The Secret Language of Labor: Childbirth Terms You Need to Know for a Smooth Delivery

childbirth terminology you'll want to know

Bringing a new life into the world is a miraculous journey, but it can also be accompanied by a host of unfamiliar terms and jargon that may leave you scratching your head. Fear not! In this blog post, we’ll demystify some lesser-known childbirth terms, providing simple explanations and friendly examples along the way.

Remember, there’s no shame in not knowing every term associated with labor. By familiarizing yourself with these words, you can better understand the process and feel more confident in communicating with your healthcare team. They are there to support you and answer any questions you may have.

 Let’s dive in and empower you with knowledge for your birthing experience!

Braxton Hicks Contractions

These are sporadic contractions that occur during pregnancy, often referred to as “practice contractions.” They prepare the uterus for labor by toning the muscles. Think of them as gentle reminders that your body is gearing up for the big day.

Example: “As Sarah reached her third trimester, she started experiencing Braxton Hicks contractions, feeling her belly tighten momentarily before relaxing.”

Cephalopelvic Disproportion (CPD)

CPD refers to a condition where the baby’s head is too large, or the mother’s pelvis is too small for safe vaginal delivery. It can be a reason for considering alternative birthing options such as a cesarean section. It’s a medical term that helps healthcare providers assess the baby’s size and the mother’s pelvis compatibility.


Colostrum is the first milk produced by the breasts during late pregnancy and the early days after birth. It is rich in antibodies and essential nutrients, providing vital nourishment and immune protection for the newborn.

Example: “As soon as Sarah’s baby was born, she noticed drops of colostrum appearing at her nipple—a precious liquid gold that would boost her baby’s immune system.”


Crowning refers to the stage in labor when the baby’s head begins to emerge through the birth canal. It’s exciting for expectant parents and healthcare professionals, marking the final stretch before delivery.

Example: “With each push, the midwife encouraged Sarah, assuring her that the baby’s head was crowning and they were just moments away from meeting their little one.”


 Dilation refers to the opening of the cervix during labor to allow the baby to pass through the birth canal. It is measured in centimeters, with 10 centimeters indicating full dilation and readiness for pushing.

Example: “As Sarah’s contractions intensified, her healthcare provider checked her dilation and informed her that she was already 5 centimeters dilated, making good progress.”


Effacement refers to the thinning and softening of the cervix in preparation for labor. It is measured in percentages, with 100% effacement indicating that the cervix is fully thinned and ready for the baby to descend.

Example: “During the prenatal checkup, Lisa’s midwife mentioned that her cervix was 60% effaced, indicating that her body was getting ready for labor.”


An epidural is a form of pain relief commonly used during labor. It involves the administration of medication into the space around the spinal cord, numbing the lower body and alleviating pain. Imagine it as a superhero cape for some moms, allowing them to feel more comfortable during birth.

Example: “Lisa opted for an epidural to manage her labor pain, and she felt much more relaxed as the contractions intensified.”

Fetal Distress

Fetal distress occurs when the baby’s well-being is compromised during labor. It can be signaled by abnormal fetal heart rate patterns or decreased fetal movement. It may require immediate medical attention and intervention to ensure the baby’s safety.

Example: “During labor, the healthcare team closely monitored the baby’s heart rate, and when signs of fetal distress were detected, they promptly took action to ensure the well-being of the little one.”

Forceps Delivery

 A forceps delivery is a method used to assist in delivering a baby when maternal or fetal distress is present. It involves using specialized instruments (forceps) to gently guide the baby’s head through the birth canal during contractions.

Example: “Due to the baby’s heart rate deceleration, the doctor decided to perform a forceps delivery to expedite the birth and ensure the baby’s well-being.”

Informed Consent

Informed consent is obtaining permission from a patient after providing them with relevant information about a medical procedure, including its risks, benefits, and alternatives. In the context of labor, it applies to interventions or procedures like induction, episiotomy, or cesarean section. It’s crucial to understand the implications and ask questions before giving consent.

Example: “Before proceeding with the suggested medical intervention, the doctor took the time to explain the risks, benefits, and alternatives to the patient, ensuring that she had a clear understanding and giving her the opportunity to provide informed consent.”

Lactation Consultant

A lactation consultant is a professional trained to assist breastfeeding mothers and provide guidance and support. They offer valuable advice on positioning, latching techniques, and troubleshooting common breastfeeding challenges, helping new moms establish a successful breastfeeding relationship with their babies.

