Pregnancy and Labor Related Terms Simplified 14

As if pregnancy and labor aren’t confusing enough, doctors, midwives and even other mothers seem to insist on using terminology many first-time mothers have no clue what means. Dilated? Softened? +1, 2 or 3? What does all this mean? This article will look at many pregnancy and labor related terms and explain their meaning in common language. Most of the terms you likely won’t know what mean during your pregnancy will begin to pop up in the third trimester as your body prepares for labor or may not be mentioned until during your labor.pregnancy and labor terms



Dilation is a term you may hear towards the end of your pregnancy. This term is in regards to your cervix. Your cervix is a tube like structure connecting your vaginal canal and your uterus where your baby is. Your baby will pass through your cervix during delivery. As labor approaches, your cervix begins to open preparing to allow your baby out. Dilation refers to how open your cervix has become. This term will be used in conjuncture with a number in cm. For instance, your doctor may say, “You are 2 cm dilated.” This means that your cervix is open 2 cm or about two fingers in width. As a ruler to hold this against when you are in the final stages of your labor and begin to push your cervix will be open or dilated to 10 cm.


Effacement is a sister term to dilation that is also in regards to your cervix. As your cervix opens, it will also thin and become shorter. Your doctor may say something like, “You are 1 cm dilated and 20 percent effaced.” This would mean your cervix is open one cm, or around one fingers width, and has thinned 20 percent of its original size. Before your baby is delivered your cervix will efface to 100 percent making it paper-thin.

Soft/Hard Cervix:

While these may be words you have heard before, they have a different meaning when your doctor says them. This is yet another term in reference to the condition of your cervix. While your cervix dilates and thins it also becomes softer because of these changes. Your doctor saying your cervix is firm or hard would simply mean it has not begun to change. If your doctor says your cervix is soft, it means it has begun to prepare for labor.


The term engagement or lightening of your baby means that he or she has dropped further into your pelvis in preparation for delivery. This usually occurs in the last few weeks of your pregnancy. You may notice you breathe easier or your belly changed shape.

labor terminology station


(+1, -2, 0, etc.): This term is usually used in conjuncture with the term engaged or lightening. Station refers to your baby’s position in your womb in reference to two bony spines on your pelvis, and can vary from a +3 to a -3. A -3, -2 or -1 station means that your baby has not yet dropped into your pelvis or engaged and is 3-1 cm above the bony spurs in your pelvis depending on the corresponding number. 0 Station means that the baby is level with the bone spurs and has dropped. +3, +2, or +1 mean the baby is 3-1 cm below the bony spurs in your pelvis. Positive stations indicate a move towards the cervix and usually mean labor is imminent.

So to combine this term with other terminology it regularly is used with, you may hear something like this in the final week of your pregnancy, “You are soft 2 cm dilated, 45 percent effaced and your baby is at -1”. This means your cervix is soft or ready for labor, open 2 cms, thinned 45 percent of its original size and your baby is 1 cm above the bones in your pelvis. All of this information is an attempt to estimate when labor will occur. While being very dilated, effaced, and soft with a zero station is a pretty good indication labor is near, it’s not a guarantee.


These terms refer to the way the baby is facing. This isn’t particularly important until during your labor. Posterior means that the baby is facing up with the back of its head against your spine or posterior region, rather than anterior or facing down with the back of the head against your tummy. In a normal labor, a baby faces down making it easier to pass through the birth canal. A baby that is facing posterior can be delivered but may increase the risk of c-section and will result in more back pain for you during delivery.

Breech Position:

Breech position is another term used to describe the position your baby is in. The ideal position for a baby to be in at the time of labor is called vertex position meaning the baby is head down in the uterus. Breech position or breech means that the baby’s feet or butt down rather than head down. When the feet are down and one or both feet will exit the cervix first this is called a footling breech. When the butt is down, but the feet and legs are folded up by the head this is called a frank breech, and finally if the butt and feet are down in almost a kneeling position this is called complete breech. A breech delivery of any kind does not necessarily mean a c-section will be needed, but it does increase the chance dramatically. Most health care providers will try to turn a baby that is in breech position when labor approaches.

