Pregnancy and Birthing Glossary
Abruptio Placentae —The placenta detaches from the wall of the uterus earlier than it should. If this occurs, a cesarean section may be necessary.
Active Labor —This is the second phase of the first stage of labor. Active labor begins when the cervix is 3-4 centimeters dilated and there are regular contractions no more than 10 minutes apart. During active labor, the contractions are stronger and occur more often than during the early phase (latent phase) of stage one. Toward the end of this phase, the cervix dilates from 7-10 centimeters.
Afterpains —These are sharp abdominal pains caused by the uterus contracting after delivery. It is normal and desirable for the uterus to contract as it returns to its prepregnancy size. Afterpains are most common during breastfeeding. Breastfeeding stimulates the release of oxytocin, which causes the uterus to contract. Afterpains typically subside by the third day.
Alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) Test —Alpha-fetoprotein is a protein produced by the fetus. During pregnancy, the fetus excretes AFP into the amniotic fluid and the mother’s blood. The AFP screening test measures the level of AFP. An abnormal level may indicate an increased risk of certain birth defects, such as neural tube defects, or congenital conditions, such as Down syndrome. This test can only indicate increased risk, it cannot diagnose a specific condition. This test is currently done as part of a set of three tests (Triple Screen) or four tests (Quad Screen).
Amnion —See amniotic sac.
Amniotic Fluid —This is the fluid inside the amniotic sac. The fluid serves to cushion and protect the fetus.
Amniotic Sac (also called Amnion)—This lining inside the uterus contains the fetus and the fluid that cushions the fetus. This fluid is called amniotic fluid. The term “water breaks” refers to the amniotic sac breaking; this often occurs at the beginning of labor.
Analgesic —a medication used to relieve pain
Anesthesiologist —This is a physician trained in anesthesiology, able to give any medication that numbs the feeling of pain.. This doctor will deliver epidural medication.
Antibody —This is a type of protein that is part of the immune system. Antibodies are designed to fight off specific factors that may cause sickness or disease. Through breast milk, the mother’s antibodies are given to her baby. This helps strengthen the baby’s immune system.
Apgar Score —This index is used to evaluate the condition of a newborn infant. A rating of 0, 1, or 2 is given for each of five characteristics: color, heart rate, response to stimulation, muscle tone, and respiration. A perfect score is 10. Most healthy babies will score a maximum of nine because it is normal for babies to have blue hands and feet in the first minutes of life. The Apgar score is determined 1, 5, and 10 minutes after birth. Healthy babies only get the first two scores.
Areola —This is the colored ring around the nipple. If a baby is properly latched on during breastfeeding, both the areola and the nipple should be in the baby’s mouth.
Artificial Insemination —This treatment for infertility involves the sperm being brought to the uterus or oviduct by a way other than the natural means. For example, the doctor may insert a catheter through the vagina to deposit the sperm in the uterus.
Assisted Delivery —The doctor takes steps to speed up delivery after the cervix is fully dilated. Two common methods are forceps delivery and vacuum-extractor assisted delivery.
Augmentation —The doctor takes steps to resume labor if a woman is in labor and the contractions slow or stop. The doctor may augment labor by rupturing the amniotic sac or giving oxytocin. Oxytocin is a drug that stimulates the uterus to contract.
Baby Blues —Feelings of sadness, crying, anxiety, or irritability can occur in the first few weeks after having a baby. There are many possible causes, including hormonal changes, lack of sleep, the baby’s crying, and loss of time to yourself. Feelings of sadness that do not get better with time or that include thoughts of hurting yourself or your baby are signs of a more serious condition.
Basal Body Temperature (BBT) —This is body temperature in the morning before getting out of bed. Measuring and tracking daily BBT with a special thermometer can help determine when the ovary releases an egg (ovulation) and help a couple figure out the most fertile days of the month. BBT rises on the first day of ovulation. The most fertile days are the 2-3 days before BBT hits its highest point, and the 12-24 hours after ovulation.
BBT Thermometer —This thermometer can detect temperature changes of at least 1/10 of a degree. It is used to track daily basal body temperature (BBT) in order to determine the days a woman is most likely to get pregnant. A BBT thermometer can be purchased at a drug store for about $10.
Bassinet— This is a basket-like bed used for infants. It often has a hood over one end and handles for easy carrying.
bHCG— This is a hormone made in high levels in pregnancy. Blood levels of bHCG are used to tell if a woman is pregnant and to see whether the pregnancy is developing normally. The hormone HCG can also be used to find the probability of a chromosomal problem in a developing fetus; in nonpregnant women, it can be used to check for certain types of cancer.
