Pregnancy Glossary

abortion – the loss of a pregnancy by artificial or natural means. The lay public often refers to “abortion” as any artificial means to induce the loss of a pregnancy. Physicians and midwives refer to this type of abortion as “therapeutic abortion” or “elective abortion”. Physicians and midwives also refer to miscarriages as “spontaneous”, “threatened” or “incomplete” abortions.

abortifacient – something which causes or initiates an abortion.

accoucheur – a french word, referring to a person who attends births.

AIDS – acquired immune deficiency syndrome. AIDS is the end result of infection with HIV, the human immunodeficiency virus. The HIV virus infects and disables the cells of the body’s immune system. The immune system is responsible for ridding the body of toxins, germs, and cancer.

amniocentesis – a procedure to collect amniotic fluid from a pregnant woman. During amniocentesis a needle is passed through a woman’s abdominal wall and into a pocket of amniotic fluid inside the uterus. This procedure is done with the help of ultrasound to avoid harm to the fetus. Fetal cells floating in amniotic fluid can be examined for chromosomal abnormalities. Other substances are also found in amniotic fluid and can be helpful in detecting problems with the fetus. Blood can also be drawn from the placenta during amniocentesis, or blood transfusions can be given to the fetus.

amniotic fluid – a straw-colored fluid inside the gestation sac. The fetus is suspended in the amniotic fluid. The fluid is contained by a two-layer membrane called the amniotic sac, or “bag of waters”. The amniotic fluid is produced by the membranes, placenta and fetus. The fetus swallows and urinates into this fluid.

antepartum (antepartal) – refers to the period of time during pregnancy, before labor and birth. “Antepartal” is synonymous with “prenatal”.

antibody – large proteins produced by the immune system to fight disease. Antibodies may be produced in response to bacteria or viral infection, blood transfusion with incompatible blood, allergens, and toxins. In autoimmune disease, the body actually makes antibodies against it’s own tissue.

antiemetic – a drug or substance used to alleviate nausea and vomiting.

antigen – any organism or substance which initiates an immune response. Antibodies are produced in response to antigens.

antiphospholipid antibodies – antibodies which may be associated with some problems in pregnancy or in some women’s ability to carry a pregnancy. These antibodies may actually act against some of the body’s normal tissue.

ascending infection – When harmful bacteria enter the bladder and cause a bladder infection, these germs can “ascend” up the ureters and infect the kidney. In pregnant women, ascending infection almost always affects the right kidney.

asynclitism – a position of the fetal head, wherein the head is slightly cocked to one side. In asynclitism, the midline of the fetal head is not in the midline of the maternal pelvis. Asynclitism may help a large fetal head negotiate the curves of the maternal pelvis more easily. However, sometimes it is a sign that the head is trapped and unable to move or descend further.

asymptomatic bacteruria (ASB) – some people may have a bladder infection and not have symptoms. In pregnancy, if high numbers of bacteria are found in the urine, the woman should be treated (usually with antiobiotics), because of the risk of “ascending infection” and kidney damage.

bacteria – the class of microscopic, single-celled creatures, often thought of as “germs”. Germs are more accurately described as the bacteria which are harmful to humans. Some bacteria are good (example: the bacteria which turn milk into yogurt). There are other single-cell creatures that are not bacteria, but are also important in the human body (see “virus”, “rickettsia”, and “fungus”).

bladder – the collecting pouch for urine, which is above the urethra and below the kidneys.

BUN (blood, urea, nitrogen) – the body excretes unwanted protein by breaking it down into urea and nitrogen. Urea and nitrogen are then excreted through the urinary tract. When the kidneys are not functioning well, they build up in the blood. Thus, the “BUN” increases.

