Definitions of the most commonly used pregnancy terms.



Abortion: The termination of a pregnancy through the expulsion of the fetus from the uterus.

Abortion, spontaneous: Miscarriage that has not been induced artificially.

Afterbirth: The placenta and other tissues associated with fetal development that are expelled after the birth of an infant.

Albumin: A protein which if found in the urine of a pregnant woman can be a sign of preeclampsia.

Alpha fetoprotein: A substance produced by the fetus. High levels in a mother's blood can indicate a neural tube defect or multiple pregnancy.

Amino acid: A building block of protein which is used by the body to build muscle and other tissue.

Amniocentesis: A prenatal test in which a small amount of amniotic fluid is removed for analysis.

Amniotic fluid: The fluid that surrounds a developing fetus.

Amniotic sac: The bag in which the fetus and amniotic fluid are contained during pregnancy.

Anencephaly: A severe congenital defect in which the fetus has no brain.

Anesthesia: Medically induced loss of sensation. General anesthesia involves the entire body; local anesthesia involves only a particular area.

Anomaly: Malformation or abnormality of a body part.

Antibiotic: A drug used to combat infection.

Antibody: A protein produced by the immune system to destroy foreign substances.

Apgar scoring system: A method of evaluating a baby's health immediately after birth.

Apnea: A temporary involuntary cessation of breathing.

Areola: The pink or brown area of skin around the nipple of the breast.

Aspirate: To inhale liquid into the lungs, or to remove liquid from the lungs with a suction device.


Bilirubin: Pigment in the blood, urine, and bile that results from the normal breakdown of hemoglobin in the red blood cells.

Breech presentation: Fetal position in which the feet or buttocks of the baby are closest to the mother's cervix when labor begins.

Cervix: The lower portion of the uterus which extends into the vagina.

Cesarean section: Delivery of an infant through an incision in the abdominal and uterine walls.

Chloasma: Discoloration of the skin, often on the face. Also known as melasma.

Chorionic villi sampling: An invasive prenatal test that looks for genetic abnormalities by sampling a piece of the placenta. Usually done at 10 to 12 weeks' gestation.

Chromosomes: The cellular structures that contain the genes.

Circumcision: Surgical removal of the foreskin from the penis.

Colostrum: The milk secreted shortly before and for a few days after childbirth.

Congenital: Present at birth.

Crowning: The point in labor when the head of the baby can be seen at the vagina.

Doppler: A machine that uses ultrasound (sound waves) to detect the fetal heart.

Down syndrome: A congenital chromosomal birth defect that results in mental handicap/limitations and possible physical problems.


Eclampsia: A serious complication of pregnancy, characterized by seizures. It is the more severe form of preeclampsia.

Ectopic pregnancy: Pregnancy in which the embryo begins to grow outside the uterus, often in one of the fallopian tubes.

Edema: Swelling, retention of fluid in body tissues.

Embryo: The name given to the fertilized ovum until eight weeks after conception.

Endometriosis: A medical condition in which tissue that normally lines the uterus grows in another area of the body such as the pelvis.

Epidural: A type of anesthesia used to relieve pain during delivery. The catheter is placed in the epidural space in the vertebra area in the mother's back.

Episiotomy: An incision made in the tissue from the vagina toward the rectum in order to ease the final stage of delivery.

Erythroblastosis fetalis: A form of anemia that develops in the Rh-positive infants of Rh-negative women.

Fallopian tubes: Tubes though which the female's eggs travel from the ovaries to the uterus.

Fetoscopy: A technique by which a developing fetus can be examined directly for abnormalities.

Fetus: The name given to the baby in the womb from eight weeks until birth.

Fontanels: The soft spots on a baby's skull, present at birth.

Fundus: The upper part of the uterus.

Gestational age: The duration of the pregnancy, measured from the first day of the last menstrual period.

Gynecologist: A physician who specializes in the female reproductive system.


Hemorrhage: Heavy bleeding.