Billirubin —This reddish yellow pigment is normally cleared from the blood by the liver. A newborn’s liver is still learning how to remove bilirubin, so it may build up in the blood causing a baby to have a slight yellow tinge to the skin and eyeballs. If a baby has this yellow tinge, the condition is called jaundice. This may occur between the second and fifth day of life. This condition is usually easily treated.
Biotinidase Deficiency —Biotinidase is an enzyme that breaks down biotin, which is a B vitamin. If a baby cannot make this enzyme, the baby has a biotinidase deficiency. This deficiency can cause serious neurologic effects, including convulsions, hearing loss, and coma. If this deficiency is identified and treated early, the effects can be prevented. A newborn screening test can check for this disease before any symptoms occur.
Birth Canal —This is the pathway through which a baby travels in order to be born. The birth canal is formed by the cervix, vagina, and vulva.
Birth Plan —The birth plan is a written list of your preferences to be used as a guide for how you would like your labor and delivery to go. As labor can be unpredictable, you may need to deviate from this plan at times during labor.
Birthing Center —This is a healthcare facility usually staffed by nurse-midwives, with an obstetrician available in case of emergency. A birthing center provides a more home-like setting than a hospital.
Birthing Room —Both labor and delivery take place in this hospital room. Birthing rooms are designed with warm colors and furnishings so women feel more comfortable during labor and birth than in a normal hospital room.
Blastocyst —This is a hollow ball of cells that develops from the fertilized egg. The blastocyst moves to the uterus and attaches to the uterine lining. The blastocyst continues to grow and divide until it becomes an embryo.
Bloody Show —This refers to the release of stringy mucus or thick brown, pink, or reddish discharge from the vagina. This is a sign that labor will begin soon; usually within 72 hours.
Body Mass Index (BMI) —This is a measure of body fat that is the ratio of weight (in kilograms) to height squared (in meters). Overweight is defined as a BMI greater than 25. Obesity is defined by a BMI greater than 30.
—This approach to birth stresses the avoidance of medications unless absolutely necessary. This method also calls for an active role for the baby’s father as birth coach. Good nutrition and exercise during pregnancy are encouraged. Relaxation and deep-breathing techniques are taught to cope with labor pain. Also called husband-coached birth.
Braxton-Hicks Contractions (also called False Labor)—These contractions occur toward the end of pregnancy. As the due date approaches, they may become stronger and more painful. Braxton-Hicks contractions are irregular and do not get closer together. They may stop when you walk or change positions.
Breast Engorgement —This is an uncomfortable feeling of fullness and hardness in the breasts. This occurs around the third or fourth day postpartum when mature milk is coming in. Breastfeeding often and using both breasts at each feeding can help reduce this discomfort. Between feedings, take a hot shower or use warm compresses or ice packs. For women who do not plan to breastfeed, wearing tight binding clothing can help reduce symptoms.
Breast Pump —A machine (either manual or electric) removes milk from a woman’s breasts. Women use breast pumps to pump and store their breast milk for future use. Breast pumping is also useful for women who are away from their babies for several hours and need to relieve the pressure of full breasts.
Breast Shells —These are small cushions worn inside a bra to protect nipples from chaffing and to collect leaking breast milk. Some are ventilated, which means they have holes that allow air to circulate around the breast. The ventilated shells are used to protect sore or cracked nipples and help them heal quickly.
Breech Birth (or Breech Presentation) —This occurs when the baby presents for delivery with his or her buttocks or feet, rather than head, first.
Catheter —This tubular medical device is used for insertion into vessels, passageways, or body cavities. Usually it is used to inject medications or withdraw fluids, or to keep a passage open.
Cephalopelvic Disproportion (CPD) —This occurs when the baby’s head is too big to fit through the mother’s pelvis. In this case, a cesarean section may be needed.
Certified Nurse-midwife (CNM)— A CNM is a registered nurse who has earned a graduate degree in midwifery, which trains him or her to handle normal, low-risk pregnancies and deliveries. Most CNMs deliver babies in hospitals or birth centers, although some do home births.
Cervical Mucus Method —This is one method for determining fertile times during the month. This method involves tracking changes in cervical mucus (the fluid at the opening of the cervix). Hormonal changes that control ovulation also affect the type and quantity of cervical mucus.
Cervix— Part of the female reproductive system, the cervix is the narrow opening at the bottom of the uterus. During labor, the cervix thins and opens to allow the baby to pass through the birth canal.
Cesarean Section (C-section) —This surgical delivery of a baby involves incisions that are made into the abdomen and uterus. The baby is lifted out of the mother’s womb.
C-hold —This is a method to help the baby latch on during breastfeeding. Cup your breast with your fingers underneath and your thumb on top. Support your breast this way at each feeding for the first six weeks.
