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the language of pregnancy

Pregnancy introduces you to an awful lot of new words, phrases and terms.  Most of the time you’ll just nod and attempt to look wise and sympathetic as they are thrown at you, occasionally though you will need to understand what they mean.

Here are a few you might need.

A  :  B  :  C  :  D  :  E  :  F  :  G  :  H  :  I  :  J  :  K  :  L  :  M  :  N  :  O  :  P  :  Q
R  :  S  :  T  :  U  :  V  :  W  :  X  :  Y  :  Z

The placenta is commonly called the afterbirth once it has been delivered. Calling it afterbirth before that point can cause great offence, not only to the placenta in question, but placentas everywhere.

A diagnostic test used to determine possible genetic abnormalities. Amniotic fluid is withdrawn from the amniotic sac by inserting a hollow needle through the abdominal wall. The test itself carries a very small risk of miscarriage.

Amniotic fluid
A clear straw-coloured liquid in the amniotic sac in which the foetus grows. It cushions the baby against pressure and knocks, allows the baby to move around and grow without restriction, keeps the baby at a constant temperature, provides a barrier against infection and if the fact that your baby downs pint after pint of the stuff during its time in the womb is anything to go by, it tastes like cold German lager on a hot summer’s day too.

Amniotic sac
Receptacle for the amber nectar called amniotic fluid.

Anal Armageddon
The dreaded double whammy of constipation and piles which all too often strikes down the pregnant lady.

Antenatal care
Medical care for a pregnant woman and her developing baby for the duration of the pregnancy – not care after the pregnancy, despite the fact that ‘ante’ sounds like it should mean after and not before. Why can’t things just be simple?

Antenatal classes
A concept devised by 1970s sitcom writers as a means of generating awkward social situations for material. The initial purpose has long been forgotten and these classes are now used by many as a genuine way of learning about the birth.

Anterior position
The normal position for the baby to take up for late pregnancy and birth.

Apgar test
Test used straight after birth to assess a newborn baby’s health by measuring five basic indicators of health: activity level, pulse, response to stimulation, appearance and respiration. The baby is given a score of 0, 1 or 2 on each indicator and the scores are added up to give an overall ‘Apgar score’ out of a possible 10. Essentially your child’s first ever exam.


The holiday taken by many pregnant couples in the second trimester.

Baby blues
As is sometimes believed, the ‘baby blues’ is not a patronising term used by male doctors to describe full blown postnatal depression (p 261) – it refers specifically to a mild low point that many women experience three or four days after giving birth. Weepiness, mood swings, anxiety and/or unhappiness can all come about as a result of the dramatic drop in hormones after birth and from a feeling of anticlimax after actually giving birth.  

Baby bomb
A nappy wearing incendiary device, which lands in the middle of your relationship and can cause substantial but not necessarily permanent damage.

Birth canal
The passage from the cervix through which the baby travels as he nears birth. The vagina to you and me.

Birthing centre
A hospital alternative for low-risk births where women can go through labour and delivery. Many contain the highest concentration of brightly coloured wipe-clean plastic furniture items anywhere on the planet.

Birth plan
A document that outlines how your partner would like to see the delivery progress, especially in terms of the treatment and pain relief she receives. The pregnancy equivalent of a letter to Santa.

Bishop’s score
Method used to predict the success of inducing labour. Under no circumstances is this to be confused with the real ale of a similar name.

The fertilised egg at around the stage when it enters the uterus. Also only a matter of time before it becomes the name of an ultra powerful multi-surface cleaner and grease remover.

Bloody show
A ‘show’ or ‘bloody show’ is the discharge of mucus tinged with blood that signifies the mucus plug dislodging as labour nears. Also what parents of a bygone age used to accuse their misbehaving offspring of making of them in public.  

Braxton Hicks contractions
Joke contractions that maybe give the womb useful practice ahead of the main event, or exist purely as one of Mother Nature’s jolly japes.

Breast pump
Portable milking parlour that allows breastfeeding mothers to extract milk from the breasts to either be given to the baby in a bottle or as a precautionary measure to avoid breast explosion as stocks increase to dangerous levels.

