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Terms explained


A doctor who specialises in pain relief and anaesthetics (usually epidurals in labour and birth).


An episiotomy is a cut in a woman's perineum (the area between the vagina and the anus). This makes the opening of the vagina a bit wider, which allows the baby to come through more easily.

Established labour

Established labour is when the woman's cervix is at least 4 cm dilated and she is having regular painful contractions.

Forceps birth

In this type of birth, forceps (smooth metal instruments that look like large spoons or tongs) are placed around the baby's head to pull him or her out of the vagina while you push. An episiotomy is almost always needed for a forceps birth. A spinal block or epidural is usually given beforehand.

Midwife‑led unit

Midwife‑led units (sometimes called birth centres) are run by midwives. They can be inside or next to a main hospital obstetric unit (called 'alongside') or in a different place (called 'freestanding'). They provide a comfortable environment which is more like being at home. They do not have the same medical facilities as a hospital obstetric unit, but have medical equipment to deal with an emergency for you or your baby.

Neonatologist (or paediatrician)

A doctor who specialises in looking after newborn babies who are unwell.


A doctor who specialises in the care of pregnant women who have health problems, or develop problems during labour, and their unborn babies.

Obstetric unit

A hospital unit where women give birth. It is sometimes called a labour ward.


A type of painkiller that can be used by women in labour, such as diamorphine or pethidine. It is given by injection.

Serious medical problem

Serious medical problems that affected babies in the Birthplace study included neonatal encephalopathy (disordered brain function caused by lack of oxygen before or during birth that may get better but can lead to permanent brain damage or death), problems caused by the baby inhaling meconium into the lungs, a fractured arm or collarbone, stillbirth, and the baby's death in the first week of life.

Ventouse birth

Ventouse birth (sometimes called vacuum birth) is when the baby is pulled out while you push using a cup that is fitted to the baby's head by suction. An episiotomy is often needed for a ventouse birth. A spinal block or epidural is usually given beforehand.

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