Calorie (with a capital “C”) – the common tern used to describe a kilocalorie (kcal). Calories are units of energy, and used to describe the amount of energy contained in food. A kilocalorie will raise the temperature of one kilogram of water by one degree (Centigrade).

carbohydrates – food substances made up of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. The carbohydrates include simple sugars and complex starches. A gram of carbohydrate yields approximately 5 Calories.

chlamydia – an infection caused by Chlamydia trachomatis, an type of organism similar to bacteria. Chlamydia is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases. In women, chlamydia initially infects the cells of the cervix from where it may ascend into the uterus, fallopian tubes and abdomen. It may cause PID (pelvic inflammatory disease), which may permanently damage the tubes and cause sterility/infertility. Chlamydia can be successfully treated with common antibiotics.

cervix – the part of the uterus which protrudes into the vagina. The “os” (mouth) of the cervix is the hole which dilates during labor.

circumcision – surgical removal of the foreskin of the penis. Prior to circumcision, the foreskin covers the glans (head) of the penis.

colostrum – a milky fluid, rich in maternal antibodies, secreted by the breast in late pregnancy and the first days after giving birth (prior to “true milk” production). Compared to mature breast milk, colostrum is higher in protein and minerals, and lower in sugar and fat. The maternal antibodies in colostrum help protect the breastfed newborn from infection.

conception – fertilization of the egg (ova) by the sperm.

congenital – related to the process of gestational development.

creatinine – a substance in the blood (a piece of a protein) which should be at a constant level in the blood. When creatinine levels rise in the blood, it can be a sign that the kidneys are not functioning well. Sometimes, creatinine is measured in the blood and in the urine, as part of a Creatinine Clearance test.

cystitis – a bladder infection.

decidua – the lining of the uterus during pregnancy. The lining of the uterus, called the endometrium, becomes thicker and contains more blood vessels during pregnancy. The decidua is shed in the days after birth.

eclampsia – the end-stage convulsions associated with toxemia/pre-eclampsia.

embryo – the unborn baby from conception to about 7 weeks gestation.

emesis – the act of vomiting.

engorgement – swelling of the milk-producing glands in the lactating breast. Engorgement frequently occurs 2-4 days after the birth of a baby, when the first true milk is produced.

episiotomy – a surgical incision which increases the size of the vaginal opening, performed prior to the birth of a baby.

extension – A fetus enters the maternal pelvis with the head in the state of flexion, with the chin firmly pushed down upon the chest. As the head is born, the head de-flexes, or extends. Sometimes, the fetal head will “engage” the maternal pelvis not in flexion but with some degree of extension. This causes larger diameters of to present, and makes it more difficult for the baby to descend through the pelvis.

fetus – an unborn baby from about 7 weeks gestation until birth (prior to 7 weeks the baby is called an embryo).

fibronectin – a substance found in and around the amiotic sac (that is, the fetal membranes or bag of waters). Fibronectin may serve as a glue in and the cells of the fetal membranes. Fibronectin is released in large amounts when a woman goes into labor. It is currently being used as the basis of a test to diagnosis inevitable premature birth.

gestate – to grow during pregnancy.

gestation – the state of pregnancy. Also used to refer to length of a pregnancy.

gestational sac – refers to the envelope which contains the total “products of conception” during early pregnancy. The sac is the fetal membranes, surrounded by the early placenta and containing the embryo.

glucosuria – glucose in the urine. Glucose is a sugar. Glucose is the major source of energy in the body’s cells. Chains of glucose make up sucrose, or table sugar. Glucosuria is most often a normal variation of pregnancy, and not a sign of diabetes. Since glucose is smaller than protein it more easily slips through the holes in the kidneys’ filters.

gonorrhea – known as “GC”, a sexually transmitted disease caused by Gonorrhea neisseria, a bacteria. Causes an inflammatory process similar to chlamydia. Usually cured with common antibiotics.

HELLP – an acronym meaning Hemolysis, Elevated Liver enzymes and Low Platelets. A severe form of toxemia/preeclampsia.

hematocrit – the percentage of red blood cells in a sample of blood; blood also consists mainly of plasma (water and proteins) and two other cellular components, white blood cells and platelets. The hematocrit may be decreased in anemia, but is also variable with regards to one’s state of hydration.

hematoma – an extravascular collection of blood; essentially a cyst or blister containing blood which has escaped from a ruptured blood vessel.

hemoglobin – a specialized protein inside the red blood cell. Hemoglobin carries oxygen in the blood. Iron is a necessary component of hemoglobin. (Interesting fact: the hemoglobin of a fetus attracts oxygen better than the hemoglobin of its mother).

