Glossary of Maternity Terms

KRMC Childbirth & Newborn Services
Amniotic fluid – Fluid surrounding the baby. There is approximately a quart of fluid at full term. About one-third of this fluid is continuously replenished every hour.

Analgesics – Drugs that help relieve pain without causing unconsciousness.

Apnea – A pause in breathing.

Arterial blood gases – Laboratory determination of acid-base balance (pH), carbon dioxide and oxygen in blood sample.

Bilirubin – A normal product of red blood cell breakdown. Bilirubin is yellow in color.

Bradycardia – Slowing of the heart rate

Braxton Hicks contractions – Usually painless uterine contractions present from the earliest days of pregnancy that the mother may feel from about the fifth month on. They occur more frequently and become greater in intensity as the mother gets closer to the start of true labor.

Breast pump – There are three main types of breast pumps: manual pumps, battery-powered pumps and electric pumps. One reasons to use a breast pump is to build, maintain or increase milk supply if a mother is unable to feed her infant directly at the breast - for example, an infant who is too weak, too ill or unable to suck, swallow or latch at the breast. Other reasons to use a breast pump are to feed more than one infant at a time, to relieve engorged breasts or plugged milk ducts, to help to pull out flattened or inverted nipples so an infant can latch on more easily, if a mother wants the benefits of breast milk but does not want to breastfeed for whatever reason and if a mother needs to go back to work during the period she chooses to breastfeed. A breast pump is considered a medical device and is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. If you choose to borrow someone else’s breast pump, you need to know her full medical history. It is not a good idea to buy one at a garage sale or thrift store. Most breast pumps have basically the same parts: a cone-shaped cup (called a breast shield) that fits over the nipple and areola; and the pump, which creates suction to draw the milk out. The pump may be directly attached to the breast shield or attached to plastic tubing that connects to a breast shield. A detachable milk collection container fits below the breast shield. The milk collection container can be a bottle (reusable or disposable) or a plastic bag (usually disposable) that can be used to store the milk or can be attached to a teat to feed the infant.

Certified nurse midwife – A registered nurse with a master’s degree trained in the care and management of women’s health, including labor, birth and postpartum care.

Colostrum – The first secretions of the breast. Colostrum has high protein content and provides some immunity properties.

Contractions – The rhythmic tightening and relaxation of the uterine muscles that results in effacement and dilation of the cervix and the delivery of the baby. True labor contractions usually come in a regular pattern, gradually becoming closer together and increasing in intensity. The frequency of contractions is measured from the beginning of one contraction to the beginning of the next contraction.

Cervix – The lowest portion of the uterus that thins out and opens during labor for the delivery of the baby.

Dilation – The opening of the cervix for delivery of the baby. Measured in centimeters from 0 to 10.

Doula – A professional labor support person or postpartum helper.

Effacement – The thinning and shortening of the cervix. Measured in percentages from 0 to 100.

Endotracheal tube – A plastic tube placed into the trachea through the mouth or nose to assist with breathing.

Engorgement – Excessive fullness, usually referring to the breasts.

Episiotomy – A small incision of the perineum made to enlarge the vaginal opening. If an episiotomy is necessary, it is done just before the birth of the baby.

False labor – Regular or irregular contractions of the uterus with no changes in the cervix.

Fetal heart tones – The baby’s heartbeat heard through the abdominal wall.

Gavage – A way to feed the baby using a tube placed into the mother's stomach.

Induction – The process of starting labor by artificial means.

Intravenous line – Plastic tubing in vein through which solutions are infused.

Jaundice – This yellow color of the skin happens when the baby’s liver is too immature to take care of the bilirubin in the body. The liver will start to work better within a week or two.

Lamaze – A registered name for a program that teaches childbirth education classes.

Lightening – The sensation the mother feels when the baby drops down, or gradually settles into the pelvis.

Nasogastric tube – A plastic tube placed into the stomach through the nose or mouth for feedings.

Oxygen – Air enriched with extra oxygen to aid breathing. Room air is 21 percent oxygen.

Preterm labor – Labor starting before 37 weeks gestation.

Rh factor – An additional blood factor found in the red blood cells. When it is absent, the person is said to be Rh negative.

Rooming-in – When the baby spends all or part of the day or night in the mother’s room.

Umbilical artery line – A tube within the umbilical artery through which solutions are infused and blood samples are drawn.

Ventilator or respirator (Bear Cub) – Machine that breathes for baby or helps a baby to breathe easier.