When you find out you’re going to become a dad, you’re very quickly thrown into an entirely new world. One that, more often than not, feels totally alien, not helped by your inability to speak the language. Imagine taking a life-changing trip to a foreign country where you don’t understand a single word. And you don’t want to ask anyone because you either don’t want to come across stupid or don’t want to trouble the guide taking you on this major, life-changing trip.
That’s a bit like the start of the pregnancy journey. Pregnancy terminology can often be like a totally new language, except it’s not one you can recall parts of from high school language lessons!
In our book, You’re Going to be a Dad!, we take you through the pregnancy journey and first year of your little one’s life week-by-week, including the key terms you’ll learn (and need to know) along the way. We’ve put together this guide as a bit of a taster for you.
Let’s get into it!
1. First trimester
That’s actually a great place to start…
- Trimester - A pregnancy is split into three stages, or ‘trimesters’, each lasting roughly three months. The first trimester spans the first 13 weeks of pregnancy, the second trimester then goes from week 14 to week 27, and the third and final trimester takes up to 40 weeks (or birth).
Interestingly, it’s also used to describe all these terms in an academic year in the US.
- Uterus/womb - These are probably two terms you’ve heard of before, but may never have known exactly what they are. The uterus, sometimes called the womb, is the core of the female reproductive system. It’s where her egg will be fertisiled by the sperm, and will be home for your baby for the next nine months.
- Embryo - This is the scientific name for your baby from conception to seven weeks while it is still pretty much a collection of cells.
- Fetus/Foetus - Again, this is one you’re probably familiar with, but might not know the specifics. And after reading the term above, you might be wondering ‘when does it become a foetus?’. The simple answer is after the embryo stage until birth. There is some debate on exactly when that shift happens though - depending on where you look, some say seven weeks, others say two months or 10 weeks.
Oh, and the spelling! ‘Fetus’ is used in the US, Australia and Canada, while ‘foetus’ is more commonly found in the UK and other Commonwealth countries.
- Obstetrics and gynaecology - There’s a couple of variations here, so we’ll try to cover all bases. Obstetrics is the field of medicine relating to pregnancy and childbirth - a doctor in this field is an ‘obstetrician’. Gynaecology is the field relating to the female reproductive system - and a doctor here is a ‘gynaecologist’. Because of their close nature, they are typically grouped together as one field or department at hospitals. In the US, it is often referred to as ‘OB-GYN’, whereas in the UK you are more likely to hear it described as ‘Obs and Gynae’.
- Fallopian tubes - This is a pair of tubes that connect the ovaries to the woman’s uterus. The egg travels from the ovaries, through the fallopian tubes, into the uterus.
- Ectopic pregnancy - Unfortunately, pregnancy and the creation of new life isn’t always a happy journey. An ectopic pregnancy is when the egg is fertilised outside of the uterus, often in one of the fallopian tubes. Unfortunately, an egg that is fertilised outside of the uterus won’t develop into a baby and must be removed either by medicine or an operation. There can also be serious consequences for the woman, but it is not guaranteed. Roughly one in 90 pregnancies are ectopic.
- Toxoplasmosis - Your midwife may warn you to make sure your cooking is in tip top condition. This is because things like undercooked meat, soil and cat faeces can all transmit a disease called ‘toxoplasmosis’, which is dangerous to unborn babies. Not that you’d be cooking soil or cat faeces…
- Dating scan - More commonly referred to as the ‘12 week scan’, the dating scan usually takes place anywhere between 11 and 14 weeks. The dating scan is used to give a clearer picture of how far along the pregnancy is, how developed the baby is, and also to give an estimated due date.
- Crown to rump - The term used to describe the measurement taken of your baby at the dating scan. It measures from the top of the head (crown) to the bottom (rump). This measurement is usually the basis of your baby’s estimated due date.
- Nuchal Translucency (NT) Scan - More commonly referred to as an ‘NT scan’, you will likely be offered a Nuchal Translucency scan at the same time as your dating scan. It is part of the optional screening process for Down Syndrome. The scan measures the amount of fluid at the back of the baby’s neck. Less fluid or ‘empty space’ is not uncommon, but too much empty space can be an indication of Down Syndrome.
It’s important to know that screening for Down Syndrome is an entirely personal decision between you and the mother of your child. At this stage, it is not a definitive answer on whether or not your child will have Down Syndrome, rather it gives a risk factor.
- Superfetation - Okay, you probably won’t need to arrive at your first appointments armed with this knowledge. And it’ll probably leave you needing to pick up your jaw from the floor after you hear it! Superfetation is the super rare scenario where a second conception takes place during pregnancy. Yep!