Chorionic Villus Sampling (CVS) —A small portion of the placenta is removed during pregnancy in order to examine the baby’s chromosomes and look for some genetic diseases.
Colostrum —This is the first milk produced and secreted by a woman’s breast after her baby is born. Colostrum is a yellow/gold color and is high in protein and antibodies.
Conception —The beginning of pregnancy is marked by the fertilization and implantation of an egg.
Constipation —This involves abnormally delayed or infrequent bowel movements. When a bowel movement occurs, the feces are often dry and hard. Constipation may occur during pregnancy or after delivery. A high intake of fluids and fiber, as well as exercise, may help ease constipation. Your doctor may also recommend stool softeners.
Cradle Hold —This is a way to hold your baby during breastfeeding. Sit with your arm bent across your lap. The baby’s head rests in your elbow and his body along your forearm and lap. The baby’s chest should be against your skin so he doesn’t have to turn his head to reach the nipple.
Cross-cradle Hold —This is a way to hold your baby during breastfeeding. Sit with your arm bent across your lap. The baby’s head is in your hand and her body extends toward your elbow. This is helpful in learning to get the baby latched on, as you can control her head better.
Crowning —During delivery, the baby’s head is pushing through the vagina and is beginning to be seen at the vulva.
Delivery —This is the act of giving birth.
Distraction —This is the use of photographs, massage, mental imagery, or other visual or audio stimulation during labor to keep your mind off the pain. This is one method used in natural childbirth.
Doula —Someone trained to help a woman stay relaxed during labor and delivery. A doula often gives massage and can also communicate with the medical team for the mother.
Dropping (also called Lightening)—This is the movement of the baby down into your pelvis. Your doctor uses “stations” to describe how far the baby has dropped. The term “-3 station” means that the baby’s head is not yet in the pelvis. “0 station” means that the head is at the bottom of the pelvis. This is also called fully engaged. When the head is beginning to emerge from the birth canal, the term “+3 station” is used. +3 occurs during delivery and is also called crowning.
Early Labor (also called the Latent Phase)—This is the first phase of the first stage of labor. During early labor, the cervix is dilated from 0-3 centimeters. You may have mild to moderate contractions every 5-20 minutes. You may be uncomfortable, with a backache, feeling of fullness, or menstrual-like pain. Phase one is the longest section of labor. It may last from hours to days for first-time moms. Women who have already had a baby average eight hours in this phase.
Echocardiogram —This diagnostic tool examines the size, shape, and motion of the heart using high-frequency sound waves (ultrasound).
Eclampsia —These are seizures caused by worsening of pre-eclampsia. Eclampsia is a serious condition for a pregnant mother and her baby that requires immediate medical attention.
Effacement —The cervix thins in preparation for delivery. Effacement is reported as a percentage. If you are “50% effaced,” your cervix has thinned to half of its original thickness. When you reach “100% effaced,” the cervix is completely thinned out.
Embryo —This is the period of development from the time of implantation to the end of the eighth week after conception. After eight weeks, the developing baby is called a fetus.
Endometrium —This is part of the female reproductive system. The endometrium is the tissue lining the uterus. The endometrium is shed monthly when a woman menstruates. In pregnancy, the embryo implants into the endometrium and receives nourishment through it.
Epididymis —This is part of the male reproductive system. The epididymis are two coiled tubes that connect each testicle to the vas deferens. These tubes hold sperm during maturation.
Epidural —An epidural is a common method of giving pain relief during labor. A catheter is inserted through the lower back into a space near the spinal cord. Anesthesia is given through this catheter, and results in decreased sensation from the abdomen to the feet.
Estriol —This hormone acts like estrogen in the body. It is secreted by the placenta during pregnancy. One of the tests (with AFP) in a Triple Screen or Quad Screen.
False Labor —This is the experience of contractions that do not open or thin the cervix. Compared to true labor, false labor contractions may occur irregularly and do not get closer together. False labor contractions may stop when you walk or change position. It may be difficult for you to tell the difference between true and false labor. The most important difference is that these contractions do not result in the thinning or dilation of the cervix.
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) —This is a group of birth defects that occur in children whose mothers drank large amounts of alcohol during pregnancy. The defects include mental retardation, deficient growth, and malformations of the skull and face.
Fetal Distress —A baby does not get enough oxygen or experiences some other complication. Immediate delivery may be required. Often, babies are monitored with fetal heart rate monitors during labor and delivery to check for signs of fetal distress.
Fetal Heart Rate Monitor —This monitor tracks and records your baby’s heart rate during labor and delivery. Monitoring can be done externally or internally.
Fetus —This refers to the developing baby after eight weeks of pregnancy until delivery. Before eight weeks, it is called an embryo.
