Basics of Labor and Delivery: Terms to Know

Understanding the basics of labor and delivery can help relieve anxiety and provide a sense of confidence for most expectant parents. Couples can often ease their worries in the delivery room by familiarizing themselves with the terminology used to describe various elements of labor and delivery. This can decrease stress and make the birthing process more comfortable for mother and baby.

Stages of labor

The process of childbirth is generally divided into three or four stages. The first two are the best known and are referred to in medical terms as dilation and expulsion or, more commonly, as labor and delivery. The third placental stage encompasses the delivery of the placenta, while the final recovery stage may take a few hours while the uterus continues to contract and to readjust after the hard work of labor.


The location and positioning of the baby within the uterus during labor can be a matter of some concern and is referred to in terms of lie, station, presentation and position.

Lie – This refers to the angle at which the baby is placed; generally, a longitudinal lie is required for normal delivery. Babies that are positioned with a transverse lie are perpendicular to the uterine opening and must be repositioned in order to deliver. If such repositioning is not possible, a Caesarean section may be required.
Station – The degree of descent into the birth canal is referred to as station or engagement and is measured in integers ranging from -5 to +5, with -5 meaning no descent has yet occurred and +5 indicating that the baby’s head is at the vaginal opening.
Presentation – The body position of the baby during contractions is referred to as presentation; vertex presentation indicates that the baby is head down in the normal birth position, while breech presentations generally indicate that the lower half of the baby’s body is positioned to be delivered first. Breech positions during labor typically require a Caesarian section if the baby does not change position within the womb.
Position – A more detailed way of looking at presentation, this typically indicates what type of breech or vertex presentation is occurring or what lie the baby currently maintains.

An understanding of these terms can help parents understand the processes and concerns of health care professionals during labor and delivery. This can help them to make better decisions regarding the health of both mother and child.

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