The world of pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding can be an unfamiliar one, and it comes with a whole new set of terminology for you to have to learn. Some can be easier to understand than others – you’ll understand very well why it’s called ‘labour’ after the fact – but there are other words that may be a little confusing, especially if you’ve never heard of them before, or if you’ve never heard them in these specific contexts. While this list is far from exhaustive, here are a few of the more common terms you might hear, and what they mean.
Amniotic Fluid: The liquid the baby floats in while still in the uterus. Also called waters as in waters breaking. May sometimes be referred to as liquor as in liquor volume (does not refer to drinks in this context!).
Antenatal: Before birth. For example, antenatal classes are childbirth and parenting classes taken before the baby is born.
Braxton Hicks Contractions: Also called false labour. This is when the uterus can tighten, feeling similar to labour contractions. However, Braxton Hicks contractions are not usually painful, and don’t increase in strength and frequency like true contractions do.
Gestation/Gestational Age: How long the baby has been in the uterus – measured in weeks/days (often written as weeks + days, e.g., 37+3 weeks).
Fundal Height: This is when your midwife (or other LMC) will measure the distance from your pubic bone to the top of your uterus in centimetres as a way to determine if the baby’s growth is matching its gestational age.
Morning Sickness: Often a misnomer, morning sickness is nausea, vomiting and/or food or smell aversions that can occur at any time of the day. For most, this will pass by around 16 weeks but can last longer (or pass by earlier!).
Trimester: Pregnancy is split into three time periods called trimesters. The first is from conception until around 14 weeks. Trimester two is from week 14 until week 30, and the third trimester is from week 30 onwards.
Ultrasound: A very common way of scanning the baby and uterus using high-frequency soundwaves to check their development, as well as helping to date more accurately.
Apgar Score: A quick assessment given to babies one minute after they’re born, then again after five minutes to determine whether immediate medical care is required. It assesses their Appearance, Pulse, Grimace (reflexes), Activity (muscle tone), and Respiration. Each of these is given a score of zero, one, or two for a total out of ten. Perfect is ten, though this is not common and a typical score for a healthy baby can be anything from seven and up, particularly at the one minute test. The score can often have increased by the five minute test, particularly for those babies who may have a lower score at one minute.
Dilation: How far open the cervix is, measured as the opening diameter in centimetres.
Epidural: A common form of pain relief in which local anaesthetic is delivered into the epidural space in the spine. Contractions continue, but the pain nerves are numbed.
Induction/Induced: When a midwife/obstetrician artificially starts labour.
Meconium: A baby’s ‘first poo’. It is thick, dark, and tar-like.
Membranes: The amniotic sack. Your baby grows inside your uterus, but within this is the amniotic sack. When your waters break, this is the sack or membranes rupturing, allowing the amniotic fluid to leak.
Neonatal Period: The first 28 days of a baby’s life. A “neonate” is a baby aged up to 28 days old.
Postnatal: After birth. Also called post-birth or postpartum.
Spontaneous Labour: Labour that starts by itself, i.e., without being induced or receiving any other medical assistance to begin.
TENS Machine: A Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation machine. This small, lightweight machine delivers tiny electrical impulses to your body using four electrode pads that stick to your lower back while you’re in labour. These impulses can have their rate controlled by the user and allow for a type of drug-free pain relief during contractions.
Bottle Nipple vs Teat: These are interchangeable names for the same thing. A bottle nipple or teat is the part of the bottle lid that goes into the baby’s mouth. Some have a centred nipple, which is the traditional ‘bottle’ style. Others have an offset ’thumb’ shaped teat, which is designed to mimic a mother’s nipple more closely.
Colostrum: The ‘first milk’ your breasts produce. This production will usually start in the weeks leading up to birth and is a thick, yellowish milk that is packed with nutrients and antibodies for your new baby. It is possible to express and store colostrum before your baby’s arrival if you’ve received clearance from your LMC.
Ducts: Milk is produced by glands in the breasts called lobules, and these lobules send that milk to the nipple by way of tiny tubes called milk ducts.
Express: Manually removing milk from the breast, whether by hand or by using a pump, is called expressing. If by hand, it is also referred to as hand expressing, while using a pump (manual or electric) can also be called pumping.
Fontanelles: Soft spots on the baby’s head. A baby’s skull is made of several individual bones to allow the head to compress during childbirth, and to make it easier for their heads to grow in those first couple of years. These soft spots will gradually disappear as the baby’s skull bones fuse, and are usually completely gone by the time they are around 18 months old.
Nipple Aspirators: Some women, rather than having protruding nipples, have flat or inverted (pointing inwards) nipples. This can sometimes make it difficult for babies to latch to the breast properly. Nipple aspirators are used to gently draw out the nipples, so they protrude a little further outwards, making it easier for baby to latch. The effect is not permanent and may need to be repeated before each feed.
Supplemental Feeding System: May also be referred to as a Supplemental Nursing System. This is a very thin tube that is designed to assist babies with feeding difficulties, whether due to trouble latching or low milk supply. This allows baby to feed at their mother’s breast while receiving supplemental milk from a bottle at the same time. This means baby can to learn to latch, or mum’s milk supply can increase, while still receiving adequate milk and continuing to stimulate mum’s breast.
This is just a small example of some of the very specific terminology that can be thrown around from pregnancy onwards. If you’re ever confused about something you’re told, it’s perfectly ok to ask your LMC or other healthcare practitioners to explain what they mean. While some of these you may already be familiar with, there are often other words and phrases that can be difficult to puzzle out. They will be more than happy to break it all down for you, so don’t be shy!