Your labor & delivery glossary

Good to know: Some of these terms you’ll almost definitely hear while in labor, and others are only the exception to the rule. Either way, if they come up, you’ll be ready. And keep in mind that most of these words sound a whole lot scarier than they really are.
afterbirth – also known as the placenta, which is delivered following the birth of the child (yes, you still have more pushing to do)
afterpains – cramp-like pains felt in the abdomen following childbirth, most commonly experienced while nursing
back labor– some women feel the majority of their labor pains in the back, commonly referred to as back labor; it is often caused by posterior presentation of the fetus
bloody show – a visual presentation of blood-tinged mucus from the vagina that indicates the cervix is preparing itself for labor and delivery (although it isn’t an automatic head-to-the-hospital indicator—the beginnings of true labor could still be days away)
Cesarean section – a surgical procedure that involves the removal of baby and placenta from the mother’s womb through an incision made in the uterus; commonly known as a C-section
colostrum – the “pre-milk” that a baby receives from her mother’s breast before the mother’s milk comes in; it provides all the nutrients a baby needs in the first few days of her life
dilation – the opening of the cervix during labor to allow the baby to pass through; full dilation is 10 centimeters
effacement – the thinning and shortening of the cervix during labor
epidural – a spinal injection that numbs the lower half of the body to decrease or eliminate pain during labor
episiotomy – an incision made by a doctor in the perineal area to widen the vaginal opening for childbirth; episiotomies were once very frequently performed in the delivery room but are no longer considered common practice
fetal monitoring – using a medical device known as a fetal monitor to gauge the fetus’s heartbeat in response to uterine contractions—depending on the physician, place of delivery and labor status (low or high risk), some women might require constant fetal monitoring during labor and delivery while others might not have any at all (although the baby’s heartbeat should always be checked at regular intervals for signs of distress); external monitoring is done using a band placed around the mother’s belly, while internal monitoring is achieved by attaching an electrode to the baby’s scalp via the birth canal
forceps – spoon-like instrument occasionally used to assist in delivery
induction – an artificial start to labor, often achieved by administering the drug oxytocin (also known as Pitocin) or another labor-inducing medical procedure; while induction was previously only used for medical necessity, some doctors now offer “convenience” inductions, particularly for veteran moms (there is some debate over whether or not this is a good idea, so discuss the pros and cons with your obstetrician)
lochia – vaginal discharge after delivery (starts as a heavy bloody flow and trickles off, usually within four to six weeks of delivery)
Meconium – the thick, tarry substance that is a baby’s first bowel movement. In rare cases a baby that is overdue or under stress will pass meconium while still in the womb. If your water is green-tinged or appears to have something in it, you should definitely let your doctor know.
mucus plug – a plug that seals the cervix and is expelled prior to delivery
perineum – the area between the vagina and the rectum
rupture of the membranes – a fancy way of saying that your water has broken, i.e. the amniotic fluid sac has been ruptured
station – where the baby’s head is in relation to the mother’s pelvis; positive numbers indicate nearness of delivery
vacuum extraction – delivery assisted by suction

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