Hormone: A substance released by glands to stimulate certain activity in the body.

Hydrocephalus: A congenital birth defect in which excessive fluid gathers in the baby's skull.

Induction: Artificial starting of labor.

Jaundice: Yellow discoloration of the skin caused by the inability of the body to break down excess red blood cells.

Labia: The skin folds on the sides of the opening of the vagina.

Lactation: Production of milk by the breasts.

Lanugo: Fine hairs present on the body of a fetus.

Lightening: The time when the baby descends into the pelvic cavity in preparation for birth. Also known as engagement.

Linea nigra: A dark line that appears on the abdomen during pregnancy.

Lochia: The discharge of blood, mucus, and other fluids from the vagina after childbirth.

Meconium: The bowel movement (feces) of a baby before, during, or soon after birth.

Miscarriage: Spontaneous ending of the pregnancy prior to 24 weeks' gestation.

Mucus: A sticky substance produced by glands.

Neonatal: Pertaining to a newborn infant.

Neural tube defects: Abnormalities in the spinal cord.


Obstetrician: A doctor who specializes in care of women during pregnancy and childbirth.

Ovulation: Release of the egg from the ovary.

Oxytocin: A hormone secreted during labor to stimulate contractions and milk production. It is sometimes administered in synthetic form (Pitocin) to begin or speed labor.

Pediatrician: A doctor who specializes in the care of children.

Pelvic floor: The sling of muscles that holds the pelvic organs in place.

Perineum: The region between the anus and genitals.

Phenylketonuria (PKU): An inherited congenital disorder that can lead to mental retardation.

Pitocin: The synthetic form of oxytocin.

Placenta: The structure through which the fetus receives nourishment and oxygen during gestation.

Placental abruption: Premature separation of the placenta from the uterine wall.

Placenta previa: A condition in which the placenta partially or completely covers the cervix, hindering vaginal delivery.

Polyhydramnios: An excessive amount of amniotic fluid.

Postpartum: After birth.

Preeclampsia: A disorder of pregnancy characterized by high blood pressure, edema, and kidney malfunction.

Presentation: The position of the fetus in relation to the cervix before labor begins.

Prolapse of the cord: A situation during or before labor in which the umbilical cord passes through the cervix before the fetus.

Pyelonephritis: An infection of the kidneys.


Quickening: The first fetal movements felt by the mother.

Rh factor: A group of antigens in the blood.

Rubella: Also called German measles. If contracted by woman during pregnancy, it can result in birth defects.

Show: The blood-stained mucus from the vagina, indicating that labor is about to begin.

Sonography: The use of ultrasound (sound waves) to form an image of the fetus.

Stillbirth: Delivery of a dead fetus after 28 weeks' gestation.

Striae: Streaks or "stretch marks" seen on the abdomen of a pregnant woman.

Toxemia of pregnancy: Another term for preeclampsia.

Toxoplasmosis: A disease caused by a parasite. It may be present in undercooked meat or cat feces.

Transverse presentation: Position in which the fetus is lying at right angles to the cervix when labor begins.

Trimester: One-third of a pregnancy.

Tubal pregnancy: The most common form of ectopic pregnancy, in which a fertilized egg begins to develop in the fallopian tube.

Umbilical cord: The structure through which the fetus draws blood, and thus oxygen and nutrients, from the placenta.

Vernix: A white, sticky substance that covers the fetus in the uterus.

Sources: What to Expect When You're Expecting, Workman Publishing Co., 1991; Complete Pregnancy and Baby Book, Publications International, Ltd., 1987; National Women's Health Information Center/U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Dr. Miriam Stoppard's Pregnancy and Birth Book, Ballantine Books, 1987

Reviewed 11/02 by Elizabeth Stein, CNM

The information on this Web site is designed for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any health problems or illnesses without consulting your pediatrician or family doctor. Please consult a doctor with any questions or concerns you might have regarding your or your child's condition.

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