HIV – the human immunodeficieny virus. Infection with this virus causes AIDS, acquired immune deficiency syndrome. The HIV lives and reproduces in certain white blood cells, and disrupts the normal activity of these “host” cells. Since white blood cells help the body fight disease, infection with HIV reduces the body’s ability to fight disease.

hydrops – a pathologic condition of the fetus or newborn characterized by generalized edema (swelling) usually due to destruction of the baby’s red blood cells.

iatrogenic – caused by the treatment. Iatrogenic complications are complications caused by the therapies being used to cure the problem. For example, a post-surgical infection is a commom iatrogenic complication.

IgG – Immune Globulin G, the type of antibody produced late in the immune response. For many germs which infect the body, the presence of IgG specific to that organism implies immunity.

IgM – Immune Globulin M, the type of antibody produced early in the immune response.

immunization – protection from disease either by injection of antibodies (passive immunization) or by the stimulation of antibody production (active immunization).

infection – growth of harmful organisms in the body. Infection causes the body to set up the “inflammatory process” in an effort to keep the infection from spreading.

inflammatory response – the process by which the body responds to invasion by harmful organisms or substances. During inflammation the body attempts to wall off or contain the invasion at the point of entry. Blood flow to the area increases. White blood cells move in and attempt to ingest and disable the invader.

insulin – the hormone produced in the pancreas which transports glucose from the blood into the interior of the body’s cells.

insomnia – the inability to fall asleep or remain asleep.

intrapartum (intrapartal) – refers to the period of time during labor and birth.

introitus – a mouth-like opening.

ketones – substances produced when the body uses fat for energy. Ketones are excreted by the kidneys, and thus, can be measured in the urine.

kidney – an organ of the body. The human body usually has two kidneys (on the left and on the right). The kidneys filter impurities from the blood, produce urine as a waste product, and secrete substances which are involved in blood pressure stabilization.

macrosomia – an abnormally large newborn; over 4500 grams (10 pounds).

malposition – any abnormal position assumed by the fetus which causes a difficult labor or birth.

miscarriage – the loss of a pregnancy prior to about 20 weeks gestation.

nephrosis – a condition caused by failure of the kidneys to cleanse the blood. If the kidneys cannot remove waste products from the blood, the waste products accumulate in the bloodstream.

nitrites – nitrogen-containing substances often found in urine which is infected by bacteria.

ovulation – release of the ovum (egg) by the ovary. Ovulation is the culmination of the menstrual cycle. While the ovary is preparing an egg for ovulation, the lining of the uterus is being prepared to accept a fertilized ovum to begin the pregnancy.

placenta – a human organ which develops and is used only during the process of pregnancy. One might think of the placenta as the root system of a tree, in which the tree trunk is the umbilical cord, and the fetus is leaves of the tree. The placenta functions as a filter between the mother and fetus. Nutrients, oxygen, carbon dioxide, toxins, drugs and hormones diffuse across the placenta between the mother’s blood system and the fetus’s blood system. Some substances are blocked from passing through the placenta from mother to baby.

platelet – one of the three cells found in blood (red blood cells and white blood cells are the other two). Platelets, when activated, play a critical role in blood clotting.

postpartum (postpartal) – refers to the period of time after birth.

pre-eclampsia – sometimes referred to as toxemia, one of the hypertensive disorders of pregnancy characterized by high blood pressure and protein in the urine.

premature – too soon; prior to maturity; prior to full growth and development. A premature infant is one born prior to 37 weeks gestation. Premature labor and birth occurs prior to 37 weeks.

pregnancy-induced hypertension – known as PIH, one of the hypertensive disorders of pregnancy, characterized by high blood pressure without proteinuria.

