shortness of breath and difficulty breathing. Often caused by an allergic reaction.
Autoantibodies - Antibodies that attack parts of your body or your own tissues.
Back labor - Pain of labor felt in lower back.
Beta-adrenergics - Substances that interfere with transmission of stimuli. They affect the autonomic nervous system. During pregnancy, they can be used to stop labor.
Bilirubin - Breakdown product of pigment formed in the liver from hemoglobin during the destruction of red blood cells.
Biophysical profile - Method of evaluating a fetus before birth.
Biopsy - Removal of a small piece of tissue for microscopic study.
Birthing center - Facility in which a woman labors, delivers and recovers in the same room. It may be part of a hospital, or it may be a freestanding unit.
Bloody show - Small amount of vaginal bleeding late in pregnancy; often precedes labor.
Board certification - Doctor has had additional training and testing in a particular specialty. In the area of obstetrics, the American Board of Obstetricians and Gynecologists offers this training. Certification requires expertise in care of a pregnant woman and gynecological surgery.
Braxton-Hicks contractions - Irregular, painless tightening of uterus during pregnancy.
Breech presentation - Baby's buttocks or legs come into the birth canal before the head.
Carcinogen - Any cancer-producing substance.
Cataract, congenital - Cloudiness of the eye lens present at birth.
Cesarean section (delivery) - Delivery of a baby through an abdominal incision rather than through the vagina.
Chadwick's sign - Dark-blue or purple discoloration of the mucosa of the vagina and cervix during pregnancy.
Chemotherapy - Treatment of disease by chemical substances or drugs.
Chlamydia - Sexually transmitted venereal infection.
Chloasma - Extensive brown patches of irregular shape and size on the face or other parts of the body.
Chorionic villus sampling (CVS) - Diagnostic test done early in pregnancy. A biopsy of tissue is taken from inside the uterus through the abdomen or the cervical opening (through the vagina) to determine abnormalities of pregnancy.
Colostrum - Thin, yellow fluid that is the first milk to come from the breast. Most often seen toward the end of pregnancy. It is different in content from milk produced later during nursing.
Condyloma acuminatum - Skin tags or warts that are sexually transmitted. Caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV). AIso called venereal warts.
Congenital problem - Problem present at birth.
Constipation - Bowel movements are infrequent or incomplete.
Contraction stress test (CST) - Response of fetus to uterine contractions to evaluate fetal well-being.
Crown-to-rump length - Measurement from the top of the baby's head (crown) to the buttocks of the baby (rump),
Cystitis - Inflammation of the bladder.
Cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection - Infection caused by any of a group of viruses from the herpes virus family.
D&C (dilatation and curettage) - Surgical procedure in which the cervix is dilated, the lining of the uterus is scraped, and the uterine cavity is emptied.
Developmental delay - Condition in which the development of the baby or child is slower than normal.
Diabetes, pregnancy-induced - See gestational diabetes
Diastasis recti - Separation of abdominal muscles.
Dilatation - Expansion of an organ or vessel. Also, dilation.
Dizygotic twins - Twins derived from two different eggs. Often called fraternal twins.
Down syndrome - Condition in which baby is born mentally retarded and with a generally dwarfed appearance, including a sloping forehead, short, broad hands, a flat nose and low-set ears.
Dysplasia - Abnormal, precancerous changes in the cells of the cervix.
Dysuria - Difficulty or pain urinating.
Eclampsia - Convulsions and coma in a woman with pre-eclampsia. Not related to epilepsy.
Ectopic pregnancy - Pregnancy that occurs outside the uterine cavity.
Edema - Swelling of the feet or legs due to water retention,
Effacement - Thinning of cervix.
Electronic fetal monitoring - Use of electronic instruments to record the fetal heartbeat and the mother's contractions.
Embryo - Organism in the early stages of development.
Embryonic period - First 10 weeks of gestation (8 weeks of fetal development).
Endometrium - Mucous membrane that lines the inside of the uterine wall.
Enema - Fluid injected into the rectum for the purpose of clearing out the bowel.
Engorgement - Congested; filled with fluid.
Epidural block - Type of regional anesthesia. Medication is injected into the epidural space during labor or for some types of surgery.
Episiotomy - Surgical incision of the area behind the vagina and above the rectum. Used during delivery to avoid tearing of the vaginal opening and rectum.
