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Medical Words You Might Hear in the Delivery Room, and What They Mean

As if there isn’t enough going on in your mind when you’re giving birth, you might overhear a lot of terminology in the delivery room that sounds foreign, and maybe even downright scary. One of the best ways to ease your nerves about any situation is to be prepared for it. Thankfully, there are many resources (online and otherwise) that will help you get a sense for what labor and delivery will be like. Of course, until you go through it yourself you’ll never truly know how it feels, especially because it can be quite different for every person. Luckily, one thing that will always stay the same is what the medical jargon you’ll hear throughout labor and delivery means.

Medical words have a way of sounding terrifying and then turn out to be rather benign. For example, the word “Borborygmi” sounds like something you definitely don’t want your doctor to tell you that you have.But, if your doctor were to tell you that your stomach is grumbling, it wouldn’t be nearly as scary. While it sounds like a fatal disease, borborygmi is just a rumbling stomach. Kind of anti-climactic, isn’t it?

Some of the things you hear medical staff say when you’re giving birth might not be so unfamiliar to you. However, for individuals who speak English as a second language or don’t binge-watch medical dramas on TV, these words might be unfamiliar to the point of being scary. The last thing you need when you’re pushing a baby out of your body is to be focused on medical jargon, and it may be hard to ask what these words mean when you’re catching your breath between pushes! Here are some terms you might overhear in the delivery room and what they mean. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that while some of these terms sound scary, they’re likely not life threatening.

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7 A to B

Amniotic Fluid Index (AFI): This is determined during a sonogram and refers to the level of amniotic fluid surrounding the baby. A normal level is generally between 5-20.

Antepartum/Pre-partum: This one is pretty easy to figure out. It just means the care you receive during your pregnancy but before giving birth.

Anterior Lip: When the top of the cervix swells but the rest of it has already dilated, this is known as an anterior lip.

BPP: A BPP is a biophysical profile, which is a sonogram usually done towards the end of a woman’s pregnancy. It looks for baby’s movements and heart rate, but most significantly it is checking how much amniotic fluid is surrounding the baby. If the fluid level is markedly decreased, many doctors will recommend induction.

Bradycardia: An abnormally slow heart rate.

Breech: This is when the baby is upside down in the pelvis and its bottom is where its head should be. This can make for a more difficult and dangerous birth, so if by 37 weeks a baby is still in breech position, C-sections are often recommended.

6 C to E 

Cardiotocography: The technical term for recording both the fetal heartbeat and the mother’s uterine contractions in conjunction with one another.

Cephalic: This is when the baby’s head is down in the pelvis, below the rest of its body, and is the ideal position for the baby to be in for delivery.

Chorioamnionitis: When the amniotic membranes are inflamed due to infection.

Compound Presentation: When the baby is cephalic but one of its limbs is right alongside it, or when a baby is breech and both of its arms are up over its head.

Crowning: When the baby’s head pushes through the cervix and into the birth canal where it can be seen, this is called crowning. This is also normally responsible for the “ring of pain” feeling laboring mothers may experience.

CTX: It sounds like a form of exercise, and it actually kind of is! CTX refers to contractions.

Deep Transverse Effect (DTE): When the baby is making its way down the birth canal and its head doesn’t rotate as it should it is known as the DTE. This is common when women with a flat pelvis are giving birth or when the baby is oversized.

Dystocia: This is the medical term for a long or difficult labor and delivery.

EBL: Estimated blood loss.

EDC or EDD: TO put it simply, this is your due date. EDC is a more traditional term, and it stands for estimated date of confinement. EDD means the estimated day of delivery. Key word here: “ESTIMATED!”

EGA: Estimated gestational age

EFW: Estimated fetal weight

Episiotomy: This is when the doctor will make a cut in the muscles between the vagina and the rectum (also known as the perineum) to prevent muscle tearing during labor. In the United States, between 30-35% of vaginal births will include an episiotomy .

External Cephalic Version (ECV): When a trained medical professional attempts to manually move a breech baby into a cephalic position by manipulating the abdominal wall. This is not always successful but many mothers like to try this before booking a C-section.

5 F to G

FHT: Fetal heart tone, or simply put, the baby’s heartbeat.

Friedman’s Curve: This is a way of charting the progress of labor by charting the hours of labor in relation to the dilation of the cervix in centimeters.

GBS: Group B Strep. If you’re in the delivery room, you’ve probably already heard this term as pregnant women are supposed to be tested for it between 34-37 weeks gestation. GBS is not a sexually transmitted disease and it is harmless to men and women who carry it which is about 1 in 5). It only causes problems if it is passed to the baby, which is by you’ll be treated with antibiotics for it before you give birth if you test positive for it.

GFM: Good fetal movement. Great news!

GPA: A way of explaining a woman’s obstetric history. Specifically:

G: Gravida, or number of pregnancies

P: Para, or number of births of viable offspring

A: Ab/abortus, or the number of abortions a woman has had

4 I to M

Induction of Labor (IOL): This refers to a woman being given drugs to start the birthing process. Normally, it’s a gel placed behind the cervix where the drugs will then be absorbed into the body. These drugs are known as prostaglandins and they are intended to soften the cervix and to begin contractions. It may also refer to getting an IV drip of hormones to start labor, or having your water broken manually.

