A – Z Of Pregnancy Terms

Here are a list of a-z of some pregnancy terms you may hear while you are pregnant.


Abortion: Termination or end of pregnancy. Giving birth to an embryo or fetus before it can live outside the womb, usually defined as before 20 weeks of gestation. Abortion may be spontaneous, often called a miscarriage, or induced as in a medical or therapeutic abortion performed to terminate a pregnancy.

Alphafetoprotein (AFP): Substance produced by the unborn baby as it grows inside the uterus. Large amounts of AFP are found in the amniotic fluid. Larger-than normal amounts are found in the maternal bloodstream if neural-tube defects are present in the fetus.

Amino acids: Substances that act as building blocks in the developing embryo and fetus.

Amniocentesis: Removal of amniotic fluid from the amniotic sac. Fluid is tested for some genetic defects.

Amnion: Membrane around the fetus. It surrounds the amniotic cavity.

Amniotic fluid: Liquid surrounding the baby inside the amniotic sac.

Amniotic sac: Sac that surrounds baby inside the uterus. It contains the baby, the placenta and the amniotic fluid.

Anemia: Any condition in which the number of red blood cells is less than normal. Term usually applies to the concentration of the oxygen-transporting material in the blood, which is the red blood cell.

Anencephaly: Defective development of the brain combined with the absence of the bones normally surrounding the brain.

Angioma: Tumor, usually benign, or swelling composed of lymph and blood vessels.

Anovulatory: Lack of or cessation of ovulation.

Areola: Pigmented or colored ring surrounding the nipple of the breast.

Arrhythmia: Irregular or missed heartbeat.

Aspiration: Swallowing or sucking a foreign body or fluid, such as vomit, into an airway.

Atonic uterus: Flaccid; relaxed; lack of tone.

Autoantibodies: Antibodies that attack parts of your body or your own tissues.


Back labour: Pain of labour felt in lower back.

Bilirubin: Breakdown product of pigment formed in the liver from hemoglobin during the destruction of red blood cells.

Biophysical profile: Method of evaluating a fetus before birth. 

Biopsy: Removal of a small piece of tissue for microscopic study.

Blastomere: One of the cells egg divides into after it has been fertilized.

Bloody show: Small amount of vaginal bleeding late in pregnancy; often precedes labour.

Braxton-Hicks contractions: Irregular, painless tightening of uterus during pregnancy.

Breech presentation: Abnormal position of the fetus. Buttocks or legs come into the birth canal ahead of the head.


Cataract, congenital: Cloudiness of the eye lens present at birth.

Cesarean section (delivery): Delivery of a baby through an abdominal incision rather than through the vagina.

Chadwick’s sign: Dark-blue or purple discoloration of the mucosa of the vagina and cervix during pregnancy.

Chloasma: Extensive brown patches of irregular shape and size on the face or other parts of the body.

Choriocarcinoma: Highly malignant cancer that grows in the uterus during pregnancy or at the site of an ectopic pregnancy.

Chorion: Outermost fetal membrane found around the amnion.

Chorionic villus sampling: Diagnostic test done early in pregnancy. A biopsy of tissue is taken from inside the uterus through the cervical opening to determine abnormalities of pregnancy.

Colostrum: Thin, yellow fluid, which is the first milk to come from the breast. Most often seen toward the end of pregnancy. It is different in content from milk produced later during nursing.

Congenital problem: Problem present at birth.

Conization of the cervix: Surgical procedure performed on premalignant and malignant conditions of the cervix. A large biopsy of the cervix is taken in the shape of a cone.

Conjoined twins: Twins connected at the body; they may share vital organs. Also called Siamese twins.

Constipation: Bowel movements are infrequent or incomplete.

Contraction stress test: Response of fetus to uterine contractions to evaluate fetal well-being.

Corpus luteum: Area in the ovary where the egg is released at ovulation. A cyst may form in this area after ovulation. Called a corpus luteum cyst.

Crown-to-rump length: Measurement from the top of the baby’s head to the buttocks of the baby.

Cystitis: Inflammation of the bladder.