External cephalic version (ECV) - Procedure done late in pregnancy in which doctor manually attempts to move a baby from the breech position into the normal head-down position.
Face presentation - Situation in which baby comes into the birth canal face-first.
Fallopian tube - Tube that leads from the cavity of the uterus to the area of the ovary. Also called uterine tube.
False labor - Tightening of uterus without dilation or thinning of the cervix.
Fasting blood sugar - Blood test to evaluate the amount of sugar in the blood following a period of fasting.
Ferrous gluconate - Iron supplement.
Ferrous sulfate - Iron supplement.
Fertilization - Joining of the sperm and egg; conception.
Fertilization age - Dating a pregnancy from the time of fertilization; 2 weeks shorter than the gestational age.
Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) - Birth defects in an infant born to a mother whose alcoholic intake persisted during pregnancy. Infant will have physical abnormalities and/or mental deficiencies.
Fetal anomaly - Fetal malformation or abnormal development.
Fetal arrhythmia - See arrhythmia.
Fetal distress - Problems with the baby that occur before birth or during labor. These endanger the baby and require immediate delivery.
Fetal monitor - Device used before or during labor to listen to and to record the fetal heartbeat. Can be external monitoring (through maternal abdomen) or internal monitoring (through maternal vagina) of the baby inside the uterus.
Fetal period - Time period following the embryonic period (first 10 weeks of gestation or 8 weeks of development) until birth.
Fetal-growth retardation - See intrauterine-growth retardation.
Fetus - Refers to the unborn baby from 10 weeks of gestation until birth,
Forceps - Special instrument placed around the baby's head, inside the birth canal, to help guide the baby out of the birth canal during delivery.
Frank breech - Baby presenting buttocks first. Legs are flexed and knees extended.
Fraternal twins - See dizygotic twins.
Full-term infant - Baby born between 38 and 42 weeks of pregnancy.
Genetic counseling - Consultation between a couple and a specialist about genetic defects and the possibility of presence or recurrence of genetic problems in a pregnancy.
Genital herpes simplex - Herpes simplex infection involving the genital area.
Gestation - Pregnancy.
Gestational age - Dating a pregnancy from the first day of the last menstrual period; 2 weeks longer than fertilization age. See fertilization age.
Gestational diabetes - Occurrence or worsening of diabetes during pregnancy.
Globulin - Family of proteins from plasma or serum of the blood.
Glucose-tolerance test - Blood test done to evaluate the body's response to sugar. Blood is drawn at intervals following ingestion of a sugary substance.
Glucosuria - Glucose in the urine.
Gonorrhea - Contagious venereal infection, transmitted primarily by intercourse. Caused by the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhea.
Group-B streptococcal infection (GBS) - Serious infection occurring in the mother's vagina and throat.
Habitual miscarriage - Occurrence of three or more miscarriages.
Heartburn - Discomfort or pain that occurs in the chest. Often occurs after eating.
Hematocrit - Measurement of the proportion of blood cells to plasma. Important in diagnosing anemia.
Hemoglobin - Pigment in red blood cell that carries oxygen to body tissues.
Hemolytic disease - Destruction of red blood cells. See anemia.
Hemorrhoids - Dilated blood vessels in the rectum or rectal canal.
High-risk pregnancy - Pregnancy with complications that requires special medical attention, often from a specialist. Also see perinatologist.
Homans' sign - Pain caused by flexing the ankle when a person has a blood clot in the lower leg.
Human chorionic gonadatropin (HCG) - Hormone produced in early pregnancy. Measured in a pregnancy test.
Hydramnios - Increased amniotic fluid.
Hydrocephalus - Excessive accumulation of fluid around the brain of the baby. Sometimes called water on the brain.
Hyperbilirubinemia - Extremely high level of bilirubin in the blood.
Hyperemesis gravidarum - Severe nausea, dehydration and vomiting during pregnancy. Occurs most frequently during the first trimester. May require brief hospitalization.
Hyperglycemia - Increased blood sugar.
Hypertension, pregnancy-induced - High blood pressure that occurs during pregnancy. Defined by an increase in the diastolic or systolic blood pressure.
Hyperthyroidism - Elevation of the thyroid hormone in the bloodstream.
Hypoglycemia - Decreased or lowered blood sugar.
Hypoplasia - Defective or incomplete development or formation of tissue.
Hypotension - Low blood pressure.
