Some words just aren’t taught in grammar school. If you think “Braxton Hicks” sounds more like Ashton Kutcher’s Hollywood rival than the “practice” labor pains you’ll experience in the third trimester, here’s a vocabulary lesson to help you better understand the key terms you’ll hear throughout pregnancy, labor, and delivery.
Also known as “newborn scoring.” Named for Dr. Virginia Apgar, this rating roughly estimates an infant’s condition at birth, based on heart rate, breathing, muscle tone, reflexes, and color. Babies are tested at one and five minutes after birth and get up to two points for each category, assigning them scores from 0 to 10. If your child doesn’t score at the top of the class, don’t be overly concerned. “A perfectly healthy baby can score less than a 10,” says Paula Kelly, M.D., a Minnesota-based pediatrician and author of First-Year Baby Care. “The score should be used more as a reassurance than a concern.”
These pains, also known as false labor, are your body’s delivery dress rehearsals. “The uterus is simply practicing for labor with these irregular, short-lived, and typically not very painful contractions,” says Lawrence Devoe, M.D., an ob/gyn at the Medical College of Georgia Health System. “When actual labor begins, the contractions become more regular, last longer, and are associated with pain and discomfort.” If you’re not sure that your contractions are the real thing, drink a glass of water and take it easy for about an hour. If the contractions continue and become more regular and intense, call your doctor or midwife.
This thin, yellow fluid secreted by the mammary glands comes right after birth, preceding the production of milk, and is great food for baby. It’s rich in antibodies and minerals that help protect from infection.
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The softening and thinning of the cervix. As you get closer to your due date, your health provider may start to check if your cervix is effaced and/or dilated, or opened. Effacement is measured in percentages, whereas dilation is measured in centimeters. Ten centimeters dilation and 100 percent effacement mean delivery is right around the corner.
The top of the uterus. The fundus rises as pregnancy progresses and is one way to estimate how much your baby is growing. Your midwife or obstetrician will measure the fundal height in centimeters at your prenatal appointments, and it should closely match your baby’s gestational age. For example, if you’re 22 weeks pregnant, your fundal height should be about 22 centimeters. The measurement will become less accurate as you approach your due date, when the height stops increasing, or even decreases slightly, as baby settles into the pelvis.
Larger-than-normal birth weight, usually more than 8 pounds, 13 ounces, or 4,000 grams. “Although there are many risk factors for having a baby with macrosomia, including diabetes and weight of the mother, some women may be destined to have a large baby due to genetics,” says David E. Abel, M.D., a perinatologist or high-risk obstetrician at Northwest Prenatal Center in Portland, OR.
Unusual cravings for substances like ice, clay, or toothpaste during pregnancy. When Risa Combs of Inman, SC, was pregnant with her second daughter, she didn’t want pickles and ice cream. Instead, she says, “The smell and thought of dirt made me just want to go outside and cram my mouth full. I never did eat any, but I sure had the craving.” The exact cause is unknown, but these bizarre desires may be linked to a vitamin or mineral deficiency, so you should talk to your health provider about adjusting your diet if you find yourself craving non-foods.
Formerly known as toxemia, this syndrome consists of high blood pressure, edema, swelling, protein in the urine, and changes in reflexes. Doctors can diagnose a woman after 20 weeks of pregnancy. “Although a great deal of research continues to look at the causes of preeclampsia, we still do not know the true cause, nor do we know how to prevent it from recurring,” Abel says. “Currently the only cure for preeclampsia is delivery.”
Refers to how far the baby has descended into the pelvis. “Station is expressed as negative or positive numbers,” says LaReese Bennett, a certified Bradley Method of Natural Childbirth instructor. A station of -2 means your baby is still “floating” above the pelvis; 0 station means your baby is “engaged” in the pelvis; and you’ll know it when you reach +4—your baby’s head is crowning!
Writer Kate Wicker is a mother to two daughters. Jennifer Tarantino contributed while an editorial intern at Pregnancy.