And with that, let’s jump into the second trimester!
2. Second trimester
As your partner enters the second trimester, things really start to develop. No longer a random collection of cells, your baby is really starting to take shape. A lot happens in the second trimester. And, unfortunately, your partner may well start to experience (or perhaps we should say “suffer”) some of the diseases of pregnancy.
- Fetal viability - This is the medical term for the point in the pregnancy at which the chances of a foetus surviving outside of the womb increase significantly. This is widely accepted to be at 23-24 weeks. Survival after this point is far from guaranteed, but the chances are much better than before the 23/24 week mark.
- Anomaly scan - You’ll probably already know this as the “20-week scan” and when you find out your baby’s sex (if you want to, of course). But in a medical context, this scan is used to check the baby’s development for any anomalies. The sonographer will look in detail at your baby’s bones, heart, kidneys, brain, face, spinal cord and abdomen for a range of possible conditions. Not all conditions can be spotted, and some can be spotted a lot easier than others.
- Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) - This is one of those diseases that are often experienced by women during their pregnancy. GERD is a digestive problem that can cause heartburn and acid reflux. While not typically serious, it is very common among pregnant women.
- Pica - Everyone knows that pregnant women get cravings, and you’ll likely have already prepared yourself for late-night dashes to the supermarket or placing an order with the local takeaway just before it closes. Pica, however, is a rather bizarre phenomenon where a person (it doesn’t just happen to pregnant women!) craves something that isn’t food. It might be paper, rocks, or cardboard. Yeah…!
- Ossification - Ossification is the process that sees your baby’s bones harden as calcium is added to cartilage.
- Preeclampsia - This might well be another one of those pregnancy terms that you’ve heard before, but never really understood what it actually means. It’s a condition that affects some pregnant women after the 20-week mark, or soon after delivery. It is defined as having high blood pressure, protein in urine and, sometimes, swelling. Symptoms include severe headaches, blurred vision or sensitivity to flashing, vomiting, swelling, and pain below the ribs. Most cases are mild, but left untreated it could lead to serious complications for both mother and baby.
- Gestational Diabetes - This is essentially a form of diabetes that the mother experiences during pregnancy. It’s a spike in blood pressure, which can be extremely dangerous for the baby if it goes untreated.
- Linea Nigra - This is the thin, dark, vertical line that appears on some women down the centre of their abdomen. Often called the ‘pregnancy line’, it usually starts at the belly button and runs down to the pubic area. It’s nothing to worry about - it’s just the result of hormones - and usually disappears a couple of months after delivery. Interestingly, this writer just learned that it can actually happen outside of pregnancy, to men and women. Excluding pregnancy, it’s actually most common between the ages of 11 and 15.
- Braxton Hicks Contractions - If you’ve ever watched Friends, you’ll know what these are. The clue is in the name - they are contractions of the muscles across the abdomen. Some women feel them but don’t find them painful, whereas others find them so painful that they believe they have gone into labour. That’s why they’re also known as ‘false labour pains’. Braxton Hicks can typically start from around 20 weeks.
- Edema - You’re probably familiar with what this actually means more than you are with the term itself. It’s the medical term for when parts of the body swell due to trapped excess fluid. It’s particularly common among pregnant women, and often happens to the hands or feet.
- Varicose veins - If you’re anything like this writer, you’ll know this as those bulging, twisted veins that elite cyclists have after a gruelling stage of the Tour de France (seriously, if you haven’t seen it - search “varicose veins cycling”). Anyway, it’s also really common in pregnant women, too.
3. Third trimester
You’re getting down to the business end of pregnancy, and the pregnancy terms just keep coming. A new phase means a whole new set of terms to understand as you prepare for labour, the birth itself, and life as a dad!
- Foetal kick count - As your partner gets deeper into her pregnancy, she will get to know your baby’s movements. How often they kick, when they move around, when they have quiet time etc. As your partner becomes more and more aware of those movements, they can notice pretty quickly when your baby isn’t as active. And that, understandably, can be quite worrying. In these scenarios, medical professionals recommend the foetal kick count test. A pregnant woman should feel 10 movements (they might not necessarily be kicks despite the name) over a two hour period. Your midwife might recommend taking a fizzy drink and lying down for a while, if she can.
- Nesting - This is when pregnant women feel an overwhelming urge to prepare the home (or ‘nest’) for the arrival of your baby. It might be cleaning or organising, especially in the baby’s room, or double, triple, quadruple, quintuple checking the hospital bag. It’s a perfectly natural thing for her to go through.
