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Helpful terms to know about labor and birth. These terms will come up often during your pregnancy and delivery.

Labor & Birth Terms to Know

Reprinted with permission from American Pregnancy Association

  • Abruptio Placenta (Placental Abruption): The placenta has started to separate from the uterine wall too early before the baby is born.
  • Amniotic Fluid: This protective liquid, consisting mostly of water, fills in the sac surrounding the fetus.
  • APGAR Test or Score: A measurement of the newborn's response to birth and life outside the womb. The ratings, APGAR, are based on Appearance (color), Pulse (heartbeat), Grimace (reflex), Activity (muscle tone), and Respiration (breathing). The scores, which are taken at 1 & 5 minutes following birth, range from a high 10 to a low 1.
  • Breech Presentation: Where the fetus is positioned head up to be born buttocks first or with one or both feet first. This occurs in less than five percent of all births.
  • Cephalopelvic Disproportion: The baby is too large to safely pass through the mother's pelvis.
  • Cervidil: A medication used to ripen the cervix before induction.
  • Cesarean Section: An incision through the abdominal and uterine walls for extraction of the fetus; it may be vertical or, more commonly, horizontal. Also called abdominal delivery; commonly called C-Section.
  • Colostrum: Baby's first food, this is a thin white fluid discharged from the breasts at the beginning of milk production, and usually noticeable during the last couple of week of pregnancy.
  • Complete Breech: The baby's buttocks are presenting at the cervix, but the legs are folded "Indian style," making vaginal delivery difficult or impossible.
  • Contraction: The regular tightening of the uterus, working to dilate and efface the cervix and to push the baby down the birth canal.
  • Crowned/Crowning: The baby's head is pushing through the fully dilated cervix and ready to pass into the birth canal.
  • Dilation: The extent at which the cervix has opened in preparation for childbirth. It is measured in centimeters, with full dilation being 10 centimeters.
  • Effacement: This refers to the thinning of the cervix in preparation for birth, and is expressed in percentages. You'll be 100% effaced when you begin pushing.
  • Engaged: The baby's presenting part (usually the head) has settled into the pelvic cavity, which usually happens during the last month of pregnancy.
  • Epidural: A common method of administering anesthesia during labor. It is inserted through a catheter threaded through a needle inserted into the dura space near the spinal cord.
  • Episiotomy: An incision made during childbirth to the perineum, the muscle between the vagina and rectum, to widen the vaginal opening for an emergency delivery.
  • Fetal Distress: Condition when the baby is not receiving enough oxygen or is experiencing some other complication.
  • Fontanelle: Soft spots between the unfused sections of the baby's skull. These allow the baby's head to compress slightly during passage through the birth canal.
  • Forceps: Tong like instruments which may be used to help guide the baby's head out of the birth canal during delivery.
  • Frank Breech: The baby's buttocks are presenting at the cervix and the baby's legs are extended straight up to the baby's head.
  • Incontinence: Inability to control excretions. Urinary incontinence can occur as the baby places heavy pressure on the bladder.
  • Induced Labor: Labor is started or accelerated through intervention, such as placing prostaglandin gel on the cervix, using an IV drip of the hormone oxytocin (Pitocin), or by rupturing the membranes.
  • Jaundice: Condition in newborn babies, reflected in yellowing of the skin, caused by the immature liver's inability to process excess red blood cells.
  • Labor: Regular contractions of the uterus that result in dilation and effacement of the cervix.
  • Lightening: When the baby drops in preparation for delivery (Engagement).
  • Meconium: This is the greenish substance that builds up in the bowels of a growing fetus and is normally discharged shortly after birth.
  • Neonatalogist: A specialist who cares for newborns.
  • NICU: Acronym standing for Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
  • Nubain: Synthetic narcotic pain reliever commonly used in labor and delivery.
  • Oxytocin: Hormone secreted by the pituitary gland that stimulates contractions and the milk-eject reflex. Pitocin is the synthetic form of this hormone.
  • Perineum: The muscle and tissue between the vagina and the rectum.
  • Phenergan: A sedative administered which also controls nausea and vomiting.
  • Placenta:The tissue which connects the mother and fetus that transports nourishment and takes away waste.
  • Placenta Previa:When the placenta partially covers the opening of the uterus.
  • Posterior:The baby is in a face-up position during delivery. Normal presentation is anterior which is face down.
  • Post Partum: The period after childbirth.
  • Post-Term: Pregnancy lasts beyond 42 weeks.
  • Preterm: Babies born earlier than 37 weeks.
  • Prostaglandin Cream: Medication used to ripen the cervix before induction.
  • Ruptured Membranes: Usually refers to the breaking of the fluid filled sac surrounding the baby. The fluid may come as a gush of water or as a slow leak. Slow leaks are sometimes mistaken as incontinence.
  • Speculum: An instrument used to open the vagina slightly wider so that the cervix can be seen more easily.
  • Timing Contractions: Contractions are measured from the beginning of one until the beginning of the next.
  • Transverse: Baby's body length is horizontal in the uterus. If the baby cannot be moved, it will have to be delivered by cesarean.
  • Umbilical Cord: The cord that transports blood, oxygen and nutrients to the baby from the placenta.
  • Vacuum Extractor: Instrument that attaches to the baby's head and helps guide it out of the birth canal during delivery.