Breech position
When a baby is bottom down rather than head down in the uterus just before birth. Either the baby’s bottom or feet would be born first causing painful havoc for its Mum.


C-section/caesarean section
A caesarean or c-section is when the baby is delivered through an incision in the mother’s abdomen and then womb. It’s used when a woman cannot give birth vaginally, if the baby is in distress or danger, or if the mother-to-be isn’t overly keen on the agonies of natural childbirth and throws some money at it.

Carpal tunnel syndrome
Nothing to do with fishing and everything to do with the nerves in the wrist becoming compressed during pregnancy, resulting in a tingling, burning or numbness in the hands. If it persists after birth it directly affects a mother’s ability to carry things at the exact time that she has the most important cargo of her entire life to cart about.

Cephalopelvic disproportion
As bad as it sounds. When a baby’s head is too large to pass through the mother’s pelvic opening because the baby is too large or in a bad position or if the mother’s pelvis is small or abnormally shaped. Unsurprisingly, often results in delivery by caesarean section.

Cervical incompetence
Charming phrase to describe the condition where the cervix opens before a pregnancy has reached full term.

Cervical mucus method
The cervical mucus, or rhythm, method is a form of natural birth control which focuses on the consistency of the woman’s cervical mucus. Thick and cloudy mucus indicates a time when conception is less likely, mucus similar to raw egg white signifies a time close to ovulation. Mucus that actually is raw egg white means someone up there is making a lemon meringue pie.

A vital piece of pregnancy kit. The lower end or neck of the womb that leads into the vagina, and gradually opens during labour.

Chorionic villus sampling
Test for Down’s syndrome carried out in early pregnancy. Cells lining the placenta are removed through the cervix or abdomen using a needle or catheter and tested.

The first liquid the breasts produce, ahead of breast milk itself. Rich in fats, protein, and antibodies, it protects the baby against infection and kick-starts the immune system. The original health drink.

The moment when sperm and egg meet, fall in love and join to form a single cell, before developing into an embryo and then a foetus.

Congenital problem
Any problem with a baby that is present from birth or has developed during pregnancy and is not inherited.

The strong, rhythmic tightening of the muscles of the uterus as it opens up the cervix and pushes the baby out.

When the baby’s head can be seen at the opening of the vagina during labour. This occurrence is normally swiftly followed by the perilous question to the father – do you want to see, to which there is no correct answer.


D&C (dilation and curettage)
Surgical procedure in which the cervix is dilated and the lining of the uterus is scraped. Not nice.

Delivery room
A room in a hospital or birth centre that is equipped for childbirth, but tragically rarely sound-proofed.

The gradual opening of the cervix during labour. At around 10cm the cervix is ‘fully dilated’ and you win a prize.

An individual specially trained to help during labour and after the birth of a baby or someone saying the name Nuala with a bad head cold.

Down’s syndrome
The most common of many chromosomal abnormalities. Down’s causes mild to severe learning disabilities, as well as other physical problems, such as heart defects.

Due date
The due date or estimated date of delivery is the date when a baby’s birth is expected in the very loosest sense of the world. It is set by a doctor or midwife and is usually based on the first day of a woman’s last period or their favourite number added to the date of their birthday.

A troublesome childbirth. Uterine dystocia occurs when contractions are not strong enough to deliver the baby. Shoulder dystocia happens when a baby’s shoulders get stuck after the head has already been delivered.


Eclampsia is a rare but deadly serious condition that affects women in late pregnancy. If pre-eclampsia is not treated, it can
develop into eclampsia, which can cause convulsions and coma and may require emergency delivery of the baby.

Ectopic pregnancy
An early pregnancy worry causer. An ectopic occurs when a fertilised egg implants outside the uterus, usually in a fallopian tube. As there’s not enough room for a baby to grow an ectopic must be surgically removed to prevent long-term damage.

ECV (external cephalic version)
The Heimlich manoeuvre for the unborn. Procedure done late in pregnancy, where a doctor manually attempts to move a baby in the breech position into the normal head-down position.

