Throughout your pregnancy, you've probably had more tests than you can count. You've also likely learned a lot about what's going on with your body and your baby. And, with only a few weeks left until your due date, you're almost there! Here are some of the terms you might hear at the OB's office and in the delivery room during your last trimester.
19 Braxton Hicks and False Labor
Before you go into labor for real, you may experience false labor pains, or Braxton Hicks contractions. Some women may feel these contractions as early as the second trimester. They feel like the muscles in your abdomen cramp and tighten up, but they're not a sign that labor is beginning. (These contractions don't open your cervix.) You can tell the difference between Braxton Hicks and the real deal because Braxton Hicks contractions aren't regular, they don't get closer together, and they don't get increasingly more painful or intense.
18 Group B Strep
Your doctor will likely recommend a group B strep test in your third trimester. Group B strep is a common bacteria found in the digestive tract. Although it's usually harmless for adults, it can be dangerous for newborns. If your test is negative, you don't have to worry. If your test is positive, you'll be given antibiotics during labor so that you don't pass group B strep onto your baby.
17 Non-Stress Test
If you are a high-risk pregnancy or the doctor is concerned about your baby's health in the womb, they may suggest that you take a non-stress test. It's a simple test that measures the baby's heart rate in response to movement. It's called a non-stress test because it is completely non-invasive and causes no stress to your baby. Two belts will be placed over your belly; one measures contractions, the other one measures the baby's heart rate.
16 Rupture of Membranes
The rupture of membranes is more commonly known as your water breaking. It can be a little trickle, or a big gush, just like in the movies. If you feel wetness, but aren't sure if your water has broken, take note of the time and any fluid color or odor if present, and call your doctor. Your doctor may want to run tests or perform an exam to see if you are leaking amniotic fluid.
15 Mucus Plug
The mucus plug is exactly what it sounds like--a plug of jelly-like tissue. It seals off the cervix, keeping germs and infection away from the bun in your oven. It comes out before delivery when your cervix is thinned out. Some women may notice stringy pieces of mucus and tissue; others don't even notice it. It's not necessarily a sign that you're getting ready to go into labor; it could still be hours, days, and even weeks before labor begins.
Your cervix should be tightly closed throughout your pregnancy to keep bacteria and infection away from your baby. When you go into labor, the cramps and labor pains that you feel are the contractions that help open up your cervix. As your doctor examines you, you'll find out how many centimeters dilated you are. When you reach 10 centimeters, you are fully dilated. To give you an idea of how much your cervix has to open, one centimeter dilated is about the size of a Cheerio. But ten centimeters? That's about the diameter of a bagel!
At the end of your pregnancy and during labor, your doctor will check to see if your cervix is effaced. 0% means not effaced at all; your cervix is still long and thick. 100% means that the cervix is completely effaced and thinned out, and your mucus plug has been released.
You'll hear the nurses and doctors talking about how many centimeters dilated and what percentage effaced, but what about when they add another number like -3 or 2? This number, or station, refers to how far down your baby's head is in your pelvis. Your baby will start at a -3 position. Once the baby is settled in your pelvis, that's considered a 0. When the baby starts heading towards the cervix, the numbers go up, from 1 to 3. During this time, you'll feel a lot of pressure in your pelvic area.
The first stool your baby passes is meconium. It is black, sticky, and tarry. Although it looks terrible, it's odorless because it's sterile; no bacteria enters the baby's digestive track until he begins feeding. The baby may pass meconium for a day or two, but as baby feeds more, the stool will change to a lighter greenish-yellowish color, depending on what he eats.
10 Breech and other Positions
Throughout your pregnancy, you might have felt the baby kicking, stretching, and rolling around in your uterus. As your due date approaches, the baby will finally "drop" and, ideally, settle into a head-down position. Sometimes, however, baby may end up in other positions, like breech (feet first) or transverse (sideways.) If the baby is not in the correct position for delivery, your doctor may try to manually turn or shift the baby into position. If labor has already begun, a c-section may be necessary.
9 Pre-Term vs. Full Term Labor
A baby born before 37 weeks of gestation is considered preterm, or premature. There are many possible causes of a preterm birth, such as infection, rupture of membranes, and a family history of preterm birth. Babies born before 37 weeks are at risk for complications like breathing problems, infections, and intestinal issues. Although not all preterm babies will be at risk, those born closer to 37 weeks are usually much less likely to have complications.
8 Early Labor
There are actually three different phases of labor. The first, early labor, is when your labor and contractions begin to the time you are about three centimeters dilated. The contractions you feel may be mild, but you'll still have anywhere from 5-30 minutes in between, so you still have some time; no need to rush off to the hospital just yet!
7 Active Labor
Active labor is the thinning and opening of the cervix, usually between 4-7 centimeters. At this point during labor, contractions will usually be 2-5 minutes apart. As your contractions get stronger and closer together, your doctor will probably give you the go-ahead to go to the hospital.
6 Transitional Labor
The last phase of labor, transitional labor, is when the cervix dilates 8-10 centimeters. Contractions will become more intense and there will be very little time in between. Sometimes one contraction will stop and another one will start immediately. When this phase of labor is over, it's time to push!
Preeclampsia is a pregnancy condition with symptoms that often include high blood pressure and severe swelling in your feet and hands. The risk of developing preeclampsia is higher if it's your first pregnancy, if you're older or obese, or if you're carrying multiples. Preeclampsia may cause a lack of blood flow to the placenta, which means your baby may receive less oxygen and nutrients. Your doctor can diagnose preeclampsia if you have high blood pressure, protein in your urine, a low platelet count, and other symptoms such as headaches and difficulties with your vision. Medication and bed rest can help with preeclampsia, but if you're close to the end of your pregnancy, your doctor may suggest induction.
Induction is an artificial way of starting labor. Induction can be achieved by rupturing the membranes (breaking your water) or by receiving a dose of Pitocin, which helps the uterus contract. Your doctor may suggest inducing labor for several reasons, like if your water has broken but you're not having contractions or if you've gone past your due date.
3 Epidural vs. Spinal Block
Although the epidural is administered through the spine, it's not the same thing as a spinal block. During an epidural, a needle carrying a catheter is inserted into the epidural space in the middle of the lower back. The needle is removed, but the catheter stays in place, and medicine is released to numb the area above and below the injection site. A spinal block works in much the same way, but rather than inserting a catheter, anesthetic is injected directly into the spinal canal.
An episiotomy is a surgical incision used to help enlarge the vaginal opening to make delivering your baby easier. It may be needed if the tissue around the vaginal opening hasn't had time to stretch slowly or if the baby's head is too large to fit through the opening. In many instances, the skin stretches or tears naturally and an episiotomy is not necessary. Your doctor and nurses will explain to you how to care for the area as you heal.
The blood, mucus, and tissue that is expelled from the vagina is known as lochia. It can be very thick for the first week or so, and then gradually taper off somewhere around 4-6 weeks postpartum. Buy heavy-duty maxi pads or ask the nurses at the hospital for extras to take home.