Guide to birth jargon – pregnancy

Midwife Anne Richley explains the weird words you’ll be hearing over the next nine months


Your antenatal appointments can leave you feeling bewildered by medical jargon. Read on for an explanation of the words you’ll need to know…


Your Pregnancy


Now to be fair, this is another language. Latin in fact. Primip comes from Primipera, and means a woman who is giving birth for the first time. Nothing to do with being a primate! We shorten it to primip and pronounce it pry-mip. A woman with more than one baby is a multip.

Height of the fundus

“I just need to measure the height of the fundus” smiles the midwife, whipping out the tape measure. ‘Fundus’, you wonder, as you lay back and prepare to open your legs. ‘But nothing feels itchy…’
This is fundus not fungus – nothing to do with a yeast infection.  The fundus is the top of your bump and midwives measure from there to the pubic bone to give a good idea of how well your baby is growing.



If you’re told by your midwife that she needs to ‘do your bloods’ you might think you’ve stepped onto a gangster film set. What she means is blood tests. She’ll explain everything she’s testing for – and it’s just like a regular blood test taking blood from a vein in your arm.


Your midwife should take your BP at every appointment. Nothing to do with where you buy your petrol – this is blood pressure.  Some women find that they experience a rise in blood pressure, which can also be a sign of pre eclampsia, a serious condition in pregnancy, so it’s important she checks it regularly.

Birth Plan – the other ‘BP’

As far as you knew, you can’t plan the birth, right? Of course not. But you can write your ‘best case scenario’ so the doctors know what you’d prefer. It’s not an official form, just your own notes on everything from where you’d like to give birth to pain relief. It’s not a legal contract either, so nobody can wave it in your face when you change your mind and say, “but you said…

Your baby

You’ve got through bloods, written your BP – and now there’s talk of how the baby’s lying. Surely head down, ready for labour, you think to yourself. If not, here’s what you might hear.

Back to back

If your midwife has a feel of your bump and mutters something about it being ‘back to back’, this doesn’t mean that your bump is the wrong way round. It’s simply that your baby is lying with her back turned round facing your back, rather than the more common way of her back against your bump.


No, she’s not checking whether you’re going to marry the father! This is when the midwife has a feel of your bump to see if your baby’s head has started to move down into your pelvis in preparation for labour. If it is low down in the pelvis then it is referred to as ‘engaged’.


Having felt your bump, she may well announce that your baby is ‘cephalic’ or ‘vertex’. Sounds pretty scary, but this is just a bit of medical jargon. Both just mean the baby’s ‘head down’, rather than breech (bottom first).

Going into labour

The big day’s arrived – and so have a whole host of strange new words! And it’s not just the midwife talking that sounds like nonsense…


Hands up who’s now thinking they’re allowed a ‘medicinal’ something for the pain? Sorry ladies, no can do. Liqour is another name for the water around your baby. You probably know it as the amniotic fluid.

Stretch and sweep

She says sweep, you get ready for her to appear with a small brush… But this has nothing to do with cleaning. It’s a vaginal examination where the midwife uses two fingers, placed inside the vagina to (gently) stretch the cervix and run a finger around the bag of waters, close to the cervix, which can sometimes ‘kick start ‘ labour.

Plug/bloody show

If your midwife tells you to expect a ‘bloody show’ towards the end of your pregnancy or even asks you if you’ve seen ‘the plug’ she’s not talking about whether you plan to swear during labour or lost part of the birthing pool. What she’s referring to is a blob of mucus that’s formed around your cervix during pregnancy. Sometimes it’s covered in blood, which some women notice when they use loo roll shortly before labour.

The birth

Time for an orchestra and more tape measures – or so you’d think. Doctors sometimes need to help your baby find her way out, and that can lead to some strange words being bandied about…

Cm dilated

When your midwife asks if she can examine you to find out ‘how many cm dilated your cervix is’ she isn’t heading for your vagina with a tape measure!

A gentle vaginal examination using two fingers will give her an estimation of how far open your cervix is. She’s done this a lot, hence knowing an estimate of ‘how far’ dilated you are.

Instrumental birth

No live orchestra for this one – it just means that the doctors may need to use special equipment to help the delivery.

These include ventouse a suction cap, and forceps, special metal tongs, which both help ‘pull’ the baby out.
A caesarean section can also be referred to as an instrumental birth.

After the birth

The strange language doesn’t stop once you’ve given birth. From your milk supply to your healing ‘down there’, there’s more to come.

Remember if you hear something you’re not sure about, your midwife and then health visitor are there to answer any questions. But watch out for these being mentioned in the first few days after you give birth:

  • Lochia: The blood loss that initially is like a heavy period and then lessens but can continue on and off for up to six weeks.
  • Sutures: Stitches sometimes needed following a vaginal birth, always with a Caesarean Section.
  • Milk coming in: Breasts become ‘engorged’ and tender as the milk is produced – particularly on the third or fourth day following the birth.
  • Let down reflex: A tingling in the breasts following the release of oxytocin, a hormone that stimulates the muscles of the breast to squeeze out the milk.
  • Baby blues: Hormone changes around day three, often causes mum to feel tearful.


Pain Relief

Ah, Hollywood. It has a lot to answer for. There’s either the comedy ‘giving birth in an emergency’ scenario or the woman screaming ‘just give me the drugs!’ It can leave a mum confused. Here are the basic options:

Hypnobirthing: A deep state of relaxation using special breathing techniques learned in classes, which help you deal with the pain and fear of birth.

Epidural: An injection of anaesthetic into the lower back, given by an anaesthetist, providing total pain relief for 90 per cent of women.

Waterbirth: Water is the next most effective pain relief in labour, after epidural, aiding relaxation

Gas and air: Mixture of oxygen and nitrous oxide (also known as laughing gas), which you breathe in with a contraction. Doesn’t remove the pain but helps you detach from it.

Pethidine/meptid: An injection of mild painkiller into your thigh or buttock, which can relax you during labour but doesn’t remove all the pain.

Mum’s corner:

“I kept putting off writing a birth plan because I thought that my wishes were then written in stone. It wasn’t until my antenatal class that the midwife explained it was just a guide.”
Megan Williams, 26, Almouth, mum to Sam, 12 weeks

“I felt stupid when I asked my midwife what a ‘stretch and weep’ was. She made me feel better though when she said someone earlier that week had called it a ‘scratch and sniff.”
Sian Amer, 23, Gillingham, mum to Poppy 8 weeks


“My husband looked horrified when the midwife said I’d have to be ‘sectioned’ if I didn’t make more progress in labour. He thought she was talking about the mental health act rather than a c section!”
Kate Thompson, 33, mum to James,7, Milly, 4, Northampton

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