D&C (dilatation and curettage): Surgical procedure in which the cervix is dilated and the lining of the uterus is scraped.

Developmental delay: Condition in which the development of the baby or child is slower than normal.

Diastasis recti: Separation of abdominal muscles.

Dizygotic twins: Twins derived from two different eggs. Often called fraternal twins.

Dysplasia: Abnormal, precancerous changes in the cells of the cervix.

Dysuria: Difficulty or pain urinating.


EDC (estimated date of confinement): Anticipated due date for delivery of the baby. Calculated from the first day of the last Period.

Eclampsia: Convulsions and coma in a woman with pre-eclampsia. Not related to epilepsy.

Ectodermal germ layer: layer in the developing embryo that gives rise to developing structures in the fetus. These include skin, teeth and glands of the mouth, the nervous system and the pituitary gland.

Ectopic pregnancy: Pregnancy that occurs outside the uterine cavity.

Effacement: Thinning of cervix.

Embryo: Organism in the early stages of development.

Embryonic period: First 10 weeks of gestation.

Endodermal germ layer: Area of tissue in early development of the embryo that gives rise to other structures. These include the digestive tract, respiratory organs, vagina, bladder and urethra. Also called endoderm or entoderm.

Endometrial cycle: Regular development of the mucous membrane lining the inside of the uterus. It begins with the preparation for acceptance of a pregnancy and ends with the shedding of the lining during a menstrual period.

Endometrium: Mucous membrane that lines inside of the uterine wall. Enema–Fluid injected into the rectum for the purpose of clearing out the bowel.

Engorgement: Congested; filled with fluid.

Enzyme: Protein made by cells. It acts as a catalyst to improve or cause chemical changes in other substances.

Epidural block: Type of anesthesia. Medication is injected around the spinal cord during labour or other types of surgery.

Episiotomy: Surgical incision of the vulva (area behind the vagina, above the rectum). Used during delivery to avoid tearing or laceration of the vaginal opening and rectum.


Face presentation: Baby comes into the birth canal face first.

Fallopian tube: Tube that leads from the cavity of the uterus to the area of the ovary. Also called uterine tube.

False labour: Tightening of uterus without dilatation of the cervix.

Fasting blood sugar: Blood test to evaluate the amount of sugar in the blood following a time period of fasting.

Fertilization: Joining of the sperm and egg.

Fertilization age: Dating a pregnancy from the time of fertilization. 2 weeks earlier than the gestational age.

Fetal anomaly: Fetal malformation or abnormal development.

Fetal goiter: Enlargement of the thyroid in the fetus.

Fetal-growth retardation (IUGR): Inadequate growth of the fetus during the last stages of pregnancy.

Fetal monitor: Device used before or during labour to listen to and record the fetal heartbeat. Can be external monitoring (through maternal abdomen) or internal monitoring (through maternal vagina) of the baby inside the uterus.

Fetal period: Time period following the embryonic period (first 10 weeks of gestation) until birth.

Fetus: Refers to the unborn baby after 10 weeks of gestation until birth.

Forceps: Instrument used to help remove baby from the birth canal during delivery.

Frank breech: Baby presenting buttocks first. Legs are flexed and knees extended.


Genetic counseling: Consultation between a couple and a specialist about genetic defects and the possibility of genetic problems in a pregnancy.

Genital herpes simplex: Herpes simplex infection involving the genital area. It can be significant during pregnancy because of the danger to a newborn fetus infected with herpes simplex.

Genitourinary problems: Defects or problems involving genital organs and the bladder or kidneys.

Gestational age: Dating a pregnancy from the first day of the last menstrual period; 2 weeks longer than fertilization age.

Gestational diabetes: Occurrence or worsening of diabetes during pregnancy (gestation).

Gestational trophoblastic disease (GTN): Abnormal pregnancy with cystic growth of the placenta. Characterized by bleeding during early and middle pregnancy.

Glucose-tolerance test: Blood test done to evaluate the body’s response to sugar.

Glucosuria: Glucose in the urine.

Gonorrhea: Contagious venereal infection, transmitted primarily by intercourse. Caused by the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhea.

Grand mal seizure: loss of control of body functions. Seizure activity of a major form.

