Glossary of terms

a

Alongside birth centre

A birth centre which is on the same site as a main maternity unit, but which offers midwife-led care for women at a low risk of complications.

It can also be called a co-located birth centre or alongside midwife-led unit.

Find out more about birth centres

Alongside midwife-led unit

Another name for an alongside birth centre; on the same hospital site as a main maternity unit, but offering midwife-led care for women at a low risk of complications.

Amenity room

A room on a postnatal ward which you don't share with other mothers, but which you pay to stay in.

Access to amenity rooms will vary from hospital to hospital and may not always be available. Prices vary.

Anaesthetist

A doctor specialising in giving anaesthetics for operations or setting up epidurals.

Assisted Delivery

When the baby is born with the assistance of surgical instruments such as forceps or a ventouse. Also referred to as an assisted birth or an instrumental birth.

b

Birth centre

A smaller place to give birth away from medical facilities where the emphasis is on natural birth.

Birth centres provide personalised maternity care. They're run by midwives and have a friendly "home-from-home" atmosphere.

Find out more about birth centres

Birth partner

Your partner, a relative or a friend who supports you emotionally and practically during labour and birth.

You can also have a doula or an alternative therapist such as a homeopath as a birth partner.

Birth pool

A wide, deep bath or pool filled with clean warm water that can be used to cope with pain during labour, or as a place to give birth.

Birth pools are deep enough for a woman to be immersed when kneeling. They can be permanently plumbed-in (for example, in a birth centre) or portable for a home birth.

Find out more about using water in labour

BMI

Short for Body Mass Index, a measure of body fat based on your weight and height.

A woman with a very high or very low BMI may not be permitted to give birth in some environments.

Breech baby

An unborn baby which is lying with its bottom or feet downwards.

A woman carrying a breech baby is likely to need extra support during labour, which may only be available in a labour ward.

c

Caesarean

An operation to allow your baby to be born through a cut in your abdomen.

Caseloading

Where a single midwife (or a pair of midwives) has full responsibility for your care throughout pregnancy, labour and after your baby is born.

This type of care gives you the opportunity to get to know your midwife over a long period of time, which is of benefit to you and your baby.

Find out about the benefits of knowing your midwife

Catchment area

The local area around the hospital for which the hospital provides its services

Hospitals often have defined geographical boundaries to identify the population to whom they provide services. If you don't live within this area, you might be referred to as "out of area".

Catheter

A urinary catheter is a thin flexible tube gently inserted into your bladder along the path which urine travels down.

Urine drains out of your bladder and is collected in a bag, so you don't need to even think about going to the loo while it's in place. It's usually inserted when you have an epidural.

Community midwives

Midwives who provide care outside the hospital, for example in a local clinic, GP surgery or your home.

Continuity of care

Having the same midwife (or doctor) look after you throughout your pregnancy.

Continuity of care can also mean having a midwife you know look after you during labour and after the baby is born.

Find out more about knowing your midwife

Contractions

The regular tightening of muscles during labour to enable your baby to be born.

d

Delivery suite

​The part of a hospital where both doctors and midwives are available to help women giving birth. Often referred to as the labour ward.

It's also sometimes called an obstetric unit or consultant-led maternity unit.

Find out more about the delivery suite (labour wards)

Diamorphine

A pain-relieving drug which can be given by injection in labour to help you cope with the pain of contractions.

Doula

Women experienced in giving emotional and practical support to women in labour, who can be hired as birth partners.

Doulas can also give support while you're pregnant and after your baby is born. You can find out more about doulas at www.doula.org.uk

e

Entonox

Also called gas and air, a mixture of gases which can be inhaled to help you cope with the pain of labour.

Epidural

A local anaesthetic injected into your lower spine, used for pain relief in labour.

Episiotomy

A surgical cut made just before the baby is born, widening the opening to allow the baby to be born more quickly.

f

Forceps

A surgical instrument put around a baby's head to help it be born.

Freestanding birth centre

A place where women can give birth which is run by midwives at a distance from a main maternity unit. Also called a standalone birth centre or freestanding midwife-led unit.

Usually, only women at a low risk of complications can give birth in a freestanding birth centre.

Find out more about birth centres

Freestanding midwife-led unit

A facility run by midwives at a distance from a main maternity unit. Also called a freestanding birth centre or standalone birth centre.

Usually only women at a low risk of complications can give birth in a freestanding birth centre.

Find out more about birth centres

g

Gas and air

Also called entonox, a mixture of gases which can be inhaled to help you cope with the pain of labour.

Gestation

The time, usually measured in weeks, between conceiving the baby and the birth.

A baby is ready to be born between 37 and 42 weeks gestation, with the due date at about 40 weeks.

GMC

General Medical Council. This keeps a register of qualified medical doctors.

Group B Strep

A organism which is usually harmless but which can cause a serious infection in newborn babies.

Women who test positive for Group B Strep (Streptococcus) may be recommended to give birth in a labour ward.

i

Independent midwife

A fully qualified, self-employed midwife who can provide private midwifery care.

Private midwives, including independent midwives, generally offer care from a single midwife throughout your pregnancy. You have to pay for this care. Find out more

Induction

Having labour started artificially rather than letting it start by itself.

This can be done with drugs or by having your waters broken. Find out more about induction

Instrumental birth

When the baby is born with the assistance of surgical instruments such as forceps or a ventouse. Also known as an assisted delivery or assisted birth.