First Trimester Screen —A combination of tests are done between weeks 11 and 14 to help determine the chance that a developing fetus has any chromosomal abnormalities. It includes an ultrasound to measure the nuchal lucency and two blood tests for pregnancy-associated plasma protein-A (PAPP-A) and free ß-hCG.
Focused Breathing —This is a relaxation method that can be used during childbirth. It is one means of natural childbirth.
Folate —This B vitamin is important for normal development of a fetus. A low intake of folate by a pregnant mother is associated with a greater risk for neural tube defects in her baby. It is recommended that pregnant women have 400 micrograms of folate per day from the very beginning of pregnancy (and before pregnancy, if possible). Folate is found in prenatal vitamins, leafy green vegetables, citrus fruits, and enriched grain products. A woman who has previously had a baby with a neural tube defect will need a higher dose of folate during subsequent pregnancies.
Football Hold —This is a way to hold your baby during breastfeeding. Sit with your arm bent alongside your body. The baby’s head rests in your hand, with his head facing your breast and his body extended along your forearm next to your body. This position is more comfortable if you have engorged breasts, sore nipples, or plugged ducts. It is also good after a c-section because the baby is not resting on your sensitive stomach.
Forceps Delivery —This is the use of medical forceps to help deliver the baby. If the baby is not moving down the birth canal and there is a medical need to speed the delivery, forceps may be used. The forceps, which look like a long pair of tongs, are gently inserted along either side of the baby’s head. The baby can then be pulled out.
Full-term —This describes a baby that is born 38-42 weeks after the mother’s last menstrual period.
Fully Engaged —The baby has dropped in preparation for delivery. Fully engaged means the baby’s head is at the bottom of the pelvis. This is also called “0 station.”
Galactosemia —With this inherited metabolic disorder, a form of sugar called galactose (found in milk products) builds up in the blood because the body cannot make the enzyme that would normally break galactose down. If not treated, galactosemia can cause poor weight gain, irritability, and convulsions, and in the long term, learning disabilities and poor growth. Most states screen for galactosemia at birth with a simple blood test. If treatment is started early, symptoms and effects can be minimized.
Gamete —This refers to a male or female sex cell. The female gamete is the ovum. The male gamete is the sperm. When fertilization occurs, the two gametes fuse.
Gel Pads —Pads made from glycerin help relieve pain from sore or cracked nipples.
General Anesthesia —This is pain-numbing medication that puts you to sleep. Some women will need to have general anesthesia for a cesarean section.
Genetic Testing —A person’s DNA is examined for abnormalities that may be a sign of disease. Some conditions are known to be passed through genes. If you have a family history of certain conditions, your doctor may recommend you talk to a genetic counselor and/or have genetic testing to see if your baby is at risk. Genetic testing is often done during pregnancy.
Gestation (also called Pregnancy)—This is the period of development in the uterus from conception until birth.
Gestational Age —This refers to the length of pregnancy. A baby’s gestational age, usually given in weeks, is the length of the pregnancy when the baby was born.
Gonorrhea —This is a sexually transmitted disease that can cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID is a serious infection that can cause infertility.
Hemorrhage —This is excessive bleeding.
Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (HCG) —This is a hormone secreted by the placenta. Home pregnancy kits test for this hormone.
Immunity —This is the ability to resist a particular disease. Breast milk transfers immune proteins to the baby and helps build the infant’s immunity to some conditions.
Implantation —The embryo attaches to the wall of the uterus.
Induction —This is the use of artificial means to begin labor. These may include medication to soften the cervix, rupture of the amniotic sac, or medication to cause the uterus to contract, such as oxytocin (Pitocin).
Infertility —This is the inability to achieve pregnancy over a considerable period of time (such as one year) in spite of frequent sexual intercourse without the use of birth control.
Intrauterine Insemination (IUI) —In this method of assisted reproduction, a catheter is used to place sperm from a woman’s husband or a sperm donor directly into the uterus. IUI is often used in conjunction with ovulation-stimulation medications (also called artificial insemination).
Kegel Exercises —These exercises are done to strengthen the pelvic floor, which can help a woman push more efficiently during delivery and can help recovery. To do Kegel exercises, contract and hold the muscles used to stop the flow of urine.
Labor —These are regular contractions of the uterus that cause the cervix to open (dilate) and thin (efface).
Lamaze —This is a method of managing pain during childbirth. This technique focuses on relaxation, controlled breathing, and distraction. The Lamaze approach is neutral about pain medication. Women are encouraged to learn about all options and decide what is right for them.