- Lightning crotch - That’s quite a name, right!? Lightning crotch is the name given to very sharp shooting pains that occur out of nowhere in the pelvic region of a pregnant woman.
- Full-term - Although the full length of a pregnancy from conception to due date is 40 weeks, a foetus is considered “full-term” after 37 weeks. That’s because their development is actually complete by this point, and the only thing that occurs after this point is further physical growth and weight gain.
- High-risk pregnancy - As you’ve probably deciphered already, a high-risk pregnancy is one that has a higher risk of complications compared with ‘normal’ pregnancies. Pregnancies can be determined high-risk for a huge number of reasons - existing medical conditions, age, weight, lifestyle, pregnancy diseases, foetal development, and more. If a woman’s pregnancy is determined to be high risk, they will usually be placed under consultant-led care (under a doctor’s supervision, rather than a midwife’s) and may have more scans to ensure everything is okay. It may also determine the type of birth your partner is allowed to have.
- Placenta Previa - This is when the placenta covers the cervix, and in some cases, blocks the baby’s way out of the uterus. It can cause bleeding during the pregnancy, particularly during birth and may require further medical intervention if serious. It affects roughly one in 200 pregnancies and can be picked up in the anomaly scan at 20 weeks. If so, your partner may be offered an additional scan around 32 weeks.
- Engaging - This is the process whereby the baby moves lower into the cervix and into the ‘birth canal’, preparing to enter the world. There’s no hard and fast rule as to when this happens, but it’s usually between 37 weeks and 39 weeks. Don’t get too excited, though, it doesn’t always mean that things are imminent; this writer’s second child taught us that!
- Breech - Another one you may have heard of before. It’s the term used to describe when the baby is lying feet-first, rather than head-first. If your partner is still carrying breech by 36 weeks, your obstetrician or midwife will discuss options for a safe delivery. Typically, your partner will be offered an external cephalic version (ECV), which is essentially an attempt to rotate the baby by applying pressure to the abdomen. It’s perfectly safe but can be very uncomfortable for your partner. It has around a 50% success rate, leading to a normal, vaginal delivery. If that is unsuccessful, your midwife will assess the best (safest) course of action, which may well be a C-Section.
- Episiotomy - This is a small incision, performed by a doctor or surgeon, made below the vagina to reduce the possibility of a tear during birth.
- Membrane sweep - If your partner’s pregnancy goes past the due date (or there is a medical issue), she will be offered a membrane sweep or simply ‘sweep’. It’s the last step in trying to bring on labour before a technical induction begins. The midwife or doctor will use their finger to ‘sweep’ around your partner’s cervix in an attempt to separate the amniotic sac from the cervix. This separation releases the hormones ‘prostaglandins’, which can kick-start labour.
- Dilation - The party has started, the guest of honour is on the way! This is the process of the cervix opening to allow your baby to be born. Once the cervix is dilated 10cm, it’s time for your partner to push.
Strap yourself in, though. It can be a slow process. You know that story your mother told you about how she was in labour for 30 hours when you were born? That’s what took so long - getting to 10cm.
On the other hand, it can be very quick. My wife was 8cm and pushing half an hour after arriving at hospital for baby No.1. And, baby No.2 (born in Covid times), I’d barely made it back to the car before I got the call to come in!
4. Postpartum/after birth
Labour is over and your tiny human has entered the world. You’re elated and relieved, bursting with pride and love, all at the same time. Now, for you as dad, the hard part begins! And, of course, along comes a whole new set of terminology to get to grips with.
- Afterbirth - This is the part of childbirth that a certain generation of people won’t have grown up seeing on TV, although more and depicting it as they strive for a more realistic representation of birth. Anyway! Afterbirth is the expulsion of the placenta and other foetal membranes from the cervix after the baby has been born. It usually requires some pushing from the mother, but nothing compared to the baby.
- Meconium - This is the name given to the baby’s first poo. It’s a thick, dark brown/black tar-like substance.
- Colostrum - Also known as the ‘first milk’, colostrum is the first form of breast milk released after birth. It’s thicker than ‘normal’ breastmilk, which starts to come through a couple of days later. Colostrum is packed full of nutrients and antibodies to really kick start your baby’s immune system.
- Fontanelle - The fontanelles are the soft spots on top of your baby’s skull - usually at the very centre of their skull and towards the back. The skull isn’t fully formed at birth, otherwise it’d have a tough time making its way through the cervix and out into the world. You may well notice that your baby’s head is an odd shape immediately after birth - that’s totally normal. The spot at the back of the skull (posterior fontanelle) usually closes between one and two months after birth, while the one at the top of the skull (anterior fontanelle) usually takes 12-18 months.
