Birthing Glossary: the terms all expecting mums should know

Posted in Labour & Delivery.

When you become a parent, modesty goes out the window. You become accustomed to smelling another human’s bottom, to using your spit to clean unknown substances off your child’s cheek and to discussing your birthing experience with other mums.

But while these become the norm for seasoned mummies, it can take some time to get used to the joys that come with pregnancy and childbirth, especially if you’re a first time mum.

When I first had my son I wasn’t sure what to expect. I assumed your waters broke then you pushed a baby out. And while ignorance is sometimes bliss, it’s probably a good idea to be a little more aware than that. Not understanding what was happening left me panicked, scared, and convinced that something was wrong.

This is why we wanted to give you a fair bit of warning about some of the childbirth terms you will come across. The more you know about what’s to come, the more you can prepare your body (and your mind) for the big event.

Mucus plug

Let’s start with the mucus plug, shall we?

There’s not really any way to sugar coat this. A mucus plug is a plug of mucus that lives in your cervix. It pops out, like a cork, when labour is near.

Bloody show

A bloody show is kind of like a horror movie, except it’s happening in your pants. It refers to blood-tinged gelatinous mucus that passes through the vagina and is another sign of impending labour. Yep, childbirth is icky.

Stretch and sweep

Moving on to labour induction methods … we enter the realm of the stretch and sweep. This is a procedure in which a doctor inserts his or her gloved fingers into your vagina and through the cervix.

Sounds invasive and awful, right? But a stretch and sweep is actually one of the least invasive procedures for inducing labour. The procedure aims to “stretch” the cervix so it opens a little and “sweep” the membranes from where they stick to the cervix. This procedure is normally done when a woman is overdue.

Stripping your membranes

Similar to the stretch and sweep, the mission of membrane stripping is to separate the amniotic sac from the wall of the uterus in order to trigger contractions. The procedure is similar to the above – gloved fingers, awkward positioning, a fair bit of poking down there … you get the idea.


Baby is about to make a grand entrance. And this is where the crowning stage comes in – the moment your infant’s head forces its way out.

As royal as it may sound, once you have kids, crowning loses its glory.

Ring of fire

Accompanying the majestic moment your baby crowns, you will also experience what is known as the Ring of Fire – an extreme burning sensation down below due to the tension and pressure.

I know. You will never look at that Johnny Cash song the same ever again.

Vaginal tearing

Yes, sometimes (actually, often), your vagina will tear during delivery. Because it’s not bad enough you’ve just endured nine months of pregnancy and hours of labour…

Most vaginal tears occur in the perineum, the tissue that lies below the vagina opening and above the anus. There are four different ‘degrees of damage’, all of which may or may not require stitching (and an ice pack to sit on for the next two weeks).


But, wait, it gets better! Because, in some instances, an episiotomy may be recommended.

What is this? It’s an intentional surgical cut to the perineal tissue. The reason for an episiotomy is to help speed up labour or to ensure a safe delivery of bub if there are certain complications.

The afterbirth

Okay, you’ve had the baby. You’re done. Oh no. You still need to expel the placenta, also known by the oh-so-pleasant term ‘after birth’. The afterbirth is not nearly as painful as giving birth to bub, but it’s important to prepare for this part of childbirth as well.


While some people may think of rooting as a sexual term, mothers normally do not. After all, rooting simply means bub is searching for the breast and is a common reflex right after birth.


We will end our childbirth dictionary with colostrum, which sounds like something you’d find in the toothpaste aisle at the supermarket.

Instead it’s the pre-milk that comes out of your breast before your milk comes in and signals the first phase in your breastfeeding journey.

And, if you do choose to breastfeed, then you will uncover a few more terms that leave a lot to be desired, including engorgement, blocked ducts and mastitis.

But we’ll save these definitions for another day…

If you’re keen to get started on your birthing journey and see all these childbirth terms firsthand? Take a look at our articles showing beautiful birth photographs.

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