Group-B streptococcal infection: Serious infection occurring in the mother’s vagina and throat.

Gyri: Prominent, rounded elevation found on the surface of the brain tissue.


Habitual abortion: Occurrence of three or more spontaneous miscarriages.

Heartburn: Discomfort or pain that occurs in the chest. Often occurs after eating.

Hematocrit: Determines the proportion of blood cells to plasma. Important in diagnosing anemia.

Hemoglobin: Pigment in red blood cell that carries oxygen to body tissues.

Hemolytic disease: Destruction of red blood cells.

Hemorrhoids: Dilated blood vessels in the rectum or rectal canal.

Human chorionic gonadatropin (HCG): Hormone produced in early pregnancy.Measured in a pregnancy test.

Human placental lactogen: Hormone of pregnancy produced by the placenta. Found in the bloodstream.

Hyaline membrane disease: Respiratory disease of the newborn.

Hydramnios: Increased amniotic fluid.

Hydrocephalus: Excessive accumulation of fluid around the brain of the baby. Sometimes called water on the brain.

Hyperbilirubinemia: Extremely high level of bilirubin in the blood.

Hyperemesis gravidarum: Severe nausea, dehydration and vomiting during pregnancy. Occurs most frequently during the first trimester.

Hyperglycemia: Increased blood sugar.

Hypertension: Pregnancy-induced-High blood pressure that occurs during pregnancy. Defined by an increase in the diastolic and/or systolic blood pressure.

Hyperthyroidism: Elevation of the thyroid hormone in the bloodstream.

Hypoplasia: Defective or incomplete development or formation of tissue.

Hypotension: Low blood pressure.

Hypothyroidism: Low or inadequate levels of thyroid hormone in the bloodstream.


Immune globulin preparation: Substance used to protect against infection with certain diseases, such as hepatitis or measles.

In utero: Within the uterus.

Incompetent cervix: Cervix that dilates painlessly, without contractions.

Incomplete abortion: Miscarriage in which part, but not all, of the uterine contents are expelled.

Inevitable abortion: Pregnancy complicated with bleeding and cramping. Usually results in miscarriage.

Insulin: Peptide hormone made by the pancreas. It promotes the use of glucose.

Invasive squamous-cell carcinoma: Cancer of the cervix that extends beyond the cervix into surrounding tissues or deeper layers.

Iron-deficiency anemia: Anemia produced by lack of iron in the diet. Often seen in pregnancy.

Isoimmunization: Development of specific antibody directed at the red blood cells of another individual, such as a baby in utero. Often occurs when an Ph-negative woman carries an Ph-positive baby or is given Rh-positive blood.


Jaundice: Yellow staining of the skin, sclera (eyes) and deeper tissues of the body. Caused by excessive amounts of bilirubin. Treated with phototherapy.


Ketones: Breakdown product of metabolism found in the blood, particularly in starvation or uncontrolled diabetes.

Kidney stones: Small mass or lesion found in the kidney or urinary tract. Can block the flow of urine.


Laaoo: Process of expelling a fetus from the uterus.

Laparoscopy: Minor surgical procedure performed for tubal ligation, diagnosis of pelvic pain or diagnosis of ectopic pregnancy.

Leukorrhea: Vaginal discharge characterized by a white or yellowish colour. Primarily composed of mucus.

Lightening: Change in the shape of the pregnant uterus a few weeks before labour. Often described as the baby “dropping.”

Linea nigra: line of increased pigmentation running down the abdomen from the bellybutton to the pubic area during pregnancy.


Malignant GTN: Cancerous change of gestational trophoblastic disease.

Mammogram: X-ray study of the breasts to identify normal and abnormal breasttissue.

Mask of pregnancy: Increased pigmentation over the area of the face under each eye. Commonly has the appearance of a butterfly.

Meconium: First intestinal discharge of the newborn; green or yellow in colour. It consists of epithelial or surface cells, mucus and bile. Discharge may occur before or during labour or soon after birth.

Melanoma: Pigmented mole or tumor. It may or may not be cancerous.

