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StorkNet's Week By Week Guide to Pregnancy

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The premature parting of the placenta from the uterine wall. Also called abruptio placentae.

Active Labor
The normal progress of the birth process, including tightening of the uterus, cervical dilation, and descent of the fetus into the birth canal.

Amniotic Fluid
A liquid consisting mostly of water made by the amnion (see amniotic sac) and the fetus. It usually totals 1500 ml at night months. It surrounds the fetus during pregnancy, providing it with protection.

Amniotic Sac
The thin-walled bag that contains the protective liquid, that surrounds the fetus during pregnancy.

A doctor trained in the area of anesthesiology, the branch of medicine that deals with the control of sensations of pain and administering drugs like an epidural to relieve pain.

Means in front of, usually with reference to the front part of the body. Often used in association with the term 'anterior presentation' . Usually, babies are born with the back of the head pointed up or slightly to the left or right side. It is as if the child was looking at the floor during emergence from the birth canal. This is the best position in most cases since it allows the child to negotiate more easily the turns required to get through the mother's pelvis and birth canal.

Apgar Score
A test to determine a newborn's physical health. It is done 1 minute and 5 minutes after birth. Scoring is based on five factors that refer to how well the infant is able to adjust to life outside the womb. A doctor, Virginia Apgar, MD, created the system to tell quickly which infants require treatment right away or transfer to an intensive care nursery. Ratings are based on Appearance - skin color ; Pulse - the infant's heart rate, Grimace- reflexes, Activity- muscle tone and Respiration- breathing.


Bags of Water
Another term that refers to the amniotic membranes which contain the amniotic fluid. See amniotic fluid.

Birthing Ball
A large rubber ball, designed specifically for use during labor. The woman can lie on top of the ball and rock or sit on the ball and rock or bounce lightly. See A Birth Ball Can Make Pregnancy and Birth More Comfortable

Birthing Center
A medical facility that simulates the homebirth experience. Read Choosing a Birth Center

Bloody Show
A classic indicator of beginning or progressing labor. As the cervix dilates, blood-tinged mucous and the cervical mucous plug pass from the vagina.

Braxton-Hicks Contractions
Periodic contractions of the uterus that do not represent true labor. They happen at random, are typically not painful and they do not dilate the cervix as "real" contractions do. These contractions may begin as early as the first trimester and can become increasingly more frequent and intense toward the end of the third trimester.

Breech Presentation
Birth in which the baby comes out feet, knees or buttocks first. Breech positioning is relatively uncommon, occurring in fewer than five percent of all births.


A small, hollow, flexible tube used to take out or add fluids. Catheters are commonly used in epidurals and when a woman cannot urinate.

Cephalopelvic Disproportion (CPD)
The most common reason for doing a cesarean section. A condition in which the baby's head is too large or the mother's birth canal is too small to allow normal labor or birth.

A medication used to induce labor.

A surgical procedure in which the abdomen and uterus are cut open for childbirth. See StorkNet's Cesarean Birth Cubby.

The opening between the uterus and the vagina. The cervical mucus plugs the cervical canal and normally prevents foreign materials from entering the reproductive tract. The cervix remains closed during pregnancy and dilates during labor and delivery to allow the baby to be born.

Complete Breech
A position of the fetus in the womb in which the baby's buttocks and feet are toward the birth canal. The posture of the fetus is the same as in a normal head-first position, but upside down.

The shortening and tightening of the uterine muscle, working to dilate and efface the cervix and squeeze the baby through the birth canal.

Cord Prolapse
A condition where the umbilical cord falls down below the baby and into the vaginal canal during birth, directly blocking the baby from being born (without compression on the cord which would cut off baby's oxygen and blood supply).

The phase at the end of labor when the infant's head becomes visible at the vaginal opening.


A narcotic drug used to relieve pain during pregnancy.

Opening up, enlargement of a tubular structure. This usually refers to the cervical dilation that occurs during labor. Dilation is measured in centimeters or, less accurately, in "fingers." "Fully dilated" means you're at 10 centimeters and are ready to push.

A woman trained to help a couple through labor, delivery and the postpartum period. See What is a doula?


Early Labor
At this stage a women is having contractions for two hours or more, as frequent as every five minutes to every twenty minutes and her cervix is dilating up to three or four centimeters.

The shortening of the cervix and thinning of its walls as it is stretched and widened by the fetus during labor.

Electronic Fetal Monitor (EFM)
An electronic device that is used to monitor the heart rate of the fetus before delivery.

Refers to the point in labor/delivery at which the baby's head begins to descend through (engage) the pelvic canal.

A common method of administering anesthesia during labor. A small amount of anesthesia is inserted into the dura a tough, fibrous, whitish membrane; the outermost of the 3 membranes covering the brain and spinal cord.

An operation to enlarge the opening of the vagina with a cut. This is done during childbirth to aid in delivery or to prevent stretching of the mother's muscles and connective tissues.

External Version
A manual procedure where the doctor attempts to move a breech baby into the typical head-down position for birth. See External Version for Breech Baby.


Face Presentation
During this labor presentation the infant is head down but has its neck extended, rather than with its chin tucked.

Failure to Progress
Labor does not follow a "normal" pattern and is severely prolonged.

False Labor
This is when you experience irregular tightening of the pregnant uterus that begins during the first three months of pregnancy. The contractions increase in time, length and strength as pregnancy continues. It may be impossible for you to differentiate from "real" labor.

Fetal Distress
Problems with the fetus during labor. When the fetus does not get enough oxygen from the placenta and becomes "distressed", immediate delivery is sometimes required.

Fetal Scalp Electrode
A device placed under the skin of the baby's scalp (while still in the uterus) to monitor the baby's heartbeat. See Internal Monitoring.