This is the thinning and shortening of the cervix during early labour, often fruitfully called ‘ripening’. During effacement, the cervix goes from more than 2.5cm thick to the width of a fag paper.

EFM (electronic foetal monitor)
A device used to monitor the progress and vital signs of a baby during labour. It records the baby’s heartbeat and the woman’s contractions.

The medical term for a developing baby during the first eight weeks of pregnancy; after that, it is called a foetus, after that it’s called Clive, or Janice or whatever unfortunate moniker you give the poor mite.

Engagement is when the foetus descends into the pelvic cavity before delivery. Also known as lock and load.

This term describes the breasts becoming full, swollen and tender, usually sometime between two days and a week after  birth, when a mother’s milk comes in. As if they didn’t have enough on their plate.

A form of pain relief for labour in which anaesthetic is injected around the spinal cord. That’s got to hurt. The lower body is numbed and pain is decreased or eliminated altogether.

A surgical cut in the never, never land between the vagina and the anus made to enlarge the vaginal opening and get the baby out of there without tearing the ladies’ bits to smithereens.


Face presentation
Baby comes into the birth canal face first, but this is rare. Most babies born like this pursue a career in acting.

Fallopian tube
The two tubes, one each side of the womb that act as a water slide for each month’s egg(s).

Foetal alcohol syndrome
The physical and mental birth defects caused by a baby’s mother consuming large amounts of alcohol during pregnancy.

Foetal distress
During labour slow heartbeat or absence of foetal movement are carefully watched for throughout. If a foetus’s life is believed to be in danger the baby is usually delivered as soon as possible.

Foetal monitor
The device used to track a foetus’s heartbeat and a woman’s uterine contractions during labour. Looks a bit like Wonderwoman’s belt.

Foetal presentation
Not a 15-minute PowerPoint on what gives amniotic fluid its beautiful flavour, but the position of the baby – such as feet down (breech) or head down (vertex) – inside the womb.

Foetal–maternal exchange
The transfer of life-giving nutrients from the mother to the baby and the transfer of waste from the baby to his mother. This very one-sided transaction continues for many years.

The term for a baby after eight weeks of development. Before that the developing baby is called an embryo.

Folic acid
The queen of all the pregnancy supplements. Folic acid has been shown to reduce the incidence of neural tube defects such as spina bifida and a horrific sounding condition called anencephaly, a partially or completely missing brain.

Soft spots on a baby’s head which essentially allow his skull to move and flex during birth so he stands a cat in hell’s chance of squeezing out of there. Fontanelles are usually hardened by the time your child is two years.

Forceps delivery
When a giant pair of medieval looking tongs are used to ‘ease’ the baby’s head through the birth canal during delivery. Never has an instrument looked less suited to be used on the soft flesh of a baby’s tiny head.

Fraternal twins
Born at the same time from two different eggs they are no more genetically similar than siblings born during different pregnancies.  Nothing annoys fraternal twins more than repeatedly describing them as identical. Try it.

A baby is considered full-term if born between 38 and 42 weeks’ gestation.

The upper, rounded portion of the womb. Also, maker of crispy pancakes.


Surely you know this? The external sex organs: the penis and testicles in a male and the labia in a female.

The period in which a baby is carried in the womb; full-term gestation is between 38 and 42 weeks.

Grasping reflex
A newborn baby’s innate reflex which sees it grab at an object, such as a finger, when it touches their hand. The reflex lasts until a baby is three to four months old, and has been linked to our evolutionary past which saw our ancestral young gripping tightly to their mother’s fur as they moved through the tree canopy.


There’s no easy way of saying this, but pregnant women are much more susceptible to piles. I know, I know, as if they didn’t have enough to worry about.

Health visitor
A registered nurse with qualifications in obstetrics and midwifery, who visits mothers and babies at home after the birth. The ‘niceness’ or otherwise of one’s health visitor becomes a conversation staple among new parents in the first few weeks of parenthood.

