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Glossary - Pregnancy and Childbirth

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Alpha-fetoprotein - a protein produced by the fetus that is excreted into the amniotic fluid. Abnormal levels of alpha-fetoprotein may indicate brain or spinal cord defects, multiple fetuses, a miscalculated due date, or chromosomal disorders.

Amniocentesis - a test performed to determine chromosomal and genetic disorders and certain birth defects. The test involves inserting a needle through the abdominal and uterine wall into the amniotic sac to retrieve a sample of amniotic fluid.

Amniotic sac - a thin-walled sac that surrounds the fetus during pregnancy. The sac is filled with amniotic fluid - liquid made by the fetus and the amnion (the membrane that covers the fetal side of the placenta) which protects the fetus from injury and helps to regulate the temperature of the fetus.

Anemia - a decrease of red blood cells in the blood.

Anus - the opening at the end of the anal canal.

Apgar test - a scoring system to evaluate the condition of the newborn immediately after birth.

Areola - the pigmented ring around each nipple.


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Braxton-Hicks contractions - painless contractions during pregnancy that help the uterus to grow and to help the blood circulate through the uterus.

Breech birth - an abnormal delivery presentation in which the baby's feet, knees, or buttocks come into the birth canal first, before the baby's head.


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Cervix - the lower part of the uterus that projects into the vagina. Made up of mostly fibrous tissue and muscle, the cervix is circular in shape.

Chorionic villus sampling (CVS) - placental tissue that is sometimes retrieved for laboratory analysis. Cells from this tissue can be tested for certain genetic abnormalities and chromosomal disorders.

Chromatography - a laboratory test performed on a pregnant woman's urine to detect illegal drugs, such as cocaine, heroin, and marijuana.

Colostrum - a fluid in the breasts that nourishes the baby until the breast milk becomes available. Colostrum contains fats, carbohydrates, white blood cells, protein, and antibodies.


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Ectopic pregnancy - an abnormal pregnancy in which the fertilized egg implants outside of the uterus.

EDD - estimated due date.

embryo - the fetus is first called an embryo during the first eight weeks after conception.

Episiotomy - an incision through the vaginal wall and the perineum (the area between the thighs, extending from the anus to the vaginal opening) to help deliver the fetus.


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Fetus - an unborn baby from the eighth week after fertilization until delivery.

Folic acid - a nutrient found in some green leafy vegetables, nuts, beans, citrus fruits, fortified breakfast cereals, and some vitamin supplements. Folic acid can help reduce the risk of birth defects of the brain and spinal cord.

Fundus - the top of the enlarged uterus.


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Galactosemia - an inherited disorder in which the baby is unable to metabolize galactose, a milk sugar.


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Human chorionic gonadotropin - a hormone produced by the placenta about 10 days after fertilization.


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IBCLC - International Board of Certified Lactation Consultants


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Lanugo - fine, downy hair that covers the fetus until shortly before or after birth.

Leukorrhea - whitish vaginal discharge during pregnancy.

LMP - last menstrual period.


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Macrosomia - a condition in which a baby is considerably larger than normal.

Menstruation - a monthly process (except during pregnancy) that involves a discharge of bloody fluid from the uterus through the vagina; the discharge contains tissue shed from the endometrium (the lining of a woman's uterus) during the reproductive cycle.


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Placenta - an organ, shaped like a flat cake, that only grows during pregnancy and provides a metabolic interchange between the fetus and mother. (The fetus takes in oxygen, food, and other substances and eliminates carbon dioxide and other wastes.)

Port-wine stain - a flat, pink, red, or purple colored birthmark.

Preeclampsia - a condition characterized by pregnancy-related high blood pressure, protein in the urine, and swelling (edema) due to fluid retention.

Premature - a baby born before full term or 37 weeks of gestation.


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Rooting - when a newborn turns his/her head toward touch near the mouth.


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Toxoplasmosis - an infection caused by a parasite that can lead to serious illness or death in the fetus.

Trimester - a pregnancy is divided into phases, which are about three months each.


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ultrasound - a diagnostic imaging technique which uses high-frequency sound waves to create an image of the fetus' body and organs and the surrounding tissues.

Umbilical cord - a ropelike cord connecting the fetus to the placenta. The umbilical cord contains two arteries and a vein, which carry oxygen and nutrients to the fetus and waste products away from the fetus.

Uterine wall - the wall of the uterus.

Uterus (also called the womb) - the uterus is a hollow, pear-shaped organ located in a woman's lower abdomen, between the bladder and the rectum, that sheds its lining each month during menstruation and in which a fertilized egg (ovum) becomes implanted and the fetus develops.


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Vagina - the part of the female genitals, behind the bladder and in front of the rectum, that forms a canal extending from the uterus to the vulva.

Vernix caseosa (also called vernix) - a white substance that covers the skin of the fetus (while inside the uterus) and helps to protect the fetus.


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