Hypothyroidism - Low or inadequate levels of thyroid hormone in the bloodstream.
Identical twins - See monozygotic twins.
Immune globulin preparation. - Substance used to protect against infection with certain diseases, such as hepatitis or measles.
Incompetent cervix - Cervix that dilates painlessly, without contractions.
Incomplete miscarriage - Miscarriage in which part, but not all, of the uterine contents are expelled.
Indigestion - Inability to digest food or difficulty digesting food.
Induced labor - Labor started by doctor, usually with oxytocin (Pitocin).
Inevitable miscarriage - Pregnancy complicated with bleeding and cramping. Results in miscarriage.
Insulin - Peptide hormone made by the pancreas. It promotes the use of glucose.
Intrauterine-growth retardation (IUGR) - Inadequate growth of the fetus during the third trimester of pregnancy. Also called fetal-growth retardation.
In utero - Within the uterus.
In vitro - Outside the body.
Iron-deficiency anemia - Anemia produced by lack of iron in the diet. Often seen in pregnancy. Also see anemia.
Isoimmunization - Development of specific antibody directed at the red blood cells of another individual, such as a baby in utero. Often occurs when an Rh-negative woman carries an Rh-positive baby or when she is given Rh-positive blood.
Jaundice - Yellow staining of the skin, sclera (covering of the eyes) and deeper tissues of the body. Caused by excessive amounts of bilirubin. Treated with phototherapy.
Ketones - Breakdown product of metabolism found in the blood, particularly in starvation or uncontrolled diabetes.
Kidney stone - Small mass or lesion found in the kidney or urinary tract that can block the flow of urine.
Labour - Contractions resulting in dilation of the cervix to make possible the delivery of a fetus.
Laparoscopy - Surgical procedure performed for tubal ligation, diagnosis of pelvic pain, diagnosis of ectopic pregnancy and other procedures.
Leukorrhea - Vaginal discharge characterized by a white or yellowish color. Primarily composed of mucus.
Lightening - Dropping or descent of fetus into the pelvis before or during labour.
Linea nigra - Line of increased pigmentation running down the abdomen from the bellybutton to the pubic area during pregnancy,
Lochia - Vaginal discharge that occurs after delivery of the baby and placenta.
L/S ratio - Measurement of the relationship of two substances, lecithin and spingomyelin, in the amniotic fluid. Results give a doctor an indication of the maturity of the baby's lungs.
Lupus - See systemic lupus erythematosus.
Lyme disease - Infection transmitted to humans by ticks.
Mammogram - X-ray study of the breasts to identify normal or abnormal breast tissue.
Mask of pregnancy - Increased pigmentation over the area of the face under each eye. Commonly has the appearance of a butterfly.
Meconium - First intestinal discharge of the newborn; green or yellow in color. It consists of epithelial or surface cells, mucus and bile. Discharge may occur before or during labor or soon after birth.
Melanoma - Pigmented mole or tumor, which may or may not be cancerous.
Meningomyelocele - Congenital defect of the central nervous system of the baby in which membranes and the spinal cord protrude through an opening or defect in the vertebral column.
Menstrual age - See gestational age.
Menstruation - Regular or periodic discharge of a bloody fluid from the uterus,
Microcephaly - Abnormally small development of the fetal head.
Milk letdown - Tingling or cramping in woman's breast, experienced when breast milk flows into the breast ducts.
Miscarriage - End of pregnancy. Giving birth to an embryo or fetus before it can live outside the womb, usually defined as before 20 weeks of gestation.
Missed miscarriage - Failed pregnancy, without bleeding or cramping. Often diagnosed by ultrasound weeks or months after a pregnancy fails.
Monilial vulvovaginitis - Infection caused by yeast or monilia. Usually affects the vagina and vulva.
Monozygotic twins - Twins conceived from one egg. Often called identical twins.
Morning sickness - Nausea and vomiting, primarily during the first trimester of pregnancy. Also see hyperemesis gravidarum.
Mucus plug - Secretions in cervix; often released just before labour.
Natural childbirth - Labor and delivery in which no medication is used, and the mother remains awake to help deliver the baby. The woman may or may not have taken classes to prepare her for labor and delivery.
Neural-tube defects - Abnormalities in the development of the spinal cord and brain in a fetus. Also see anencephaly; hydrocephalus;spina bifida.