A messenger from one cell (or group of cells) to another. Hormones use chemicals to stimulate or slow down various functions throughout the body. They are also to blame for the vast majority of pregnancy symptoms that women experience during pregnancy and become the generic scapegoat for much of what occurs across the nine months. The levels of some hormones in a pregnant woman are increased by more than 10 times the normal levels, and recent research also suggests that the male partner’s hormones fluctuate at the same time too.

Hormonal henchmen
The collective term for the chemical bandits who terrorise pregnant women, bringing on such delights as indigestion, constipation, haemorrhoids and morning sickness. Progesterone, oestrogen, oxytocin, relaxin and a squad of endorphins act as the leaders of the gang.

Surgical removal of the womb – often threatened by mother in the immediate aftermath of labour.


Identical twins
Offspring born at the same time who look exactly alike – a single fertilised egg splits early in development and becomes two separate foetuses.

Occurs when a fertilised egg attaches itself to the lining of the womb and the whole crazy business kicks off.

In vitro fertilisation
An assisted conception treatment in which eggs and sperm are mixed in a laboratory. Up to three developing embryos can then be transferred to the woman’s uterus with the aim of achieving pregnancy. Not cheap.

A box-like piece of kit in which premature babies are kept at a constant temperature.

Induced labour
Labour started using a medication rather than being naturally begun.

Technically, a child between one month and one year of age.

Infant mortality
Refers to death of babies during the first year of their life.

Intrauterine growth restriction
The slow growth of a foetus in the uterus, possibly resulting in a low birth weight baby.


Too much bilirubin in the blood. Jaundice manifests as a yellow tinge to a baby’s skin. Newborn jaundice usually begins on the second or third day of life and starts disappearing when the baby is 7–10 days old. It can be sometimes corrected by a special UV light treatment.


Kick count
Record of how often a pregnant woman feels her baby move; used to evaluate foetal well-being.


The process of childbirth, from the moment the cervix begins to dilate, to the delivery of the baby and the placenta.

Labour suite/room
The labour suite is where a woman goes through labour and delivers her baby. Never has the word suite been so misplaced.

The production of breast milk.

Downy-like, fine hair on a foetus and newborn baby.

Latching on
A phrase you will use one hundred thousand times in the first week of being a parent. To ‘latch on’ is the notionally in-built, but seemingly bloody difficult, art of the baby suckling from the breast without causing his mother to endure agony after agony.

Leg cramps
Having a woman in the eighth month of pregnancy wake up beside you in the middle of the night and scream out in real pain is not good for the nerves. No one knows why cramps occur more during pregnancy, but they do. Maybe it’s just someone having a laugh at our expense?

Let-down is the release of milk in a breastfeeding mother as the baby starts to suckle. Can also be what you become in the early weeks of fatherhood, despite you doing your very best to be helpful and supportive.

The feeling a woman gets when the foetus positions itself lower in the pelvic cavity during the last throws of pregnancy. For thunder.

Linea nigra
The dark line that often develops during pregnancy, running from below the breasts and over the abdomen and navel.

Vaginal discharge of mucus, blood and tissue, which can continue for up to six weeks after delivery. You and your partner may well coin your own term for this delightful phenomenon.

Low birth weight
A full-term baby who weighs less than 5.5lbs at birth.


Mask of pregnancy
Increased pigmentation under each eye during pregnancy.

Manager Mum
Often the result of a career woman adjusting to the full-time job of bringing up baby. Routine, rules and reprimands can result.

Maternal mortality
The death of a mother at any point during pregnancy, birth or the year following delivery. Tragically, the biggest cause of maternal death in the UK is suicide.

Maternity leave
Paid or unpaid time off work after a mother has given birth or adopted a child.

The dark, tar-like substance that forms a newborn’s first bowel movement. The next one looks like chicken korma.

Metabolic rate
The amount of oxygen consumed by a pregnant woman when she is at rest is her basal metabolism. The rate begins to rise during the third month of pregnancy and can double by the time of delivery. She is one busy lady.

Midwives provide care to women during pregnancy, labour, birth, and for the first few days after too. A friendly, caring and sympathetic midwife is a thing of beauty and a joy forever. A horrible one is a curse.