Meningomyelocele: Congenital defect of the central nervous system of the baby. Membranes and the spinal cord protrude through an opening or defect in the vertebral column.

Menstruation: Regular or Periodic discharge of a bloody fluid from the uterus.

Mesodermal germ layer: Tissue of the embryo that forms connective tissue, muscles, kidneys, ureters and other organs.

Metaplasia: Change in the structure of a tissue into another type that is not normal for that tissue.

Microcephaly: Abnormally small development of the head in the developing fetus.

Microphthalmia: Abnormally small eyeballs.

Miscarriage: See Abortion.

Missed abortion: Failed pregnancy without bleeding or cramping. Often diagnosed by ultrasound weeks or months after a pregnancy fails.

Mittelschmerz: Pain that coincides with release of an egg from the ovary.

Monilial vulvovaginitis: Infection caused by yeast or monilia. Usually affects the vagina and vulva.

Monozygotic twins: Twins conceived from one egg. Often called identical twins.

Morning sickness: Nausea and vomiting, with ill health, found primarily during the first trimester of pregnancy.

Moruaa: Cells resulting from the early division of the fertilized egg at the beginning of pregnancy.

Mucus plug: Secretions in cervix; often released just before labour.

Mutations: Change in the character of a gene. Passed from one cell division to another.


Neural-tube defects: Abnormalities in the development of the spinal cord and brain in a fetus. See Anencephaly; Hydrocephalus; Spina bifida.


Oligohydramnios: Lack or deficiency of amniotic fluid.

Omphalocele: Presence of congenital outpouching of the umbilicus containing internal organs in the fetus or newborn infant.

Organogenesis: Development of the organ systems in the embryo.

Ossification: Bone formation.

Ovarian cycle: Regular production of hormones from the ovary in response to hormonal messages from the brain. The ovarian cycle governs the endometrial cycle.

Ovulation: Cyclic production of an egg from the ovary.

Oxytocin: Medication that causes uterine contractions.


Pap smear: A Routine screening test that evaluates presence of premalignant or cancerous conditions of the cervix.

Paracenrical block: local anesthetic for cervical dilatation.

Pelvimetry: Evaluation of the size of the birth canal or pelvis. Performed by X-ray.

Petit mal seizure: Attack of a brief nature with possible short impairment of consciousness. Often associated with blinking or flickering of the eyelids and a mild twitching of the mouth.

Phosphatidyl glycerol: lipoprotein present when fetal lungs are mature.

Phospholipids: Fat-containing phosphorous. The most important are lecithins and sphingomyelin, which are important in the maturation of fetal lungs before birth.

Physiologic anemia of pregnancy: Anemia during pregnancy caused by an increase in the amount of plasma (fluid) in the blood compared to the number of cells in the blood.

Placenta: Organ inside the uterus that is attached to the baby by the umbilical cord. Essential during pregnancy for growth and development of the embryo and fetus. Also called afterbirth.

Placenta accreta: Placenta that attaches to muscle of uterus.

Placenta increta: Placenta that grows into muscle of uterus.

Placenta percreta: Placenta that penetrates muscle of uterus.

Placenta previa: low attachment of the placenta, covering or very close to the cervix.

Placental abruption: Premature separation of the placenta from the uterus.

Placentamegaly: Abnormally large growth of the placenta during pregnancy.

Pneumonitis: Inflammation of the lungs.

Premature baby: Baby born before 38 weeks.

Postnatal blues: Mild depression after delivery. Postpartum depression-Depression after delivery.

Postpartum hemorrhage: Bleeding greater than 15 ounces (450ml) at time of delivery. Pre-eclampsia-Combination of symptoms significant to pregnancy, including high blood pressure, edema, swelling and changes in reflexes.

Premature delivery: Delivery before 38 weeks gestation. Presentation-Describes which part of the baby comes into the birth canal first.

Proteinuria: Protein in urine.

Pruritis gravidarum: Itching during pregnancy.

Pubic symphysis: Bony prominence in the pelvic bone found in the midline. Landmark from which the doctor often measures during pregnancy to follow growth of the uterus.

Pulmonary embolism: Blood clot from another part of the body that travels to the lungs. Can cause closed passages in the lungs and decrease oxygen exchange.

