Pregnancy can be a beautiful experience for many women.
Being pregnant is also a busy time, and it involves going to loads of doctor’s appointments.
During these doctor’s appointments, you might wonder what the difference is between all the medical terminology your OBGYN is using.
Medical experts have different terminologies for women who are pregnant, have been pregnant or had children before, or even women who have never been pregnant!
For women in their first pregnancy, the proper medical term would be “primigravida,” meaning they are currently in their first pregnancy.
For women who have never been pregnant, the term would be “nulligravida,” and “nulliparous” is the term to describe a woman who has never given birth.
Although these all might seem like the same words at first glance, it’s important to understand that there are subtle differences between these terminologies.
Knowing the difference can help you understand your doctor better and help you understand what, if any, medical or health conditions you might be prone to.
Women who have been pregnant, given birth, and never been pregnant or given birth have different risks for various illnesses.
These include things like breast cancer and ovarian cancer.
Doctors, especially those in obstetrics, use these terms to describe women in pregnancy:
- Para– which means having already given birth to children after 20 weeks of gestation. This comes from the Latin word “pario,” which means “to bear” (i.e., give birth).
- Gravida– which means “pregnant,” and also comes from the Latin word “gravidus,” which means “heavy” or “pregnant.”
It’s important to remember that not all women who give birth will have had healthy or even living babies.
Unfortunately, giving birth after 20 weeks to a stillborn child is very possible.
In fact, 1 in 160 pregnancies in the United States results in a stillborn after 20 weeks of gestation.
In addition, although many parents will eventually conceive and have children after the birth of a stillborn, having a stillborn does increase the chances of having another stillborn.
Many women might also have been pregnant but have never given birth due to having a miscarriage or induced abortion.
For doctors, knowing the difference between all of these situations is crucial.
A doctor will want to know if someone is at risk of having another stillborn, if they want to continue with the pregnancy, or if they’re at risk of having a miscarriage.
Using the proper medical terminology to describe a women’s health and pregnancy status is critical in situations like these.
To help you tell the difference between “para” and “gravida,” think of finding out you’re pregnant. You might be shocked and think this is a grave situation!
Of course, you might decide to stick with the pregnancy or make other decisions (such as adoption). In any case, this can help you remember that “gravida” means pregnant.
On the other hand, when you part ways with something, you’re leaving it. In this case, para means parting ways with your baby, as in giving birth.
These simple tricks will help you understand the difference between both terminologies.
The terms “para” and “gravida” are placed behind other terms, including:
Nulli– which means none. Think of the phrase “null and void,” and you’ll be able to better remember what “nulli” means.
Put it together and you get nulligravida (which means never been pregnant) and nullipara or nulliparous (which means never having given birth).
Primi– which means one. Think of the phrase “prime of my life,” since when something is prime it’s the best or number one!
As such, “primi” means one, so you get primigravida (first pregnancy) or primipara or primiparous.
In order to determine what category you fall under, simply remember the definitions for these terms and try to take them as literally as possible.
For instance, someone who is nulligravida means someone who has never been pregnant.
Someone who is nulliparous has never given birth to a live child.
Although a woman might have given birth to a stillborn, they would still be considered nulliparous if they have never given birth to a live baby, meaning a live infant over 28 weeks of gestation.
Remember, there are 40 weeks in a gestational period, meaning a baby born at 28 weeks is born roughly 3 months early.
Fortunately, with today’s medicine, a baby born at 28 weeks has an 80 to 90 percent survival rate.
Similarly, someone is also nulliparous if they have:
- Had an elective abortion
- Had a missed abortion (also known as a miscarriage)
- Had a blighted ovum (a type of pregnancy where no embryo develops)
Once you have given birth to one live baby, you are known as being primiparous.
Even if you chose to take advantage of the adoption system, it’s important to let your doctors know that you are primiparous and have given birth to one child before.
If you’ve had one pregnancy or are in your first pregnancy, the correct term would be a woman that is primigravida.
If it’s your first pregnancy and you’re visiting your obstetrician for the first time, you will hear this phrase or see it quite often in your medical paperwork.
Multigravida is just what it sounds like, having been pregnant multiple times. It doesn’t necessarily mean you will have given birth all those times.
You could have been pregnant and gone through a miscarriage or stillbirth or elective abortion. Every pregnancy, however, still counts toward this status.
Similarly, if you’ve had multiple children, then you would fall under the category of multiple births. This is even true if you’ve had twins or triplets!
Although you might have only been pregnant once and gone to the hospital once to give birth, the fact that you had more than two live births would qualify you as being under the “multipara” category.
Now that you know which category you fall under, it’s important to know what doctors mean when you go into the hospital.
Medical staff will abbreviate the terms “para” and “gravida” into “P” and “G” respectively.
For instance, let’s say you’ve had 2 children and are now on your third pregnancy. Your medical team will say you are P2G3.
If you’re on your first pregnancy, you’d simply be known as G1. Alternatively, if you’ve had multiple pregnancies but no births, you’d still fall under G2, G3, and so on.
Medical specialists also go further in describing women and their overall reproductive history.
They add on more letters, including T, P, A, and L to describe the “para” or births of a woman.
- T means term deliveries at 37 weeks or later
- P means premature deliveries between 20 and 36 weeks
- A means spontaneous or induced abortions (including miscarriages)
- L means the number of living children someone has, whether with them or not
In addition to being able to more accurately read your medical records, knowing which category you fall under – whether nulliparous, primiparous, primigravida, or any other category – can allow you to understand certain health implications you might have.
For example, someone who is nulliparous (never given birth) might be at higher risk than someone who is primiparous or multiparous for:
- Developing breast cancer
- Developing ovarian cancer
- Developing uterine cancer
- Developing preeclampsia, which means high blood pressure during pregnancy
- Having a higher delivery time of 20 hours or more
Your doctor and medical team will want to know your status if this is your first pregnancy where you are carrying your child to term.
It’s also good for you to have this medical information in mind to help you prepare for your health.
As a nulliparous woman, you’ll want to make sure to schedule mammograms and visit your doctor with any concerns regarding your reproductive health.
Although the same goes for all women, it’s even more important if you’ve never had a child before.
In addition, nulliparous women are also at higher risks than multiparous women and primiparous women at having birth complications, such as pre-term births (under 27 weeks) or low birth weights.
Having this information will help you and your doctor make the right decisions when it comes to having your first baby.
Multiparous women aren’t in the clear either.
Evidence shows that multiparous women, also known as women who have had “multiparity,” are at higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease and atherosclerosis.
This is especially true if they’ve had more than five live births.
Having your first baby and preparing to be a mother can be incredibly exciting.
However, it can be a nerve-wracking experience, especially if you’re a primigravida and are just going through your first pregnancy.
It’s important you use all the information available to you to help you make informed decisions for you and your baby and to share important information with your doctor.
By knowing these terms above, you’ll have a better understanding of your own health risks, as well as be able to brush up on new research that is constantly developing about women’s health.