Latched on —A baby is latched on during breastfeeding when both the nipple and the areola (colored area around the nipple) are in his or her mouth. Being latched on properly allows the baby to feed well and reduces pain for the mother.
Let-down Reflex —This is a physiologic response to an infant sucking at the mother’s breast. The pressure from sucking stimulates the release of milk from the milk ducts, through the nipples, and to the baby.
Local Anesthesia —This is medication that is given in a specific area of the body. The numbing effect does not extend past the area where the anesthetic is injected (unlike spinal or epidural anesthesia).
Lochia —This refers to a discharge from the uterus and vagina that occurs after delivery. Lochia appears bloody for the first three to four days. It changes to a pinkish-brown within a week of delivery, and then to white or yellow. Lochia will appear less bloody after two weeks, but can continue for six to eight weeks postpartum.
Low Birth-weight —This is characterized by a birthweight less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces (2,500 grams).
Luteal Phase Defect (LPD) —There are low levels of progesterone in repeated menstrual cycles. Progesterone is a hormone that is essential for the survival of a fetus early in pregnancy. In the past, doctors thought LPD affected miscarriage in early pregnancy, but recent studies have not shown this to be true.
Luteinizing Hormone (LH) —This is a hormone produced by the pituitary gland in the brain. The level of LH rises around the midpoint of a woman’s menstrual cycle (eg, day 14 of a 28-day cycle). This surge causes the mature egg to leave the ovary, a process called ovulation. A woman is most likely to get pregnant around the time of ovulation. Ovulation predictor kits, which help determine when a woman is most fertile, measure the level of LH.
Menstrual Cycle —This is the cycle of physiologic changes in a woman’s body from the beginning of one menstrual period to the beginning of the next. On average, the menstrual cycle is 28 days long. Day 1 of your menstrual cycle begins on the first day of your period. Between day 7 and 11, the lining of your uterus begins to thicken, preparing for a fertilized egg to implant. Around day 14 of a 28-day cycle, changes in hormones cause a mature egg to be released from an ovary and travel down a fallopian tube toward your uterus. It is here that a sperm may fertilize the egg, and if this occurs and the egg attaches to the lining of the uterus, pregnancy occurs. If the egg is not fertilized, the lining of the uterus is shed as a menstrual period, and the cycle begins again.
Mental Imagery —This involves focusing your mind to visualize yourself in a certain situation and doing well in that situation. Often used to relieve stress and improve performance, mental imagery is also a tool used in natural childbirth.
Methylmercury —This form of mercury is toxic in high doses and can harm a developing baby if eaten by a pregnant woman. Methylmercury comes from environmental pollution and accumulates in some fish. Certain types of fish should be avoided or limited during pregnancy because of the methylmercury in them. Avoid eating shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish. Pregnant women can safely eat up to 12 ounces per week of fish that is lower in methylmercury (eg, shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, catfish). Canned albacore (white) tuna or tuna steaks should be limited to six ounces per week.
Milk Duct —These tubes within the breast connect the alveolus (the glands that produce breast milk) and the nipple. Breast milk is stored in the milk ducts between breastfeeding sessions. When the infant sucks at the breast, a hormone called oxytocin is released. Oxytocin causes the milk ducts to widen, allowing breast milk to move down the ducts toward the nipple, to feed the baby.
Mouthing —A baby puts her hands in her mouth and/or makes sucking motions with her mouth. This is a sign that a baby is hungry.
Mucus Plug —During pregnancy, a thick plug of mucus fills the cervical opening. This plug is here to keep bacteria out of the uterus. As the cervix thins and opens, this plug may fall out. When it falls out, you may notice stringy mucus or a thick discharge that is brown, pink, or reddish. Labor usually begins within 72 hours of this “show.”
Narcotic —This is a pain-relieving medication. A narcotic often used during labor is meperidine (Demerol). Narcotics act on the central nervous system to relieve pain.
Natural Childbirth —This is a method of managing childbirth in which the mother learns and practices techniques to remain conscious during delivery with minimal or no use of drugs or anesthetics. Natural childbirth includes many supportive techniques such as focused breathing and mental imagery.
Nerve Block —This is a form of local anesthesia, which numbs one area of the body, to help control pain. One type, a pudendal block, is an injection given into the vaginal wall to numb the perineum. Given just before delivery, this injection works quickly to reduce pain. The effects last about one hour.
Nesting —This is an urge some women experience at the end of pregnancy to clean and organize the home. Nesting is thought to be an instinct to prepare your home for birth and the baby. These feelings may occur any time during pregnancy, but are usually strongest just before labor.