- Jaundice - Jaundice is the yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes. It’s very common among newborn babies because their livers are not yet fully developed. Your baby will be examined for jaundice by a midwife a couple of days after birth and is normally nothing to worry about. It may, however, be something that needs addressing if it develops after this period, or persists for more than a few days.
- APGAR score - Most of us know that a midwife will take a newborn baby aside to be weighed and given a quick health check. But, dare I say, few will have heard of an ‘APGAR score’ before. It’s used to determine the overall health of the baby, assessing:
Appearance (skin colour)
Grimace (reflex response to irritation)
Activity (muscle tone)
Each factor is given a score of 0, 1 or 2, with overall scores of 7 and above considered to be normal. Your midwife is probably more likely to informally tell you that your baby is in good health than they are to tell you what the APGAR score is.
- Golden hour - This is the first hour of a baby’s life where skin-to-skin contact with its mother is encouraged to stimulate several hormones that help to create that immediate bond. Increasingly, dads are extending the golden hour to have their own skin-to-skin contact with their baby.
- Engorgement - If your partner breastfeeds, she might experience breast engorgement. It occurs when the breasts produce more milk than the baby consumes and results in swelling and firming of the breasts. It can be extremely sore and uncomfortable for the woman.
- Cluster feeding - Every baby feeds in different ways. You and your partner may notice your baby feeds little and often. This is called cluster feeding. There’s nothing wrong with it in terms of your baby as long as they’re getting enough milk. But it can be painfully exhausting for your partner because they’re not able to have a break and catch-up on some sleep.
- Tanking - If you and your partner (mainly your partner) are in desperate need of some rest, you might try tanking. It’s the name given to the technique of feeding a baby as much as possible before bedtime in the arguably naive hope that they will have a long, undisturbed sleep.
- Postpartum/postnatal depression - Postpartum (US) or postnatal (UK) depression is a form of mental health condition often experienced in the first year of your baby’s life. While it is most commonly associated with new mums, awareness of postpartum/postnatal depression among new dads has grown significantly in recent years.
It is also often confused with “baby blues”, a common feeling of anxiety or sadness in the first few weeks after birth - however, baby blues only last a couple of weeks. Anything longer is likely to be postpartum/postnatal depression and you or your partner should seek support.
How do you spell pregnant?
Not like this...
What is the medical term for a baby?
From conception until roughly week seven, it is known as an “embryo”. After that point, it is known as a foetus (UK) or fetus (US) until birth.
What medical term means birth?
The official term for the act of giving birth to an offspring is “parturition”.
What is the medical term for labour and delivery?
You might think that this has a separate term to the exact birth, but labour and delivery of a child is also known as “parturition”.
What are some weird terms or phrases for being pregnant?
Some of these you’ll have heard of, others will do more than raise an eyebrow!
Bun in the oven - the bun being the baby, the oven being the woman’s wombThe rabbit died - owing to an old school method of testing pregnancy, which involved injecting a woman’s urine into a rabbit. Rabbit shows hormonal changes and then dies = pregnant (apparently)
In the family way - ‘Ooh look at her, she’s in the family way!’. It was used during the 1700s, although they might not have spoken quite like this example.
Knocked up - Such a popular term they made a movie about it! It actually originates from slavery, whereby an auctioneer would sell (knock down) a woman and the buyer would get her pregnant (knock her up). Lovely!
Up the duff - This one stems from Australia. Although some claim it relates to the original pronunciation of “dough” in the north of England, linking it to the ‘bun in the oven’ phrase.
Eating for two - It sounds logical - a woman is growing a whole new human, so she needs to eat more to ensure they both have enough fuel. It doesn’t work like that in reality, though. It’s a commonly used joke in film and TV that a pregnant woman’s defence for overeating is because she’s eating for two.
Bat in the cave - I’ll admit, it’s another one I’d not heard of. It seems it has something to do with the fact that bats hang upside down, just as babies sit upside down in the womb.
Bacon in the drawer - I don’t get this one. It comes from a French saying. I guess the baby is the bacon? And the woman/womb is the drawer? Who knows!
Preggers/preggo - Not exactly the most original phrase ever, it’s just slang really! Anyway, it seems it originated in the US during the 90s. For highest entertainment value, say it in a West Country accent.
Pea in the pod - I thought this was used to describe two people whose personalities or traits are very similar. But apparently it has a history in describing pregnancy, too!
Tin roof, rusted - Possibly the most bizarre one out there. It comes from the hit song “Love Shack” by The B-52s, in which the phrase is used to describe a woman who becomes pregnant accidentally *shrugs shoulders*.