A guide to pregnancy and childbirth

Glossary of Terms

amniotic fluid     The fluid within the sac that surrounds the baby in utero

Apgar score     An evaluation of the baby’s health at one and five minutes after birth

aromatherapy     Using the scents of flowers and plants for their effects on the physiology

bearing-down reflex     A reaction to the pressure of the baby on the pelvic floor, which causes a spontaneous urge to push

bloody show     A blood-tinged mucus discharge, or “mucus plug,” which indicates labor is imminent

bonding     The natural attachment that develops between parents and child

Braxton Hicks contractions     Nonprogressive contractions that feel like menstrual cramps

breath awareness     The practice of consciously directing the breath

breathing techniques     cleansing breath, rhythmic breath, hee breath, and blow breath

breech presentation     When the baby is positioned feet- or bottom-first at the time of delivery

catheter     A tube used for injecting or evacuating fluids, e.g., a urinary catheter or an epidural catheter

cephalopelvic disproportion (CPD)     A relative disproportion of the baby’s head to the mother’s pelvis; i.e., the baby’s head is too large for the birth canal

cervix     The necklike opening of the uterus

cesarean section     A surgical procedure to deliver a baby through openings made in the abdominal wall and uterus

colic     cramping in the abdomen caused by gas in the intestines

colostrum     The first milk secreted by the breasts after giving birth

comfort measures     Steps taken in labor to maximize comfort

consciousness     The continuity of awareness that underlies the mind and the body

contraction     The shortening and thickening of a muscle

crowning     The appearance of the baby’s head at the opening of the vagina

delivery accessory bag     Items collected to make the birthing environment more comfortable

dilation     The opening of the cervix in labor

effacement     The softening and thinning of the cervix

epidural     A regional anesthetic that is administered into a spinal space in the lower back

episiotomy     An incision made at the back of the vaginal opening to surgically widen the birth passage

failure to progress     The condition in which labor contractions are inadequate to move the baby toward delivery

fetal distress     A rise or fall in the fetal heart rate that indicates the baby is not receiving enough oxygen

fontanels     The soft, boneless areas in the skull of a young baby that later fuse together

forceps     Two spoon-shaped instruments that are applied to the sides of a baby’s head to assist in the delivery process

ghee     Clarified butter

herpes simplex     An infectious disease caused by the herpes virus

IV drip     Intravenous infusions given to the laboring woman to prevent dehydration

life force     The biological energy that sustains the physiological functions of the body

lightening     A sensation that the baby is dropping lower in the pelvis

lochia     The flow of blood and tissue from the vagina after a baby is born

mandala     A visual diagram that brings the attention inward

mantra     A sound that brings coherence to the mind

mindfulness meditation     The practice of observing the flow of breath, which facilitates the quieting of the mind

narcotic     A drug that relieves pain by stimulating the brain’s opiate receptors

natural childbirth     Delivery of a baby without the use of medications or other medical interventions

nesting urge     A sudden burst of energy or desire to prepare for the baby’s arrival that may occur in early labor

neti pot     A small ceramic kettle filled with warm salted water used to drain excess mucus from the sinuses

paradigm     A model or example; a way of viewing something

pelvic floor toners     Exercises to tone and strengthen the pelvic floor muscles; also called Kegel exercises

perineal massage     Lubricating and stretching the vaginal tissues prior to delivery to increase their elasticity

perineum     The space surrounding the vagina and the rectum

Pitocin     A synthesized hormone given intravenously to induce or accelerate labor

placenta     The spongy, blood-rich organ that is attached to the inside wall of the uterus through which the baby is nourished

placental abnormalities     A condition wherein the placenta is not appropriately positioned or is at risk of separating prematurely

prolapse     The moving out of place or falling of an internal organ

rupture of membranes     Breaking the bag of amniotic fluid that surrounds the fetus

Stage I labor     The time period from the onset of labor until the cervix fully dilates

Stage II labor     The time period from full cervical dilation until the baby is delivered

Stage III labor     The time period after the baby is delivered until the delivery of the placenta

timing of contractions     The time between the beginning of one contraction to the beginning of the next

transition     The stage of labor when the cervix is nearing full dilation and contractions are intense and occurring closer together

trimester     A period of three months within a pregnancy

umbilical cord     The cord that connects the baby to the placenta

uterine massage     A gentle massage given to the postpartum woman’s lower abdomen

vacuum extraction     Using an instrument that attaches by suction to the baby’s scalp to help ease the baby through the birth canal

welcoming ritual     A loving act performed by the parents immediately after the birth of their child to honor his or her arrival in the world