Neural Tube Defect —This is a serious birth defect that occurs when the neural tube does not close during pregnancy. Normally, the neural tube closes during the fourth week of pregnancy, and develops into the brain, spinal cord, and back bones. If the neural tube does not close at the top, the baby will have anencephaly (without a brain). If the neural tube does not close at the bottom, the baby will have spina bifida. Getting enough folate (400 micrograms/day) can help reduce the risk of neural tube defects. Folate is found in prenatal vitamins, citrus foods, leafy green vegetables, and enriched grain products.
Nipple Confusion —A baby forgets how to nurse properly from the breast. Breastfeeding requires greater muscle coordination and is more work for a baby than drinking from a bottle. If a breastfed baby is given a bottle, when she returns to the breast, she may have difficulty feeding because she can forget how to nurse properly. Nipple confusion is only a concern in the first few weeks of breastfeeding while the baby is still learning to feed properly and developing a schedule. Once the baby is feeding well, she is better able to handle switching between breast and bottle.
Nuchal Fold Measurement (also called Nuchal Lucency)—This is the width of the fluid-filled space between the back of the fetal neck and the skin. This space is increased in some chromosomal disorders. The nuchal fold is measured in an ultrasound between 11 and 14 weeks of pregnancy.
Nursing —This is also called breastfeeding.
Obstetrician/Gynecologist (OB/GYN) —This is a doctor with at least four years of training after medical school focusing on women's health and reproduction. An ob/gyn can handle complicated pregnancies, perform cesarean sections, and take care of most of the surgical and medical care related to the female reproductive system.
Onesie —This is a piece of baby clothing that covers the upper body and snaps between the legs, making it easy to change diapers.
Ovaries —This is part of the female reproductive system. The ovaries are two glands that produce eggs and female hormones including estrogen and progesterone.
Ovulation —During a woman’s menstrual cycle, a mature egg is released from the ovary. Ovulation occurs about 14 days before a woman has her period (eg, day 14 of a 28-day cycle). A woman is most likely to become pregnant if she has sexual intercourse around the time of ovulation.
Oxygen Saturation —This is the amount of oxygen in a person’s blood. Some hospitals check an infant’s oxygen saturation level. This level is a measure of how well the baby’s heart and lungs are working. The normal level for a healthy fetus is greater than 30%.
Oxytocin (Pitocin) —This natural hormone stimulates the uterus to contract. Pitocin is a synthetic form of oxytocin that is often used to induce or speed up labor contractions. Pitocin may be given after delivery to help the uterus return to its normal size. Breastfeeding stimulates the release of oxytocin, also helping the uterus contract and return to its prepregnancy size.
Pelvic Examination —This is a physical examination of a woman’s external and internal reproductive organs. The exam usually has two parts: a speculum exam which uses a device to hold the vaginal walls open so the cervix and vagina can be viewed, and a bimanual exam where the size and shape of the uterus and ovaries are estimated by compressing them between a hand on the abdomen and fingers in the vagina.
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) —This is a serious infection of the female reproductive organs. PID can cause scar tissue to form in the pelvis and fallopian tubes. This damage may result in infertility, a future tubal pregnancy, or chronic pelvic pain.
Perinatal —Perinatal is the period around the time of birth.
Perinatologist (also called a Maternal-fetal Specialist)—This doctor trained in obstetrics and gynecology is further trained to take care of high-risk pregnancies.
Perineal Tear —This is a tear in the skin between the vagina and the anus. This area is called the perineum or perineal area. The intense pressure during delivery causes stretching and sometimes tearing of the perineal area. Perineal tears are classified from 1st degree (a very minor tear) to 4th degree (a tear through the muscle of the anus and the lining of the rectum). In some cases, controlled pushing can reduce the risk of such tears. After delivery, a perineal tear will be closed with stitches.
Perineum (also called the Perineal Area)—This is the area between the vagina and the anus.
Pica —This is the craving of nonfood products, such as cornstarch or clay, during pregnancy. Tell your doctor if you have these cravings. Do not eat these or any other nonfood items.
Placenta —This organ develops in the uterus during pregnancy. Its purpose is to nourish the baby. The placenta passes oxygen and nutrients from the mother to the baby and takes waste products away back to the mother's blood.
Placenta Previa —The placenta moves out of its normal position and covers all or part of the cervix. The cervix is the lower part of the uterus that opens into the vagina. Placenta previa can cause abnormal bleeding, early separation of the placenta from the uterus, premature birth, or the need for an emergency cesarean section delivery.
Plugged Milk Duct —Milk ducts that have become blocked, inflamed, or sore. Ducts may become plugged when milk is not completely drained from the ducts. This may occur due to incomplete or skipped feedings, an inadequate pump, a poorly fitted nursing bra, an illness, stress, or for no clear reason. If an infection forms behind the plug, it is called mastitis and is treated with antibiotics. Frequent breastfeeding or pumping is the best way to treat plugged milk ducts even when taking antibiotics for mastitis.