Traverse Position:

Traverse position, which may just be called traverse, means that the baby is laying side ways or shoulder/arm down towards the cervix. Sadly, traverse positioned babies almost always result in c-section if they can’t be turned before labor begins.


Finally crowning, crowing, or crowned means your baby’s head is visible to your doctor outside of your vagina during delivery. This means the baby is almost out, and you’re almost done.

While there are certainly more terms you may hear during your pregnancy and labor these are the most common and the most misunderstood terminologies. Hopefully, this article has left you feeling more in the loop.

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14 thoughts on “Pregnancy and Labor Related Terms Simplified

  • Kaitlyn

    I went for my 37 week appointment and the doctor did a cervical check and asked the nurse, “what was she last time?” And she said “150, -2” And he said “okay she’s a 160, 0 now.” I understand that the -2, and the 0 are stations but what do the 150, And 160 mean?

    • Life with Gremlins admin

      I’ve never heard a number like that in regards to a cervix check/position check, and I can’t think of what it might refer to. 150-160 is something you might expect from a heartbeat. Honestly, maybe just ask. I’d be curious to know what they meant too.

  • Dollie Thurman

    Hello I have a question…my Dr told me 2 weeks ago when she checked me that I was between 1-2cm dilated my cervix was paper thin but still high up..what exactly does that mean??? Sorry for asking a dumb question since this ain’t my first rodeo so to speak it’s my 10 child but it’s been awhile so I’ve forgot alot lol

    • Life with Gremlins admin

      That means that your cervix is open about 1-2 fingers (10 is fully dilated) and has thinned out almost completely (the tube between your uterus and cervix has become shorter), but hasn’t moved down and forward. Basically, you’re showing signs your body is preparing for labor, but obviously not in active labor or anything. Unfortunately sometimes the cervix can efface (thin) and open well before labor actually starts.

  • Anonymous

    I went for my 30 week appointment and my ob was going over my ultrasound that I got at 28 weeks that I go for every 3 weeks to keep an eye on my cervix because I’ve had 2 premature births, and at this point I’m very confused what she meant when she said “your at a 9 which we want you to be above 3” any idea what she meant

    • unwirklich admin

      It’s hard to say, my first guess would have actually been she meant dilation, but a 9 is crazy dilated for 30 weeks and not in labor. I actually can’t think of anything else she’d be referring to though, the cervix is shorter than 9 cm, so she couldn’t have been describing length. The easiest route may just be to ask her. A good care provider welcomes questions and is always willing to explain your medical situation to you.

    • unwirklich admin

      Sac ruptures can be for a variety of reasons, but usually trauma (such as an unexpected fall), early labor contractions, weak cervix, infection, too much amniotic fluid or an unusually large baby/multiples. Beyond good prenatal care and a balance diet, there isn’t much you can do. If it’s something you worrying you, I’d speak with your prenatal care provider. They can better assess your personal risks and help decrease them. 🙂

  • melissa

    L&D just told me my cervix is very soft but baby is high and cervix is closed but she said it is a little open at the begining. Im 28 weeks pregnant should i be worried im soft so early?

    • unwirklich admin

      Have you had children before? I know in my subsequent pregnancies I had a soft, high, slightly open cervix pretty much my whole pregnancies. Position and texture can change throughout the day though, even in pregnancy.

    • unwirklich admin

      From your spelling of labour, I assume you are in the UK. Doctors may use a percentage there rather than cms. The cervix opens from 0 to 10 cm during labor, 20% would then be 2 cm, which is normal in the final weeks, He may have also meant 20% effaced, which means the cervix has thinned 20% of 100. Thinning and dilation of the cervix are not an accurate prediction of labor. Some women dilate weeks before delivery, others hours.

    • unwirklich admin

      It really depends how low. The issue with low placentas is at labor it can block the baby’s exit or detach early and put you and baby both at risk. Sometimes low lying placentas early on will move up so to speak as the baby grows and your uterus expands, other times they require c-section, your doctor should monitor it closely. The vast majority of cases are of the first variety and resolve on their own, but you may experience some bleeding here and there, and can be at an increased risk for preterm labor. Depending on position your doctor may also ask that you abstain from intercourse.

      That being said I’m glad to hear you are pregnant and at 21 weeks 🙂 I recognize your email from other comments. Wishing you well.