A comprehensive dictionary of pregnancy and childbirth concepts

Get clear explanations of common terms related to pregnancy and childbirth.

  (photo credit: SHUTTERSTOCK)
(photo credit: SHUTTERSTOCK)

Did you recently discover you're pregnant? Congratulations! Pregnancy often comes with numerous questions and concerns. Instead of relying on advice from friends or searching Google for overwhelming and confusing information, equip yourself with a dictionary of essential terms every pregnant woman should know.

 Illustrative image of a pregnant belly.  (credit: PIXABAY)
Illustrative image of a pregnant belly. (credit: PIXABAY)

Concepts of birth

Contractions: Uterine muscle contractions that aid in the birthing process, becoming more frequent and longer over time. In advanced labor stages, it is vital to schedule hospital trips accordingly. 

Braxton Hicks: Non-labor contractions that are irregular and do not lead to birth. These contractions lack consistency.

Amniotic sac: A membrane that contains the baby's umbilical cord, placenta, and amniotic fluid. In cases of water loss, an opening may be observed in the sac, either at the bottom resulting in complete water loss or higher up causing partial water leakage. Pay attention to the water's color, as normal amniotic fluid is yellowish or transparent. A brown color might indicate meconium-contaminated water.

Water breakage: The spontaneous or proactive rupture of the amniotic sac, usually occurring in the delivery room.

Water loss: The release of amniotic fluid from a ruptured sac, comparable to a hole in a water-filled balloon. 

Full loss of water: A large hole at the bottom of the amniotic sac, resulting in significant water loss.

Partial water drop: A small hole higher up in the sac, causing water to gradually drip down.

Meconial water: Amniotic fluid mixed with the baby's first stool (meconium). This occurs when the baby evacuates its bowels while in the uterus.

Oxytocin: The hormone responsible for uterine contractions during childbirth, often referred to as the "love hormone." A calm and loving environment is beneficial for labor onset, enabling natural oxytocin release and facilitating the birthing process.

Monitor: A device used to measure contraction frequency, fetal heart rate, and maternal heart rate. Connected to the mother's abdomen via cables, the device displays continuous indicators. The monitor is typically utilized throughout all labor stages, and any changes may suggest fetal or maternal distress.

Opening examination: A vaginal examination performed solely in a hospital by a doctor or midwife. Opening is measured on a scale of 0-10, with 10 indicating full dilation, marking readiness for active labor.

Stages of Birth

The first stage - latent stage: Characterized by irregular contractions, this stage lasts until 3-4 cm of dilation. Many women spend this stage at home, creating a calm environment with dim lights, warm baths, and soothing music to promote oxytocin release and reduce stress.

Second stage - active birth: From full dilation until the baby and placenta are delivered, contractions become more regular and intense. Most women give birth in a delivery room during this stage.

Third stage - birth and placenta delivery: After the baby's head emerges, the rest of the body follows quickly, and the umbilical cord is separated. The baby remains on the mother's chest, connected to the placenta within the uterus. Within 30 minutes of birth, the placenta should be fully expelled, marking the completion of the birthing process.

Natural birth: A birth without an epidural or significant interventions. Many Israeli hospitals offer natural birth centers equipped with amenities like Jacuzzis or inflatable pools for labor. Some hospitals permit water births, while all provide the option to remain in water until the final stages of labor (up to the compression stage). If interested in a water birth, consult the hospital in advance. These rooms typically have wireless monitors, enabling freedom of movement, as mobility and breathing are crucial during childbirth.

Inductions: The process of initiating or accelerating childbirth, often used in high-risk pregnancies or when medically necessary. Various induction methods include balloon, Pitocin, props, water break, or stripping.


Epidural: Contrary to common belief, an epidural is not a substance injected into the back; rather, it refers to a specific space where the injection is administered. The substance is introduced into the epidural space by an anesthesiologist exclusively within a delivery room. Prior to the procedure, the woman provides consent through a formal agreement to receive the epidural. Once injected, a thin stream of anesthetic flows through a tube into the back. This results in partial anesthesia from the pelvic region downward, allowing the woman to maintain some mobility – she can lie down, sit, move her legs, and shift positions. However, standing is not possible during the time the epidural is in effect, which lasts from administration until a few hours after childbirth. While the epidural doesn't numb the legs, it does alleviate labor pains.

Nitrous oxide (Laughing gas): Commonly available in most hospitals, laughing gas can be administered to women during labor to significantly alleviate the pain and discomfort of this stage.

TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation): TENS is a device used during intensely painful contractions of labor. Resembling a compact remote control, it features two cables ending in four adhesive pads placed on the back. When contractions commence, the woman can activate the TENS device, which emits gentle electrical pulses to assist in managing labor pain. TENS has gained popularity within the realm of pregnancy and childbirth, and it's possible to rent such a device from companies like "Zirim" / Yad Sara, returning it after childbirth.

Umbilical Cord Blood Preservation: Following the birth of the baby, the midwife will detach the umbilical cord. Blood within the unattached portion of the cord is collected into a bag for preservation. This blood contains valuable stem cells capable of differentiating into various cell types later in life. Numerous Israeli companies specialize in this preservation process. Parents opt for this blood donation as a precaution, as studies suggest it could potentially aid in conditions such as cancer, as well as improve symptoms associated with cerebral palsy and autism. It's important to note that this opportunity only occurs once in the child's lifetime – at the moment of birth.