Pyelonephritis: Serious kidney infection.


Quickening: Feeling the baby move inside the uterus.


Rh-negative: Absence of rhesus antibody in the blood.

RhoGAm: Medication given during pregnancy and following delivery to pre- vent isoimmunization. See Isoimmunization.

Round-ligament pain: Pain caused by stretching ligament on the sides of the uterus during pregnancy.

Rupture of membranes: loss of fluid from the amniotic sac. Also called breaking of waters.


Seizure: Sudden onset of a convulsion.

Sickle-cell anemia: Anemia caused by abnormal red blood cells shaped like a sickle or a cylinder.

Sickle-cell trait: Presence of the trait for sickle-cell anemia. Not sickle-cell disease itself.

Sickle crisis: Painful episode caused by sickle-cell disease.

Sodium: Element found in many foods, particularly salt. Ingestion of too much sodium may cause fluid retention.

Spina bifida: Congenital abnormality characterized by a defect in the vertebral column. Membranes of the spinal cord and the spinal cord protrude outside the protective bony canal of the spine.

Spinal anesthesia: Anesthesia given in the spinal canal.

Spontaneous abortion: loss of pregnancy during the first 20 weeks of gestation.

Stasis: Decreased flow.

Station: Estimation of the descent of the baby. Ranges from -4 to +4. 0 = directly at pelvis.

Stigma: Area on the ovary where the egg has been released at the time of ovulation.

Stretch marks: Areas of the skin that are tom or stretched. Often found on the abdomen, breasts, buttocks and legs.

Sulci: Groove or furrow on the surface of the brain.

Surfactant: Phospholipid present in the lungs. Controls surface tension of lungs. Premature babies often lack sufficient amounts of surfactant to breathe without assistance.

Syphilis: Sexually transmitted venereal infection caused by treponema pallidum.


Tay-Sachs disease: Inherited disease characterized by mental and physical retardation, convulsions, enlargement of the head and eventually death. Trait is usually carried by Ashkenazi Jews.

Telangiectasias: Dilatation or swelling of a small blood vessel. Sometimes called an angioma. During pregnancy, another common name is a spider angioma.

Teratogenic: Causes abnormal development.

Thalassemia: Group of inherited disorders of hemoglobin metabolism, which results in a decrease in the amount of hemoglobin formed.

Threatened abortion: Bleeding during the first trimester of pregnancy without cramping or contractions.

Thrombosis: Formation of a blood clot (thrombus).

Thrush: Monilial or yeast infection occurring in the mouth or mucous membranes of a newborn infant.

Thyroid disease: Abnormality of the thyroid gland and its production of thyroid hormone.

Tocolysis: Stopping contractions during premature labour.

Toxoid: Poison.

Toxoplasmosis: Infection caused by toxoplasma gondii.

Transverse lie: Fetus is turned sideways in uterus.

Trichomonal vaginitis: Venereal infection caused by trichomonas.

Trimester: Method of dividing pregnancy into three equal time periods of about 13 weeks each.

Trophoblast: Cell layer important in early development of the embryo and fetus. It provides nourishment from the mother to the fetus and participates in the formation of the placenta.


Umbilical cord: Cord that connects the placenta to the developing baby. It removes waste products and carbon dioxide from the baby and brings oxygenated blood and nutrients from the mother through the placenta to the baby.

Ureters: Tubes from the kidneys to the bladder that drain urine.

Uterine atony: lack of tone of uterus.

Uterus: Organ an embryo/fetus grows in. Also called a womb.


Vacuum extractor: Device used to provide traction on fetal head during delivery.

Varicose veins: Blood vessels (veins) that are dilated or enlarged.

Vernix: Fatty substance made up of epithelial cells that covers fetal skin inside the uterus.

Vertex: Head first.

Villi: Projection from a mucous membrane. Most important within the placenta in the exchange of nutrients from maternal blood to the placenta and fetus.


Womb: See fetus.


Yeast infection: See Monilial vulvovaginitis; Thrush.


Zygote: Cell that results from the union of a sperm and egg at fertilization