Tiny, harmless white spots on a newborn that usually disappear by themselves, after you’ve worried about them for 48 hours solid. This is a pretty fair reflection of how your life is going to be for at least the next year.

The involuntary expulsion of a foetus before the 24th week. After that point the loss of a pregnancy is called a stillbirth.

Morning sickness
Not necessarily in the morning and not necessarily sickness, but a combination of food and smell aversions, nausea and occasional vomiting, in the early weeks of pregnancy.

Mucus plug
As its name suggests a plug made from mucus which seals the entrance to the cervix during pregnancy.

The forgetfulness phenomenon that afflicts pregnant women. See Hormonal henchmen for main culprits.


Natural childbirth
Labour and delivery short on medical intervention, high on pain.

The National Childbirth Trust – providers of antenatal classes and pre and post-pregnancy support. A Godsend for some, a herbal tea hell for others.

The first six weeks after birth.

Neonatal intensive care unit
Specialist unit for the care of seriously ill or premature babies.

Nuchal translucency screening
Nerve-wracking ultrasound procedure in which the doctor measures the space behind the baby’s neck. Combined with blood test results this measures the probability of a baby having Down’s syndrome.


Specialist in pregnancy, childbirth and the immediate aftermath.

A hormone produced by the ovaries that regulates the reproductive cycle and plays a whole host of other roles throughout a pregnant woman’s body.

Scrabble players word for low sperm count.

The female sex glands – also called gonads – situated on either side of the womb and which produce the key female hormones and the all important eggs.

When a mature egg is released from the ovaries into the fallopian tubes – the time around when a woman is most likely to conceive and most likely to think that you look quite nice in that shirt.

A hormone that controls contractions and stimulates the flow of breast milk. A synthetic version is often used to induce labour.


The small, landing-strip-type area between the vagina and anus which is where an episiotomy, if required, is performed.

Perineal massage
Complex rubbing motion, similar to the hold used on a bowling ball, performed using oils on the perineum to try to prevent tearing during childbirth.

Pain-relieving drug used during childbirth. A member of the morphine family, it can turn labour into a psychedelic scene from Apocalypse Now. It’s usually given as an injection into the thigh and can cause drowsiness and nausea; there is some evidence that it can affect the baby too.

A bagpipe-like organ that grows in the womb during pregnancy to provide nutrients for the foetus.

Placenta praevia
Not a new Toyota people carrier, but a condition where the placenta attaches itself to the lower part of the uterus and develops in a low lying position.

Polycystic ovary syndrome
A condition that prevents a woman’s eggs from receiving the right growth signal from her brain, meaning her eggs don’t mature and are not released. As the eggs die, their follicles turn into cysts which can then cause the ovaries to enlarge, sometimes to the size of a grapefruit.

Posterior position
Birth position where the baby’s spine is against the mother’s back – sometimes called back to back or simply the awkward little bugger position.

Postnatal depression
A serious condition, not to be confused with the baby blues that many women suffer from in the first few days after pregnancy.  Characterised by sadness, impatience and an inability to care for or connect with the baby. Medical help should be sought ASAP if this is suspected.

Often occurring late in pregnancy, pre-eclampsia results in high blood pressure and protein in the urine and can lead to eclampsia, where the mother goes into convulsions. Pre-eclampsia is thought to be due to a problem with the placenta.

Pregnancy-induced hypertension
A common condition in which a woman’s blood pressure is temporarily elevated. It usually happens during the last trimester. No one has done any research as to whether the father-to-be’s blood pressure rises during the final trimester too – but I’d say so.

Pregnancy pina colada
The heady and potent mix of hormones that combine to make pregnancy such a joy for femalekind.

Premature baby
A baby born before 37 weeks of gestation.

Primary maternal preoccupation
The psychoanalytical term for the unbreakable bond between mother and child that cements in place during the first few weeks of parenthood.

Primitive reflexes
A newborn baby’s involuntary reflexes that often disappear after the first few weeks. Many, for example the automatic closing of the hand when the palm is touched, have been linked back to different stages of our evolutionary journey as a species.