Example: “Jessica sought the help of a lactation consultant, who patiently worked with her to overcome breastfeeding difficulties and ensure her baby was well-nourished.”


Lochia refers to the discharge that occurs after childbirth. It consists of blood, tissue, and mucus from the uterus, similar to a heavy period. Understanding lochia is crucial as it helps mothers monitor their postpartum recovery.

Example: “In the days following delivery, Samantha experienced lochia, which gradually changed from bright red to a lighter, pinkish flow as her body healed.”


Meconium is the dark greenish-black sticky substance that fills a baby’s intestines before birth. It is typically the first bowel movement passed by a newborn. It might not be the most appealing topic, but it’s important to be aware of meconium as it can sometimes indicate distress during labor.

Example: “The doctor closely monitored the baby’s heart rate after spotting meconium in the amniotic fluid, ensuring the little one was doing well.”

Mucous Plug

The mucous plug is a thick, gelatinous substance that seals the cervix during pregnancy, providing a protective barrier against bacteria. Its purpose is to help prevent infection. As labor approaches, the cervix may start to soften and dilate, causing the mucous plug to be expelled. It’s a sign that your body is preparing for labor.

Example: “As labor approached, Sarah noticed the expulsion of her mucous plug—a gelatinous discharge that indicated her body was preparing for childbirth.”


The placenta is an incredible organ that develops during pregnancy to nourish and support the growing baby. It acts as a bridge between the mother and the fetus, providing oxygen and nutrients while filtering waste products. Once the baby is born, the placenta is delivered shortly after.

Example: “After giving birth to her son, Emma marveled at the placenta, appreciating its vital role in sustaining her baby throughout the pregnancy.”


SROM stands for “Spontaneous Rupture of Membranes.” It refers to when the amniotic sac surrounding the baby breaks or “waters break” naturally, leading to the release of amniotic fluid. This event often signals the onset of labor, but it’s important to inform your healthcare provider if it occurs.

Example: “As Jane entered active labor, she experienced SROM, the spontaneous rupture of membranes, as her water broke, signaling the imminent arrival of her baby.”


 Station describes the position of the baby’s head in relation to the pelvis during labor. It is measured in centimeters, with negative numbers indicating the baby’s head is above the pelvis, zero indicating the head is at the ischial spines, and positive numbers indicating the head is descending into the pelvis.

Example: “The obstetrician informed Jane that her baby’s station was -2, which meant the head was still a little higher in the pelvis but progressing downward.”


Transition is the final phase of the first stage of labor, just before the pushing stage begins. Intense contractions, increased pressure, and emotional changes characterize it. It can be a challenging and intense period, but it’s also a sign that labor is progressing toward delivery.

Example: “During the intense phase of transition, Sarah felt a mixture of excitement and exhaustion as her contractions intensified, indicating that she was nearing the final stage of labor.”


Triage is the process of evaluating and prioritizing patients based on the severity of their condition. In the context of labor and delivery, it refers to the initial assessment done by healthcare providers to determine the urgency and necessary care for each expectant mother.

Example: “Upon arrival at the labor and delivery unit, Sarah was taken to triage where the healthcare team assessed her vital signs, evaluated the progress of her labor, and determined the appropriate course of action for her care.”

Vacuum Extraction

Vacuum extraction is another technique used to assist in delivery. It involves placing a small suction cup-like device (vacuum extractor) on the baby’s head to aid in the gentle extraction during pushing.

Example: “When Sarah’s pushing efforts weren’t progressing as expected, the obstetrician opted for a vacuum extraction to safely assist the baby’s descent.”

Navigating the world of childbirth can be overwhelming, but understanding the terminology can make the journey smoother and more manageable. By shedding light on these lesser-known terms, we hope to empower expectant parents with knowledge and confidence as they embark on this remarkable adventure. Remember, you are not alone—rely on your healthcare team for support, and don’t hesitate to ask questions.

Take a Prenatal Class to Be Extra Prepared for Labor and Delivery

Enroll in an online childbirth education class that covers various aspects of labor, birth, and postpartum care. They provide valuable information about the stages of labor, pain management techniques, breathing exercises, relaxation methods, and more. 

These classes often include practical demonstrations, interactive discussions, and opportunities to ask questions. Our favorite online childbirth class is Hilary’s Online Prenatal Course for Couples. She’s an experienced labor and delivery nurse and an awesome person to learn from.