Polyhydramnios (also called Hydramnios)—This is an excessive accumulation of amniotic fluid. The condition may increase the risk of having a cesarean section.
Postpartum —This refers to the time period after giving birth.
Postpartum Depression— This form of depression affects some women shortly after childbirth. It is common for women to feel emotional for a short time after having a baby. If these feelings do not resolve and/or become more severe, it may be postpartum depression. Common symptoms of postpartum depression include extreme fatigue, loss of pleasure in daily life, lack of interest in the baby, insomnia, sadness, anxiety, hopelessness, feelings of worthlessness and guilt, irritability, changes in appetite, and poor concentration. Postpartum depression requires treatment.
Pregnancy-associated Plasma Protein-A (PAPP-A) —This is a protein found in maternal blood during pregnancy. Levels of this hormone may indicate chromosomal abnormalities in the developing fetus. This test is combined with the free ß-hCG (the free beta subunit of human chorionic gonadotropin) and nuchal lucency measurement for a first trimester screen for chromosomal abnormalities.
Pregnancy-induced High Blood Pressure
Premature —This describes a baby that is born less than 37 weeks after the mother’s last menstrual period.
Premature Ovarian Failure (POF) —This refers to the loss of natural egg production earlier than age 40. Normally, women are born with enough eggs in their ovaries to support ovulation once per month from puberty until menopause. In POF, there is a loss of eggs, a dysfunction of the eggs, or early removal of the ovaries. The result is that normal ovarian function is lost earlier than expected. POF is one cause of infertility.
Prenatal —This is the time period before birth.
Progesterone —This sex hormone is secreted to prepare the lining of the uterus (endometrium) for implantation of a fertilized egg. Progesterone is also made by the placenta during pregnancy to support continued pregnancy. Additionally, it is used in birth control pills, to treat menstrual disorders, and to treat some cases of infertility.
Prolapsed Cord —This occurs when the umbilical cord is in the birth canal ahead of the baby. The cord may become compressed and cut off the baby’s oxygen supply. This condition may be cause for a cesarean section.
Prostate Gland —This is part of the male reproductive system. The prostate gland produces seminal fluid; seminal fluid is mixed with sperm to produce semen.
Pudendal Block —This is a form of local anesthesia, which numbs one area of the body, to help control pain during crowning. A pudendal block is an injection given into the vaginal wall to numb the perineum. Given just before delivery, this injection works quickly to reduce pain. The effects last about one hour.
Pumping (of the Breasts) —Expressing breast milk from the breast can be done manually or with a breast pump. Women may pump to store milk for future feedings for their babies and/or to relieve pressure from very full breasts.
Rooming In —This involves keeping a newborn infant in the same room as the mom, rather than in the infant nursery.
Rooting Reflex —This is a reflex seen in infants soon after birth. When you stroke the side of the infant’s face, she will turn her head in that direction, open her mouth, and stick out her tongue in search of the nipple to begin feeding.
Scrotum —This is part of the male reproductive system. The scrotum is a pouch of skin that hangs outside the pelvis to hold and regulate the temperature of the testes.
Semen —This is part of the male reproductive system. Semen is a fluid that contains seminal fluid and sperm. It is ejaculated from the penis into the vagina to carry sperm to a woman’s egg for fertilization.
Seminal Gland —This is part of the male reproductive system. The seminal gland produces seminal fluid; seminal fluid is mixed with sperm to produce semen.
Sickle Cell Disease —This is a genetic disease that causes red blood cells to be sickle-shaped rather than round. In order to have sickle cell disease, a baby must inherit the gene from both the mother and the father. When a baby inherits only one gene, this is called sickle cell trait. These babies have few health problems. Many states test infants for this disease. If sickle cell disease is detected, early treatment is advised.
Sitz Bath —This is a shallow, warm-water bath meant to cover only the hips and buttocks. A sitz bath can help ease pain and promote healing after an episiotomy. The water may contain medication.
Stations —The term is used to describe how far the baby has dropped. A “-3 station” means that the baby’s head is not yet in the pelvis. “0 station” means that the head has entered the maternal pelvis and is at the level of the ischial spines. This is also called “fully engaged.” When the head is beginning to emerge from the birth canal, the term “+3 station” is used. +3 occurs during delivery and is also called crowning.
Stem Cells —Unspecialized cells may develop into any type of cell. Stem cells are of great interest among scientific researchers. Many researchers believe that studying stem cells can lead to a better understanding of the causes of diseases and birth defects, as well as some possible treatments. The blood in an infant’s umbilical cord contains stem cells.