Nonstress test - Test in which movements of the baby felt by the mother are recorded, along with changes in the fetal heart rate, to assess well-being of fetus after 32 weeks of pregnancy.
Nurse-midwife - Nurse who has received extra training in the care of pregnant patients and the delivery of babies.
Obstetrician - Physician who specializes in the care of pregnant women and the delivery of babies.
Oligohydramnios - Lack or deficiency of amniotic fluid.
Opioids - Synthetic compounds with effects similar to those of opium.
Ovarian cycle - Regular production of hormones from the ovary in response to hormonal messages from the brain. The ovarian cycle governs the endometrial cycle.
Ovulation - Cyclic production of an egg from the ovary.
Ovulatory age - See fertilization age.
Oxytocin - Medication that causes uterine contractions; used to induce labour.
Palmar erythema - Redness of palms of the hands.
Pap smear - Routine screening test that evaluates presence of premalignant or cancerous conditions of the cervix.
Paracervical block - Local anesthetic for the relief of pain of cervical dilation.
Pediatrician - Physician who specializes in the care of infants and children.
Perinatologist - Physician who specializes in the care of high-risk pregnancies.
Perineum - Area between the anus and the vagina.
Phosphatidyl glycerol - Lipoprotein present in amniotic fluid when fetal lungs are mature.
Phospholipids - Fat-containing phosphorous compounds. The most important are lecithins and sphingomyelin, which are important in the maturation of fetal lungs before birth,
Phototherapy - Treatment for jaundice in a newborn infant. See jaundice.
Placenta - Organ inside the uterus that is attached to the baby by the umbilical cord. Essential during pregnancy for growth and development of the embryo and fetus. Also called afterbirth when it is expelled following birth of baby.
Placenta previa - Low attachment of the placenta, very close to or covering the cervix.
Placental abruption - Premature separation of the placenta from the uterus.
Pneumonitis - Inflammation of the lungs.
Polyhydramnios - See hydramnios.
Postdate birth - Baby born 2 weeks or more past its due date.
Postmature baby - Pregnancy of more than 42 weeks gestation.
Postpartum blues - Mild depression after delivery.
Postpartum depression - Depression after delivery.
Postpartum hemorrhage - Bleeding greater than 17 ounces (500ml) at time of delivery.
Post-term baby - See postdate birth.
Pre-eclampsia - Combination of symptoms significant to pregnancy, including high blood pressure, edema, protein in the urine and changes in reflexes.
Pregnancy diabetes - See gestational diabetes.
Premature delivery - Delivery before 38 weeks gestation.
Prenatal care - Program of care for a pregnant woman before the birth of her baby.
Prepared childbirth - Term used when woman has taken classes to know what to expect during labor and delivery. She may request pain medication if she feels she needs it.
Presentation - Describes which part of the baby comes into the birth canal first.
Preterm birth - See premature delivery.
Propylthiouracil - Medication used to treat thyroid disease.
Proteinuria - Protein in urine.
Pruritis gravidarum - Itching during pregnancy.
Pubis symphysis - Bony prominence in the pelvic bone found in the midline. Landmark from which the doctor often measures during pregnancy to follow growth of the uterus.
Pudendal block - Local anesthesia for pain relief during labor.
Pulmonary embolism - Blood clot from another part of the body that travels to the lungs. Can cause closed passages in the lungs and a decrease in oxygen exchange.
Pyelonephritis - Serious kidney infection.
Quickening - Feeling the baby move inside the uterus.
Radiation therapy - Method of treatment for various cancers.
Rh-negative - Absence of rhesus antibody in the blood.
RhoGAM - Medication given during pregnancy and following delivery to prevent isoimmunization. Also see isoimmunization.
Rh-sensitivity - See isoimmunization.
Round-ligament pain - Pain caused by stretching of the ligaments on either side of the uterus during pregnancy.
Rupture of membranes - Loss of fluid from the amniotic sac. Also called breaking of waters.
Seizure - Sudden onset of a convulsion.
Sexually transmitted disease (STD) - Infection transmitted through sexual intercourse.
Sickle-cell anemia - Anemia caused by abnormal red blood cells shaped like a sickle or a cylinder. Occurs most often in people of African or Mediterranean descent.
Sickle-cell trait - Presence of the trait for sickle-cell anemia; not sickle-cell disease itself.
Sickle crisis - Painful episode caused by sickle-cell disease.
