Pregnancy jargon explained
Pregnancy jargon explained

If you don't know your fundus from your Braxton Hicks, you're not alone. Read on to demystify those scary-sounding medical terms and you'll go to the top of the (antenatal) class!

Symphysis-fundal height

This is difficult enough to pronounce, let alone understand! Otherwise known as SFH, this is the measurement from the top of your pubic bone up to the top of your uterus (otherwise known as your fundus). It should roughly correspond with the number of weeks pregnant you are, so if you’re 28 weeks, it should roughly measure 28cm. ‘It can range a little either way and your midwife will take other factors into account, such as your build and weight,’ says Gail Johnson, education and professional development advisor at the Royal College of Midwives. ‘What’s really important is consistent growth at each appointment.’


As your bump grows, you’ll probably feel it with your fingers to try to identify whether that was a kick or a punch! Your midwife will do the same at your later antenatal appointments – she uses her fingers to ‘palpate’ (feel) your bump to work out what position the baby is in.


Towards the end of your pregnancy, you’ll find you can’t fit in quite as much lunch as you used to and even breathing deeply might be a bit of an effort! This is because the top of your uterus is now high up and it’s squishing your stomach and lungs. But as your baby’s arrival date nears, his head will usually drop down into your pelvis. This is known as the baby becoming engaged. ‘Many women suddenly find they can breathe more easily and feel a heaviness in the pelvis,’ says Gail. ‘A midwife can tell you if your baby is engaged. The baby’s head is quite bony and can be felt externally – when it’s engaged, less of the head can be felt above your pelvis. Your bump may look lower too. Not all babies engage prior to labour, though – some drop down during it, particularly if this is a second or third baby.’


This rather old-fashioned sounding word refers to the first movements of your baby that can be felt by you. The word ‘quick’ used to mean ‘alive’ – before scans existed, the movements of the baby felt by the mother were good signs that baby was well. First-time mums usually feel this fluttering, tapping or bubbling sensation around 18 to 20 weeks (or even later), but second-time mums may feel it as early as 15 weeks.


This odd term probably makes you feel like a piece of fruit! It actually refers to the process of your cervix getting ready for labour. If you go past your due date, your midwife will check how ‘ripe’ your cervix is as a sign of whether labour is imminent. ‘Your cervix is usually long and thick,’ says Gail, ‘but as labour approaches it thins and softens. We give it what’s called a Bishop Score – a score of eight or more means that your cervix is ripe and ready for labour. It also increases the likelihood of success if you have to be induced.


Another sign that soon, you’ll meet your baby! A show is the passing of the mucus plug that seals the cervix during pregnancy. It’s a brownish or pink-tinged discharge (so it’s also known as a ‘bloody show’). Labour could start within hours, but in some cases, not until several days later.


To allow your baby into the world, your cervix must widen (dilate) to 10cm andthis is achieved through contractions. Another term you may have heard is Braxton Hicks – these are ‘practice’ contractions and can start around mid-pregnancy. So how will you know when you’re in labour for real? ‘As a general rule, Braxton Hicks contractions are irregular and painless,’ says Gail. ‘Real contractions feel like period pain in your lower abdomen or back, last longer, will come at regular intervals (this could be every hour, rather than every few minutes, at the beginning) and increase in intensity and frequency.’ If you think you might be in labour, start timing the contractions so you can let your midwife know over the phone. It’s best to stay at home for as long as possible – if you arrive at hospital just one or two centimetres dilated, you may be sent home again.

External cephalic version (EVC)

If, at about 37 weeks, your baby is resolutely staying breech, with his feet orbottom down by your cervix (neck of your uterus) rather than his head, then a procedure called an ECV might be recommended. This involves a doctor slowlytrying to turn your baby around by manipulating your bump with his hands. ‘You may be given a medication to help your uterus relax,’ says Gail. ‘If there’s plenty of room in the uterus, the baby will shoot around, but if space is tight, it may not work.’


If you’re heading towards 42 weeks and your baby has decided that he’s quite happy where he is, thank you, your midwife will suggest an induction, which meansthat labour will be started artificially. Some time between 40 and 42 weeks, you will be offered a membrane sweep, the first step in encouraging the onset of labour. ‘Your midwife will sweep two fingers around your cervix to separate the membranes inside the cervix,’ says Gail. ‘This causes the release of hormones called prostaglandins, which can stimulate labour. It can be a little uncomfortable, but shouldn’t be painful. It may be repeated a few days later if it doesn’t work.’ If this fails, you will go into hospital around 42 weeks to be induced. This usually starts with a prostaglandin pessary or gel being inserted into your vagina and may graduate to a hormone drip.

Apgar scale

You may have found a page in your notes referring to an Apgar scale. This is a set of simple checks of your baby one minute after she’s born and then five minutes later – it rates her skin colour, pulse, responsiveness, muscle tone and breathing with a number between zero and two for each category. The numbers are added up for an Apgar score to see if the baby might need some medical help. Most babies score between seven and 10 – and the majority of babies need no help at all after birth.

You can read more help and advice for the final weeks of pregnancy here.

For more about your unborn baby movements check out this article too. 13/09/2011 05:48:00
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