Integrated midwifery

A system where midwives work both in the hospital and in the community.

l

Labour

The process at the end of pregnancy which ends with your baby being born.

Labour ward

The part of a hospital where both doctors and midwives are available to help women giving birth. Often referred to as Delivery Suite.

It's also sometimes called an obstetric unit or consultant-led maternity unit.

Find out more about labour wards

m

Meptid

The brand name for meptazinol, this is a pain-relieving drug similar to pethidine which can be given by injection in labour to help you cope with the pain of contractions.

Midwife

The health professional who is the expert in normal pregnancy and birth.

Midwife-led care

Maternity care where the main health professionals you see throughout your pregnancy and labour are all midwives.

Women at a low risk of complications don't usually need to have maternity care from a doctor, unless a problem arises. Midwife-led care has benefits for women receiving it.

Find out more about midwife-led care

Midwife-led unit

Another name for a birth centre.

Morphine sulphate

Sometimes called Oramorph, an opioid painkiller

You can be given this to relieve pain and help you sleep during early labour.

Find out more about morphine sulphate

n

Natural birth

Birth without medical intervention.

The exact definition of natural birth can vary, but in general, it means a birth which doesn't need the kind of medical interventions only available in a hospital maternity unit.

Neonatologists

Doctors who specialise in looking after newborn babies who need medical care.

NMC

Nursing and Midwifery Council. This keeps a register of qualified nurses and midwives.

Normal birth

A birth defined specifically as one where labour starts on its own, the woman doesn't have any anaesthetic such as an epidural, and she gives birth without a caesarean, forceps, ventouse or cut (episiotomy).

o

Obstetricians

Doctors who specialise in pregnancy and births where there are complications.

If you have no problems during pregnancy and birth, you'll be looked after by midwives and won't need to see a doctor.

Find out more about the health professionals who will provide your maternity care

Obstetric unit

A place to give birth where both doctors and midwives are available. Also called a labour ward or delivery suite.

Opioids

Also called opiates, a group of similar pain-relieving drugs which can be used in labour.

These include pethidine, diamorphine and meptid.

Find out more about opioids

Oramorph

A medicine containing the painkiller morphine sulphate.

This can be given to you to relieve pain and help you sleep during early labour.

Find out more about Oramorph

p

Perineum

The area between the opening to the birth canal and the back passage.

It sometimes tears as the baby is born, or a cut might be made in it (episiotomy) to help the baby be born more quickly.

Pethidine

An opioid pain-relieving drug which can be given by injection in labour to help you cope with the pain of contractions.

Placenta

Also called the afterbirth. This is the organ which connects the mother and baby in pregnancy via the umbilical cord.

The placenta provides the baby with food and oxygen throughout the pregnancy through the cord.

Planned caesarean

A caesarean scheduled to take place before labour starts, also called an elective caesarean.

A caesarean can be planned for medical reasons or sometimes at a woman's request.

Find out more about caesareans

Private midwife

A fully qualified midwife who's employed by an organisation other than the NHS or self-employed.

Private midwives generally offer care from a single midwife throughout your pregnancy. You have to pay for this care.

Find out more about the care they offer

r

Registrable birth

A baby born live at any time, or a stillbirth after a gestation of 24 weeks

Remifentanil

A fast-acting, pain-relieving opioid, usually given through a drip controlled by the woman.

Remifentanil only acts for a few minutes so can be given in short bursts when needed for contractions. An alternative to an epidural.

Find out more about remifentanil

t

Team midwifery

Where you receive your care from a team of midwives whom you get to know throughout your pregnancy.

This same team may also be responsible for your postnatal care and in some cases, for looking after you in labour. Getting to know your midwife has a number of benefits for you and your baby.

Find out about the benefits of knowing your midwife

TENS

A TENS machine gives pain relief during labour using electrode pads on your back and a mild electric current.

TENS stands for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation.

Find out more about TENS

Transfer

Moving from your planned place of birth to a labour ward if you need extra medical help.

This can be a journey by road if you planned birth at home or in a freestanding birth centre, or a short transfer within a hospital site if you planned birth in an alongside birth centre.

Find out more about transferring to hospital during labour

u

Umbilical cord

The long flexible tube that connects an unborn baby to its mother.

Unplanned caesarean

Also called an emergency caesarean, this is a caesarean which needs to take place quickly because of an unexpected problem with the mother or baby.

An unplanned caesarean usually takes place during labour.

Find out more about caesareans

Uterus

Also called the womb; the part of a woman's body where the baby grows before it's born.

v

VBAC

Vaginal birth after caesarean.

If you get pregnant again after having a caesarean birth with your previous child, you can still choose to have a vaginal birth. Around two-thirds of women who try to have a VBAC are successful but this rate varies depending on circumstances and the care received.

Find out more about having a caesarean.

Ventouse

Also known as a vacuum cup, this is a way of helping your baby to be born.

The vacuum cup is held on the baby's head by suction so the baby can be pulled out during a contraction.

Find out more about ventouse births

w

Water birth

Giving birth to your baby in a birth pool.

Womb

Also called the uterus, the part of a woman's body where the baby grows before it's born.

Understand your maternity options

Labour ward? Birth centre? Home birth? Explore the differences between the UK's most common options for where to give birth.

Compare the options