The soft spots found between the cranial bones of an infant's skull. These spots allow the baby's head to compress slightly during passage through the birth canal.

Footling Breech
Refers to a position in which the baby is upside-down and one or both feet are folded under the buttocks.

Obstetrics Forceps are used to assist birth of the fetal head. Forceps are a two-bladed instrument that could be compared to a pair of kitchen tongs in design but have the additional feature of two blades that are easily taken apart to facilitate placement on the baby within the birth canal.

Frank Breech
The buttock of the baby are at the mother's pelvic opening. The legs are straight up in front of the body, and the feet are at the shoulders.


Group B Strep
Short name for group B streptococci. It is an infection that affects 10-25% of all pregnant women and can be passed from the mother to the newborn during delivery. Click here for more information.


Induced Labor
When labor is started artificially by rupturing the fetal membranes or giving medications such as Prostaglandin gel and oxytocin (PitocinŽ).

Internal Monitoring
A procedure that may be needed during labor. This involves the Fetal Scalp Electrode procedure, in which a device placed under the skin of the baby's scalp (while still in the uterus) to monitor the baby's heartbeat.


Kegel Exercises
A system of exercises in which a woman strengthens the muscles around her pelvic diaphragm and pubic area, particularly after childbirth.


The time and processes that occur during childbirth from the beginning of cervical dilation to the delivery of the placenta, or after childbirth.

The oldest, most common technique used in childbirth preparation where relaxation, breathing techniques and informed decisions are paramount.

A sensation felt by many women late in pregnancy, when the baby "drops" in preparation for delivery. See also Engagement.

A period-like discharge that flows from the vagina following childbirth.


The fetus is not "presenting" (referring to position in the pelvis) in the anterior (normal) position.

The material that collects in the intestines of a fetus and is normally discharged shortly after birth

A person who assists the mother during childbirth. A DEM (Direct Entry Midwife) assists homebirths while a CPM (Certified Professional Midwife) assists births that take place in the hospital or birthing center. See Midwifery: The Art of Doing "Nothing" Well.

A natural process by which a baby's head is shaped during labor as it is squeezed into the birth canal by the forces of labor. This molding will not be permanent.

Mucous Plug
A collection of thick mucous in the cervix of the uterus, often released before labor begins.


Non-Stress Test
A noninvasive evaluation of the response of the heart rate of a fetus to natural contractions or to an increase in fetal activity.

Artificial pain killer commonly used in labor and delivery.


Doctor specializing in care of women during pregnancy, labor and delivery.

A hormone produced by the pituitary gland that starts uterine contractions in bringing on or increasing labor and release of milk from the breast. It also refers to a drug that is like the hormone.


The part of the body between the inner thighs on either side, with the buttocks to the rear and the sex organs at the front.

Synthetic oxytocin, a uterus stimulating drug.

The embryonic tissue that invades the uterine wall and provides a mechanism for exchanging the baby's waste products for the mother's nutrients and oxygen. The baby is connected to the placenta by the umbilical cord.

Placenta Previa
Usually discovered in late pregnancy. The placenta lies low in the uterus, causing the opening of the uterus to be partially or completely covered. Click here for more information.

This presentation describes the baby's face-up position during delivery. Normal presentation is anterior (face down). Posterior deliveries can cause back pain during labor.

The period of time right after Childbirth.

Post Term
Any pregnancy that lasts more than 42 weeks.

Preterm Labor
Labor that starts before the 37th week of pregnancy. Since most pregnancies last between 37 and 42 weeks, preterm labor leading to preterm delivery, may put your baby at risk for health problems.

The term stands for premature rupture of membranes and signifies that a woman's water has broken early.

Prostaglandin gel or cream
Medication used to ripen the cervix before labor is induced.

Prudental Block
A procedure that gives regional pain relief in the perineum area during birth and is also used when repairing an episiotomy.


Ruptured Membranes
Usually referred to as "breaking of the water bag," this is when the fluid-filled sac that surrounds the baby breaks.


Shoulder Dystocia
During delivery, the infant's shoulder gets caught on the mother's pubic bone.

A narcotic pain used as an aid to anesthesia during labor and delivery.

This describes the location of the baby on its descent down the birth canal. "Zero station" means he hasn't yet descended, while "fully engaged" means he is ready to be born.

Stress test
This test is often used to test the heart, and the lungs, and the health of the fetus in pregnant women.


Referring to a 40 week pregnancy ("full term," "preterm" and "post term").

Timing Contractions
To time your contradictions, use a stopwatch or the second hand on a clock. Since contractions are usually measured from the beginning of one until the beginning of the next, take note of the duration of each contraction.

This is the phase after active labor when the cervix finishes dilating to 10 centimeters. Contractions are the strongest and closest together during this phase (which is also the shortest phase).

Usually referring to the position of the fetus within the uterus. Sometimes babies will become positioned horizontally across the uterus, instead of the vertical position with the head or buttocks pointing toward the cervix. Usually the fetus will orient himself properly before labor. If the baby cannot be properly oriented, a C-section may be needed.


Umbilical Cord
Two arteries and one vein encased in a gelatinous tube leading from the baby to the placenta. Used to exchange nutrients and oxygen from the mother for waste products from the baby.


Vacuum Extractor
The application of a suction cup to the head for helping deliver the infant. This technique performs a similar function as forceps and helps the baby to descend through the birth canal. An instrument that attaches to the baby's head and helps guide it out of the birth canal during delivery.

Vaginal birth after cesarean. Visit our VBAC Cubby for more information.

A greyish-white cheeselike substance that coats and protects the baby's skin in utero.

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