Your Guide to Delivery Room Jargon

Nobody likes to feel like he doesn’t understand what’s going on, but when you enter a strange new environment — like the labor and delivery floor — it’s normal to feel completely out of your element. When it seems as if everyone is speaking a foreign language, you may feel intimidated, overwhelmed, and ready to hide behind a newspaper or magazine so you don’t have to deal with feeling or sounding like an uninformed dad.

Most of the terms you’ll hear bandied about by the medical staff are fairly simple after you familiarize yourself with them. Here’s a guide to help you feel less overwhelmed and more in the know when you hit the L&D floor:

  • Dilation: This is a number from 1 to 10 that refers to how far the cervix — the barrier between the vagina and the uterus — has opened up. Dilation is expressed in centimeters. When the staff talks about being complete, they mean completely dilated, or 10 centimeters.

  • Effacement: Effacement also refers to the cervix, but it describes how much the cervix has thinned out, or effaced. Effacement is expressed as a percentage, such as 50 percent effaced. When the cervix is 100 percent effaced, it’s as thin as a piece of paper. A thin cervix usually dilates faster than a thicker one, which has to thin out first.

  • Episiotomy: Also sometimes referred to as a pis (pronounced “peez”), an episiotomy is a cut into the vagina that widens the opening to make it easier for your baby to emerge. Many practitioners no longer do routine episiotomies.

  • Hook: If the practitioner says, “Give me a hook” (no, he won’t say this to you), he’s planning on rupturing the amniotic sac with a plastic hook that snags the membranes and tears a small hole in it. Called “rupturing the membranes,” this is done to speed labor, to attach an internal lead, or to check the color of the amniotic fluid.

  • Internal: An internal exam is a vaginal exam to check the baby’s position and the degree of dilation and effacement. If the practitioner says she’s going to “place an internal,” it means she’s going to attach a small wire to the baby’s scalp to monitor his heart rate. This is more accurate than an external monitor.

  • Meconium: Often called “mec” and described as thick or thin, meconium is the baby’s first stool. If the baby passes meconium in the womb, it can mean he’s under stress. However, the baby can pass meconium at any time during pregnancy, and the timing doesn’t necessarily indicate that the baby is under stress right at that moment.

  • Station: This term describes how far into the pelvis the baby has descended. Minus 3 means the baby is still floating above the pelvis and hasn’t dropped yet. The baby is on the perineum, ready to come out, at +3 station.

  • Stat section: This means either your partner or the baby is under stress and your practitioner wants the baby out, immediately. This term inspires a flurry of action from the staff, who won’t forget about you, although it may seem like it at first.

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