Instrumented Vaginal Delivery: No, there’s no flute or trumpet involved here. What it does mean is the doctor or midwife delivering your baby is using devices like forceps or a vacuum to get your baby out.

Intrapartum: The period between labor and birth.

Lightening: Prior to labor, many women will experience a lightening sensation as the baby’s head descends into the pelvis. This may ease up the pressure on your lungs, but it often increases the pressure on your bladder.

Meconium: This refers to the lovely greenish fecal matter that has accumulated in the fetus’ intestines and it will be dispelled (ideally) during or just after birth.

Median or Midline Episiotomy: This type of episiotomy is done when there isn’t enough time to allow the tissue to stretch naturally because the baby is in distress. It is also done if a woman begins tearing in an area that would be harder to repair (like above the opening rather than below).

Mediolateral Episiotomy: This is a type of episiotomy that involves cutting on an angle (think towards the leg) rather than straight down.

Membrane Sweep: Neat freaks rejoice! You can have your cervix swept by a medical professional to induce labor! For a first time mother, she is usually offered to have her membranes swept at her 40-week appointment as well as her 41-week appointment if she still hasn’t given birth. This involves the doctor or midwife running their finger around the cervix in an effort to separate the membranes around your baby from your cervix. Though it doesn’t always work, it is said to release prostaglandins, which can kick-start labor. This isn’t normally extremely painful but it can be uncomfortable due to difficulty in locating the cervix before labor begins.

3 N to P 

NST: A non-stress test is usually done once a pregnant woman is more than a week overdue, or if a pregnant woman reports decreased fetal movement. This test involves the mother wearing an external fetal heartbeat monitor on her abdomen, and it shows if the baby’s heart rate increases when the baby moves.

NSVD/SVD: These terms stand for normal spontaneous vaginal delivery and spontaneous vaginal delivery, respectively.

Nuchal Cord: Nuchal is pertaining to the neck, and a nuchal cord is when the umbilical cord is wrapped around or attached to a baby’s neck and must be fixed.

Parturition: The sweet, sweet process of giving birth.

Perineal Laceration: This is the kind of tearing between the vagina and the anus that an episiotomy is supposed to prevent. While it is a rather controversial subject, many people believe that natural tearing is much easier and faster to heal from than an episiotomy is.

There are four degrees of perineal lacerations and they are as follows:

First degree: Minor tearing that does not involve muscles.

Second degree: This type of tearing is equal to a median episiotomy and it involves some muscles.

Third Degree: A third degree laceration means some of the rectal muscle was involved in the tearing.

Fourth Degree: This is when the muscle tearing goes all the way through the rectal sphincter.

PIH: Pregnancy induced hypertension is quite common, and it refers to high blood pressure brought on by pregnancy.

Presentation: This refers to the portion of the fetus that overlies the pelvic inlet, and can be cephalic or breech.

PROM: Premature rupture of membranes.

Puerperium: The first six weeks following giving birth.

2 R to S 

Ritgen Maneuver: This is a process used during vaginal delivery that involves applying pressure to the fetus’ head to prevent it from coming out too fast and thus preventing extra tearing for the mother.

ROM: Rupture of membranes. More commonly known as your “water breaking,” which will either happen naturally (spontaneous ROM) or it will be ruptured manually before you give birth (artificial ROM).

Shoulder dystocia: This is a complication that can happen during birth. It means one of the baby’s shoulders has gotten stuck in the birth canal on its way out and it needs to be dealt with promptly.

Show: Towards the end of pregnancy or the start of labor, bloody mucus will be released from the cervix as it softens, and this is called “show.”

Stages of Labor: There are three stages of labor and they are as follows:

Stage One: The cervix dilates and thins out (also known as effacing) and contractions increase in duration and severity.

Stage Two: The second stage begins when the cervix is fully dilated to 10cm. and the mother pushes until the baby is delivered.

Stage Three: The hardest part is done and your baby is out, however, the third stage involves delivering the placenta and membranes that housed and surrounded your baby when it lived inside of you. This doesn’t tend to be very painful (especially when compared to having just birthed a baby) and it usually begins within twenty minutes of giving birth. Luckily, you’re probably most focused on your new addition so this won’t be too troubling.

1 T to Z

Tachycardia: An abnormally fast heart rate, which can refer to that of the mother’s or the baby’s.

TOL: The “trial of labor” refers to the period when a mother who has previously had a C-section and now wants to deliver vaginally begins contractions.

TPAL Terminology: This is a system used to describe a woman’s obstetrical history. These numbers will be separated with hyphens and is sometimes combined with GPA terminology (see above). To break it down further:

T: Term births

P: Pre-term births (before 37 weeks gestation)

A: Abortions

Umbilical Cord Prolapse: When the umbilical cord slips into the vagina before the baby does, its blood supply can be cut off when it is compressed.

L: Living children

VBAC: A VBAC is a vaginal birth after a X-section. For mothers who have previously had a C-section but now plan to give birth vaginally, they will have to sign a consent form because there is a small risk (i.e. Less than 1%) that the surgical scar on her uterus may rupture.

Vernix: This is the white-ish, cheesy looking substance that you will see on newly born babies in various degrees. It is harmless and it protects them while they’re in the womb. The earlier a baby is born, the more vernix it tends to have, but this is not a rule.

Vertex: During delivery, a vertex birth refers to the classic “head-first” birth.

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