8 Common Pregnancy Labor Terms To Know While Preparing For Birth

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You learn a pretty extensive list of medical terms during pregnancy and it only keeps going up until you give birth to your baby. And then you’ll learn postpartum terms after that (woohoo). But in this blog post, I’m going to go over common pregnancy labor terms to help you be prepared for birth.

labor and delivery common terms

8 Common Pregnancy Labor Terms

Try and not get too worked up with these pregnancy labor terms as they’ll come naturally when you’re in labor and your OBGYN will let you know how you’re progressing.


A contraction is a super common term you’ve probably heard throughout your pregnancy. And this is when the muscles of your uterus tighten up and relax.

Contractions are what help push your baby down to your birth canal ready to come out. There’s a difference between true labor and false labor contractions which you’ll start to experience during the last few weeks of your pregnancy.

During true labor, your contractions will be about 30 to 70 seconds and come about 5 to 10 minutes apart. They’ll get more intense and closer together as you get closer to giving birth.

There’s a thing called the 5-1-1 rule that can tell you that you’re in true labor where contractions come every 5 minutes lasting 1 minute each, for at least 1 hour.

False labor contractions come and go with no pattern or real consistency.


Crowning is when your baby’s head can be seen from the outside meaning it’s come out of the vaginal. And this happens during the second stage of labor when you push and deliver your newborn.


Dilation is a term referring to the openness of your cervix in preparation for birth. This helps your ob-gyn or midwife track the progress of your cervix and it is measured in centimeters.

When your cervix is at 10 centimeters, that means it is fully dilated for the passage of your baby.


Effacement is the thinning of your cervix and it is expressed in percentage. At 100% effacement, you’ll be ready to push your baby for birth.

As labor progresses, your cervix will become thinner (effacement) as it widens (dilation).

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When your baby’s head moves down into your pelvic cavity, this means your baby is now engaged.


The process of your baby settling into your lower pelvis or “dropping” creating increased pressure in the lower region is called lightening.

Mucus Plug

A mucus plug is a protective accumulation of mucus that forms in the cervical canal early in your pregnancy. The purpose of a mucus plug is to prevent bacteria and infection from entering your uterus and ultimately affecting your baby.

As your cervix dilates, you’ll start losing your mucus plug which looks like a glob of thick, jelly-like substance that you’ll find in your underwear (but not every woman will).


Fetal station refers to where your baby is presenting in the pelvis. Doctors measure fetal station on a scale from -5 to +5 or sometimes -3 to +3.

When the baby is described to be at a station -5 to 0, it means the part of the baby that is able to be felt is above the woman’s ischial spine (at the top or above of the corner of the triangle of your pelvic bone).

Zero station is when your baby’s head is engaged and at the ischial spine.

When your baby is at a station of 0 to a positive number, that means the head has descended out of the ischial spine. And the baby will be at a +4 or +5 at birth.

Final Thoughts

Although there are a lot of informative posts on pregnancy labor terms, these were the most common I found during labor and delivery. And if it weren’t for nursing school, I most likely would’ve been lost at learning common pregnancy labor terms.

labor and delivery words to know

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