Skin tag - Flap or extra buildup of skin.
Sodium - Element found in many foods, particularly salt. Ingestion of too much sodium may cause fluid retention.
Spina bifida - Congenital abnormality characterized by a defect in the vertebral column. Membranes of the spinal cord and the spinal cord itself protrude outside the protective bony canal of the spine.
Spinal anesthesia - Anesthesia given in the spinal canal.
Spontaneous miscarriage - Loss of pregnancy during the first 20 weeks of gestation.
Stasis - Decreased flow.
Station - Estimation of the descent of the baby in the birth canal.
Steroids - Medications of hormone origin used to treat various diseases. Include estrogen, testosterone, progesterone and prednisone.
Stillbirth - Death of baby before it is born, after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
Stress test - Test in which mild contractions of the mother's uterus are induced; fetal heart rate in response to the contractions is noted.
Stretch marks - Areas of the skin that are torn or stretched. Often occur on the mother's abdomen, breasts, buttocks and legs.
Striae distensa - See stretch marks.
Surfactant - Substance in the lungs that controls surface tension of lungs. Premature babies often lack sufficient amounts of surfactant to breathe without assistance.
Syphilis - Sexually transmitted venereal infection.
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) - Connective-tissue disorder common in women in the reproductive ages. Antibodies made by the person act against person's own tissues.
Tay-Sachs disease - Inherited disease characterized by mental and physical retardation, convulsions, enlargement of the head and eventual death. Trait is usually carried by Ashkenazi Jews.
Telangiectasias - Dilation or swelling of a small blood vessel. Sometimes called an angioma. During pregnancy, a common name is spider angioma.
Teratogen - A substance that causes abnormal development.
Teratology - Branch of science that deals with teratogens and their effects.
Thalassemia - Group of inherited disorders of hemoglobin metabolism, which results in a decrease in the amount of hemoglobin formed. Found most commonly in people of Mediterranean descent.
Threatened miscarriage - Bleeding during the first trimester of pregnancy without cramping or contractions.
Thrombosis - Formation of a blood clot (thrombus).
Thrush - Monilial or yeast infection occurring in the mouth or mucous membranes of a newborn infant.
Thyroid disease - Abnormality of the thyroid gland and its production of thyroid hormone. Also see hyperthyroidism; hypothyroidism.
Thyroid hormone - Chemical made in the thyroid that affects the entire body.
Thyroid panel - Series of blood tests done to evaluate the function of the thyroid gland.
Thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) - Hormone made in the brain that stimulates the thyroid to produce thyroid hormone.
Tocolytic agents - Medications to stop labor.
Toxemia - See pre-eclampsia.
Toxic strep A - Bacterial infection that can cause severe damage; usually starts in a cut on the skin, not as a sore throat, and spreads very quickly. It can involve the entire body.
Toxoplasmosis - Infection caused by toxoplasma gondii. Can be contracted from handling raw meat or cat feces.
Transverse lie - Situation in which fetus is turned sideways in uterus.
Trichomonal vaginitis - Venereal infection caused by trichomonas.
Trimester - Method of dividing pregnancy into three equal time periods of about 13 weeks each.
Tubal pregnancy - See ectopic pregnancy.
Umbilical cord - Cord containing blood vessels that connects the placenta to the developing baby. It removes waste products and carbon dioxide from the baby and brings oxygenated blood and nutrients from the mother through the placenta to the baby.
Umbilicus - Bellybutton.
Ureters - Tubes that drain urine from the kidneys to the bladder.
Urinary calculi - See kidney stones.
Uterus - Organ in which an embryo/fetus grows. Also called a womb.
Vaccine - Dose of medication given to a person to cause production of antibodies to protect against subsequent infections.
Vacuum extractor - Soft rubber device used to provide traction on fetal head to aid in delivery.
Varicose veins - Blood vessels (veins) that are dilated or enlarged, most often found in the legs.
Vascular spiders - See telangiectasias.
VBAC - Vaginal birth after Cesarean.
Vena cava - Major vein in the body that empties into the right atrium of the heart. It returns unoxygenated blood to the heart for transport to the lungs.
Venereal warts - See condyloma acuminatum.
Vernix - Fatty substance made up of epithelial cells that covers fetal skin inside the uterus.
Vertex presentation - Head first.
Womb - See uterus.
Yeast infection - See monilial vulvovaginitis; thrush.