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Labour-related buzzwords you should know

Experiencing labour, especially for first-time mothers, can be an unnerving prospect. It is also made harder by all the new words and terms you hear, some of which you may not know the meaning of.

Of course, you can always ask your doctor or midwife what these new words mean, but it can be really helpful to know the meaning of some of these buzzwords beforehand. This is also useful for birthing partners and extended families.

In this blog we have put together some of the key labour buzzwords and their definitions we feel may be helpful for you to know and to help you brush up on your labour vocabulary.

For answers to some frequently asked labour questions, see our pain relief during labour pages.

Home birth

When it is time to deliver your baby you may have the option to stay at home. This is called home birth. Women may choose a home birth for a number of reasons, including:

  • Familiar surroundings – some women feel more comfortable giving birth in a familiar place alongside their loved ones.
  • Religious reasons.
  • More control and convenience.

One study conducted on planned home births and their benefits, risks and opportunities found that all things being equal, maternal outcomes were similar with planned home birth and satisfaction levels were higher[1].

If you choose to birth at home you may want to ask about ‘transfer rates’ - that is how many women who start their labour at home are transferred to the hospital before birth. The pain relief options offered at home and in hospital will be different too.

Not everyone is suitable for a home birth. Women with certain medical conditions or previous pregnancy complications may be advised that hospital is the best and safest place for them to give birth.

Phases of labour

Latent phase

The latent phase occurs at the start of labour and is the longest phase. This is when your cervix begins to soften, ready to dilate (open up) for the baby to be born. This is accompanied by irregular contractions.

Contractions are when the womb (uterus) gets tight and then relaxes. If you have any concerns at this stage, it is advised to contact your midwife right away. If they believe all is okay, they may suggest you stay at home until you are in the established phase of labour.

Established labour

Established labour is when there is a progressive cervical dilatation from 4cm, and regular contractions make your cervix gradually open up (dilate).[2] During this phase, you will experience stronger and more regular contractions.

At this point, you should contact your midwife to discuss how you are feeling. You may want to discuss some pain relief options. Be sure to view our pain relief comparison page, videos and leaflets to get to know what some of your options may be.

Induced labour

An induced labour is one which is started artificially.

This is generally planned beforehand, so you have time to discuss it with your doctor and midwife. Common reasons why labour is induced is if your baby is overdue, your waters have broken but labour has not begun and if you or the baby have certain health conditions.

Caesarean section / caesarean birth

Also referred to as a C-section, a caesarean section is an operation where the obstetric doctor makes a cut in your abdomen and womb, to deliver your baby. This a fairly common operation- around 1 in 4 pregnant women in the UK will have a caesarean section[3].

The C-section can be planned ahead of time, or done as an emergency if having a vaginal birth was not the safest option for you or your baby.

For full details on what to expect during a caesarean section, view our caesarean section information sheet. We also have a caesarean birth video, so be sure to watch that as well.

Breech baby

In most pregnancies the baby’s head is born first, thus in a head down or cephalic presentation. When the baby is in a bottom-down position in the womb, they are in the breech position. Most babies generally change position during the course of pregnancy, but if the baby is still in that position at around 36 weeks, the doctors and midwives will discuss the safest options for delivery.

An External Cephalic Version (ECV) is a process where the doctor will attempt to massage your baby into a head-down position. This is not always possible for all mothers and is sometimes unsuccessful. Either way, the doctors will discuss the safest options for you and your baby.


Epidurals are a pain relief method that is used during labour. It's an injection of pain relieving medicines inserted around the spinal nerves by an anaesthetist to reduce the feeling of labour pains. This is one of the most effective ways to help you cope with labour pains. Epidurals do, however, have some risks. Read more about this in our epidural information page.

There is a lot more to labour and birth but we hope this blog has given you an introduction to some of the more common words and labour-related terms you might come across.

If you have any questions or comments feel free to get in touch with us.

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4399594/
[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK49392/
[3] https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/caesarean-section/