Surrogacy —If a woman is unable to naturally conceive and/or carry a pregnancy, her embryo can be placed in the uterus of another woman for gestation. This woman acts as a surrogate; she carries the pregnancy until birth. The exact circumstances will differ based on each individual couples situation and may involve the use of donor eggs, donor sperm, or an in vitro procedure transferring an embryo derived from the couples own egg and sperm.
Testicles or Testes —This is part of the male reproductive system. Testicles are two oval-shaped organs that produce and store millions of tiny sperm cells, as well as male hormones, such as testosterone.
Testosterone —This is a male hormone (androgen) that induces and maintains male secondary sex characteristics. Testosterone is produced in the testes.
Tranquilizer —This is a drug used to reduce anxiety and tension. Tranquilizers may be used during childbirth to help calm an anxious mother.
Transition —This is the last section of stage one of labor. During transition, the cervix dilates from 7-10 centimeters. These last few inches of cervical opening may occur fairly quickly, but can be quite difficult. Contractions are stronger and more frequent, putting pressure on your lower back and rectum.
Trimester —This is one of three periods during a pregnancy. Pregnancy is unequally divided into three trimesters. The first trimester goes from conception up to 14 weeks, the second trimester from 14-28 weeks, and the third trimester from 28 weeks to delivery.
U-hold —This is a method to help the baby latch on during breastfeeding. Cup your breast with your fingers on one side of the breast and your thumb on the other. Support your breast in this way at each feeding for the first six weeks of breastfeeding.
Umbilical Cord —This is a cord that connects the fetus with the placenta. The placenta provides oxygen and nutrition and removes wastes. The cord comes out of the fetus’ navel. After a baby is delivered, the cord is cut, but a small piece remains attached to the baby’s navel until it dries up and falls off.
Umbilical Cord Blood —This blood is rich in stem cells that are a match to the newborn’s cells. Some researchers advocate storing cord blood for future use. Stem cells can be stored for private use by the newborn and close family members or can be donated to a public bank for use by anyone who may need them.
Urethra —This is part of the urinary system. The urethra is a tube that passes urine out of the body. In men, semen also passes out of the body through the urethra.
Vacuum Extractor —During this method of assisted birth, a device that has a cup on the end is attached to the baby’s head. Gentle suction is applied to hold the baby’s head in place while the mother pushes to help move the baby through the birth canal. This extractor may be used if the baby needs to be born quickly once crowning begins or if the mother needs help pushing the baby out. Serious risks to mother and baby are low, although the baby may have temporary bruising or swelling on the scalp.
Vagina —This is part of the female reproductive system. The vagina is a muscular passage that connects the cervix with the external genitals.
Vaginal Birth After Cesarean Section (VBAC) —It was once believed that if a woman had a cesarean section, she would need to deliver any future babies in the same manner. Today, many women are able to have a vaginal delivery after one cesarean. If you have had a cesarean section, ask your doctor if a VBAC will work for you.
Vaginal Delivery —This is delivery of a baby through the vagina. A vaginal delivery may be spontaneous or may be assisted with forceps or vacuum.
Vas Deferens —This is part of the male reproductive system. The vas deferens is a muscular tube that transports sperm from the testes to the ejaculatory ducts.
Water Breaking —See rupture of membranes .
X Chromosome —This refers to one of two chromosomes that determine the genetic sex of a person. Females have two X chromosomes. Males have one X chromosome and one Y chromosome.
Y Chromosome —This is one of two chromosomes that determine the genetic sex of a person. Males have one Y chromosome and one X chromosome. Females have two X chromosomes.
Dr. Joseph F. Smith Medical Library website. Available at: http://www.chclibrary.org/micromed/00036870.html . Accessed August 22, 2005.
International Cord Blood Society website. Available at: http://www.cordblood.org/public/insights/ . Accessed August 25, 2005.
The International Premature Ovarian Failure Association website. Available at: http://www.pofsupport.org/ . Accessed August 25, 2005.
The March of Dimes website. Available at: http://www.marchofdimes.com/ . Accessed August 25, 2005.
Merriam Webster Medical Dictionary. Health Library website. Available at: http://healthlibrary.epnet.com/dict.aspx?token=D39207C8-9100-4DC0-9027-9AC6BA11942D&docid=/MedicalDictionary/index . Accessed August 22, 2005.
The Nemours Foundation website. Available at: http://www.kidshealth.org . Accessed August 22, 2005.
Stem cell information. National Institutes of Health website. Available at: http://stemcells.nih.gov/index.asp . Accessed August 25, 2005.
US National Library of Medicine website. Available at: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ . Accessed August 25, 2005.
Last reviewed May 2007 by
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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