prostaglandin(s) – a type of “tissue” hormone actively involved in many processes of human pregnancy. Tissue hormones are produced in the tissue in which they work (unlike circulating hormones produced in glands). In pregnancy, prostaglandins have a role preparing the uterus and cervix for delivery in the last days and weeks of pregnancy. Prostaglandins are also involved in headaches, arthritis, and menstrual cramping. This is why drugs which block prostaglandin production (like ibuprofen) are used to treat the discomfort associated with these problems. Natural prostaglandins, secreted late in pregnancy, soften the connective tissue of the cervix, and increase oxytocin receptor sites on the muscle cells of the uterus. Synthetic prostaglandins are often used to prepare the cervix and uterus for induction of labor.

proteinuria – protein in the urine. Proteins are huge molecules, many of which float around in the blood for various reasons. Proteins are bigger than the holes in the kidneys’ filters, thus, they should stay in the blood and not pass through into the urine. The amount of protein in the urine is important. A “trace” of protein is usually not significant (a little bit of vaginal discharge in the urine can be the cause of a trace of proteinuria).

red blood cells – the chief cellular component of blood, responsible for transporting oxygen to the body’s cells and removing carbon dioxide. “RBCs” are also called red corpuscles.

renal – this term is used to describe the urinary tract. Sometimes used in place of the word, kidney (a “renal stone”) could be a stone in the kidney or further down the urinary tract. A “kidney stone” is a “renal stone” still lodged in the kidney’s collecting chamber.

rh factor – the rhesus factor, also known as the “D” factor; a protein found on the surface of red blood cells. In the system established for typing blood, the rh factor determines the “positive” or “negative” aspect (for example, “B postive” or “O negative”). If one is “positive”, s/he possesses the rh factor. A rh-negative mother carrying a rh-positive fetus may initiate an immune response against her baby’s blood.

rickettsia – a class of single-celled organisms which fall in between bacteria and virus in terms of complexity. One of the more important rickettsiae is Chlamydia trachomatis, the cause of the sexually transmitted disease, chlamydia. The medicine placed in a newborn’s eyes shortly after birth is used to kill this germ (it also kills gonorrhea, a bacteria).

round ligaments – some of the supporting ligaments of the uterus. The round ligaments (one on the left and one on the right) run from the top sides of the uterus down into the tissue near the pubic bone.

sensitization – when a person produces antibodies against a substance as a result of exposure to that substance, they may become “sensitized”. During later exposure to the “antigen”, the body produces more antibody. Antibodies attack and attempt to render the antigen harmless.

SGOT – serum glutamic-oxaloacetic transaminase. One of the enzymes found in several types of cells, but found in large concentrations in the cells of the liver. When the liver is damaged or diseased, the cells release SGOT which can be measured in the blood.

teratogen – anything which causes birth defects.

toxemia – literally means “poison in the blood”. An old term, sometimes used interchangably with pre-eclampsia, one of the hypertensive disorders of pregnancy.

transverse arrest – a condition of labor in which the fetal head does not rotate to accomodate the curves of the maternal pelvis. Most fetal heads “engage” in the transverse (looking to one side) and rotate 90-degrees to be born looking down or looking up.

umbilical cord – a cord consisting of three blood vessels suspended in a jelly-like substance which connects the fetus to the placenta. The umbilical cord connects to the baby at the umbilicus (the “belly button”).

ureter – the tubes (one on either side) which run from the kidney to the bladder (about 8-12 inches long).

urethra – the single tube which runs from the bladder to the area just above the vaginal opening (this is where your urine leaves your body).

urethritis – an inflammation of the urethra usually caused by bacterial/rickettsial infection.

uterus – a hollow, muscular organ of the female body in which a pregnancy occurs. During pregnancy, the muscle of the uterus relaxes to allow growth of the fetus. When the fetus is mature, the muscle of the uterus contracts periodically and forcefully to expel the fetus.

white blood cells- (aka WBCs and leukocytes) – there are 3 types of blood cells. Most blood cells are “red blood cells”, which is why blood is red. White blood cells are those which respond when the body is invaded by harmful substances, including bacteria. At the first sign of infection by bacteria, the body produces specialized WBCs to kill the invaders. WBCs often appear in the urine in great quantities when the urinary tract is infected.

virus – the smallest of single cell organisms. Viruses are parasitic; using the host’s cells as nurseries for reproduction.