Female hormone produced in the ovaries that works with oestrogen to regulate the reproductive cycle.

Hormone that activates a mother’s milk-producing glands. The delivery of the placenta is the signal to start producing prolactin.

Prolonged labour
The official term for a long, difficult labour that is still going after 18–24 hours. The unofficial term, which you may hear used by your partner is – absolute fucking torture.


Quaint term for the first movement of the baby felt by the mother-to be. The quaintness dissipates somewhat as movements become more forceful later on.


Respiratory distress syndrome
A relatively common but scary as hell condition in premature babies in which the air sacs in the lungs collapse because they don’t contain enough of an essential substance called surfactant. Most babies recover when given increased oxygen.

Rhesus incompatibility
When a baby inherits a blood type from his father which is different from and incompatible with his mother’s. Blood tests will usually determine if there is a problem ahead of delivery.

Rooting reflex
A baby’s automatic reaction to turn his head and start sucking when his cheek is stroked. Lingers for many decades in some men’s cases.


A ‘show’ or ‘bloody show’ if you are feeling annoyed, is the mucusy, blood tinged discharge that occurs when the mucus plug comes away as labour nears.

Medical professionals who operate the ultrasound scanning machine. A skilled sonographer will be able to give you a real insight into your baby’s womb world. An unskilled one will be able to show you a satellite map of the low pressure front over the Orkneys.

Squat bar
A U-shaped bar attached to a birthing bed to allow a labouring woman to squat when she’s ready to push the baby out. Not the place to hang your coat up when you arrive.

The loss of a pregnancy after 24 weeks.

Stretch marks
Marks in the skin caused by rapidly growing tissue – a common side effect of pregnancy. The answer to the question ‘Are those stretch marks?’, as asked by a pregnant woman, is always no.

Symbiotic stage
The early and very close relationship between a mother and her newborn. Not to be confused with the probiotic stage which is a father’s massive early pregnancy heartburn brought on by too much wine and not enough sleep.


A parasitic and nasty infection carried by cats’ faeces and uncooked meat that can cause stillbirth or miscarriage if a woman contracts it for the first time during pregnancy. Avoiding litter trays and washing hands thoroughly after handling meat are a must when expecting.

Phase of labour in which the cervix fully dilates like the opening of an enormous telescope observatory’s roof.

A trimester is a period of three months. Pregnancy consists of three trimesters. That’s nine months. Is that clear?


High-frequency sound waves used to create a moving image of your baby in the womb.

Umbilical cord
The structure that connects a foetus to its life-giving, if ugly, mate the placenta. The cord, which looks and feels like those bloated French sausages that you always avoid in the hypermarket while on holiday there, is cut after the delivery. Later on, the stump end left attached to your baby, which has been slowly dying and giving off the unmistakable stench of rotting flesh, eventually falls off revealing your baby’s belly button.

See womb.


Vaginal birth
When a baby is delivered via the birth canal rather than the sun roof.

Varicose veins
Just like its close cousin piles, varicose veins strike pregnant women thanks to the hormone progesterone causing blood vessels in the vein walls to relax.

Ventouse extraction
Procedure in which a suction cup is placed on the baby’s head to assist the baby’s passage through the birth canal. If that sounds like a nice way of saying that the baby is yanked out of your partner’s vagina using a plunger, it’s because it pretty much is.

Vernix caseosa
A greasy substance which covers the baby in the womb. It is used like goose fat by channel swimmers to form a barrier as they float around in fluid for nine months.

Very low birth weight
A very low birth weight baby is one weighing under 3.3lb (1.5kg) at birth.


Witch’s milk
The milk sometimes produced by a newborn’s breasts at birth. Don’t run out of the delivery room screaming though, it’s a hormonal condition that disappears after a few days.

See uterus.


Not really relevant, but makes more sense than seeing xylophone here.


Yellow body
The yellow mass of cells that forms in the follicle of the ovary after the release of an egg. The yellow body acts on the lining of the uterus, which becomes spongy, ready to receive a fertilised egg.


Medical term for a newly fertilised egg on its way down to implant into
the uterus.