Most groups of people have their jargon and health professionals
are no exception. Here's a list of some common words or acronyms
(initials) or abbreviations you may come across when you read your
notes or hear people talking. If in doubt, ask your midwife or
doctor what they mean.
Acceleration of labour: The speeding up of
labour by the use of drugs, usually via a Syntocinon drip.
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.
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.
Amniotic fluid: Sometimes called liquor
(lie-kwa), this is the fluid that surrounds the baby in the uterus
Amniotic sac: The bag in which the fetus and
amniotic fluid are contained during pregnancy.
Antenatal: Before the birth.
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 nick 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.
Antepartum haemorrhage (APH): Bleeding before
Assisted delivery: The use forceps or ventouse
to speed up the delivery, or to move the baby if they have become
Breech presentation (BR): This means your baby
is lying bottom or feet down in the uterus.
Blood pressure (BP): It's important to have
your blood pressure measured as a rise could mean a problem.
Caesarean section: Delivery of an infant
through an incision in the abdominal and uterine walls.
Cephalic (Ceph): This means the baby is lying
with its head in the lower part of the uterus.
Chorionic villi sampling: A prenatal test that
scans for genetic abnormalities.
Congenital: Present at birth.
Crowning: The point in labour when the head of
the baby can be seen at the vagina.
Diamorphine: This is an injection like
pethidine sometimes given for pain relief in labour. Like
pethidine, it can cause drowsiness and nausea.
Dilation: 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. This process is
called dilation of the cervix.
Doppler: This is a small handheld machine that
picks up your baby's heartbeat by ultrasound.
Eclampsia: 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, usually in the fallopian tube.
This pregnancy cannot be allowed to continue as it is
Expected Date of Delivery (EDD): The date when
your baby is due. Sometimes called EDC (Expected Date of
Engaged (ENG): This means that the widest part
of the baby's head has passed into the pelvis in preparation for
Entonox: 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
Epidural: 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.
Episiotomy: 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 prevent tearing.
Fallopian tubes: Part of the female
reproductive system. The eggs produced in the ovaries have to
travel down the fallopian tubes before embedding in the lining of
the uterus. Occasionally a fertilised egg will embed in the
tube, causing an ectopic pregnancy.
Fetal blood sampling (FBS): This is a test that
is sometimes needed on 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
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.
Fetus: Medical name for the baby before it's
Fetal heart (FH): You may see 'FH heard' or
'FHH' on your notes - that means your baby's heartbeat has been
Fetal Movement (FM): It may say 'FM felt' or
'FMF' on your notes. That means your baby had been felt to
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.
Fontanelles: The two soft spots on a newborn's
head where the skull bones do not yet meet.
Forceps: 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
Fundus: 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
Haemoglobin (Hb): This is a substance in the
blood that carries oxygen and it can be low if you have low iron
Haemorrhage: 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
Hypertension: High blood pressure.
Hypotension: Low blood pressure.
Induction: Starting the labour
Ketones: 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.
Lithotomy position: A position used for
assisted deliveries, where the mother lies flat on her back with
her legs raised and apart, supported by stirrups.
Lochia: 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.
Meconium: The bowel contents of the baby at
Membrane sweep: A traditional method of trying
to nudge 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.
Miscarriage: Spontaneous ending of a pregnancy
before 24 weeks' gestation.
Multigravida: A woman who has been pregnant
Multipara: Also called a multip - a woman who
has given birth at least once before.
NAD: Nothing Abnormal Detected. The doctor or
midwife may write this on your notes when they find no
Neonate: A newborn infant.
Neonatologist: A doctor who specialises in the
care of newborn babies.
Obstetrician: 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.
Oedema: Means swelling. Fluid retention can
cause swelling in your ankles, fingers and elsewhere. You may see
it measured in your notes as + or ++.
Oxytocin: 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.
Paediatrician: A doctor who specialises in the
care of children.
Palpation: 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.
Perineum: The area of skin between your vagina
Perineal block: A local anaesthetic given
before an episiotomy is carried out.
Pessary: A special type of medication designed
to be inserted into the vagina. In labour,
prostaglandin pessaries are sometimes used to induce
Pethidine: 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.
Placenta: 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
Placental abruption: Premature separation of
the placenta from the uterine wall.
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.
Polyhydramnios: An excessive amount of amniotic
Position: How the baby is lying, for example to
the right or left of the pelvis.
Postnatal: After the birth. Relates to the 28
day period following giving birth.
Postpartum: Relating to the period of a few
days after the birth.
Pre-eclampsia: This is a complication of
pregnancy where the blood pressure increases and protein appears in
Pregnancy Induced Hypertension (PIH): This
means that your blood pressure is high a result of the
Presentation: The part of the baby which is
coming first (usually the crown or back of the baby's head).
Preterm: Born before 37 weeks of pregnancy.
Primigravida: A woman pregnant for the first
Primipara: 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 be delivered very
quickly, usually by an emergency Caesarean section.
Prostaglandin: A natural substance used in
pessaries to soften the cervix and stimulate the start of
Pudendal block: A local anaesthetic given to
block pain around the cervix and vagina before using
Quickening: 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.
Rubella: Also called German measles. If
contracted by woman during pregnancy, it can result in birth
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.
Show: A show is when the thick mucus which
plugs the narrow channel of the cervix during pregnancy comes away.
It is a sign that the body is getting ready for labour.
Skin-to-skin: Skin-to-skin contact with your
baby after birth (your baby is dried and put straight onto your
Syntocinon: 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.
Syntometrine: 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.
TENS: Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve
Stimulation - 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.
Term: 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
Third stage: Delivery of the placenta
Transition: 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.
Trimester: One third of a pregnancy.
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.
Unstable lie: The baby changes position often
and cannot be considered to be in any definite position.
Uterus or womb: The hollow
muscular organ in which the baby lives until birth.
VE: Vaginal examination.
Ventouse: This is the name given to a method of
vacuum extraction to help the baby be born at the end of the
labour, either if the mother is very tired or if the baby has
Vernix: A white, waxy substance that
covers the fetus in the uterus.
VX: Stands for vertex, which means the crown or
top of the baby's head.