Laminaria: Using seaweed to induce labour

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Mums-to-be in Japan and other parts of the world are turning to laminaria dilators - or seaweed sticks - to help ripen their cervix to speed up the process of labour. Find out more about this unique medical technique and what other ways it can be used.

 

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Laminaria is a special type of seaweed which is native to Japan, otherwise known as “ne-kombu”.

When someone mentions Japan, one of the first things that comes to your mind is probably sushi — those delicious little balls of rice, with different savoury toppings, wrapped in seaweed.

But did you know that in Japan, there is a type of seaweed called “laminaria“, which is sometimes used in pregnant women to “ripen”, or expand the cervix so as to ease labour and delivery?

This special kind of kelp (or large seaweed) is not meant to be consumed, but actually made into sticks to be shoved — you guessed it — right into your vagina.

Ripening the cervix

The cervix is what connects the vagina to the uterus and is made of cartilage which is covered by smooth, moist tissue.

During menstruation, the cervix will open slightly for menstrual flow, and during childbirth, the cervix will dilate wide enough for your baby to pass through.

For pregnant mums, your cervix serves two major functions:

1) It remains firm during pregnancy as your uterus grows larger, so that your developing baby can remain inside the uterus until the right time for delivery.

2) Closer to the delivery date, your cervix will soften, thin out, and open up — a process also known as “cervical ripening” — in preparation for labour.

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Laminaria can be used to “ripen” the cervix.

Laminaria dilators

These special seaweed sticks are inserted into your cervix to absorb moisture, which makes them get thicker and expand, thus opening up the cervix.

According to the Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide, laminaria dilators are softer and less likely to injure the uterus, as compared to the original method of dilating the cervix by using metal rods.

These seaweed sticks will absorb any water or moisture and expand up to two or three times their usual size — or to a diameter of 1/2 an inch in four to six hours — which will gently help to open up the cervix and therefore speed up the process of labour.

Go to the next page to read about a mum-to-be who is opting for laminaria dilators.

A mum-to-be chooses laminaria

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Laminaria is a certain kind of kelp, which is large seaweed.

We spoke to Mayumi Bonilla, a first-time mother-to-be from Japan who explains that over there it is uncommon for pregnant mums to have an epidural or a planned birth, so only a few hospitals and clinics offer laminaria dilators.

“The typical procedure in Japan is a natural birth without an epidural and if you want one them, you’ll have to go to places that offer it. But in my case the doctor was the one who offered the laminaria”, she says.

When asked about the inevitable pain, she agrees that it all depends on how soft your cervix is and your personal tolerance for pain.

Mayumi also shares, “I’ll be walking a lot and see what I can do to open my cervix naturally! I’ve told myself that the pain is only for a day or two, but once you see your bubs, everything is all better.”

 

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Laminaria forms a thick, sticky gel upon contact with water.

Other uses for laminaria

Laminaria is a sea vegetable, or commonly known as kelp, which has a few other uses such as:

Promote weight loss

Laminaria has a high iodine content which will increase your metabolism and it also contains large amounts of soluble and insoluble fibers that have laxative effects in the intestines, which all helps to promote weight loss.

Treat iodine deficiency

Iodine deficiencies can lead to low thyroid function, or hypothyroidism, a condition where your thyroid gland does not produce sufficient thyroid hormone, which affects the body’s ability to perform normal metabolic functions.

Rejuvenate skin

It is believed to be able to help increase skin elasticity and firmness and improve tired-looking or dull skin as it is an effective anti-oxidant to help repair damage caused by free radicals.

Fertiliser for crop

Traditionally used as fertiliser for plants and crop, laminaria is still used as organic fertiliser to this very day.

Seaweed stick or sayonara?

It is good to know that besides opting for drugs to help induce labour, mums also have a more natural choice of using laminaria dilators prior to childbirth.

But we must admit that from now on, we will never look at sushi quite the same way ever again!

Have you ever heard of this interesting method of expanding the cervix? Would you be willing to try the laminaria dilator? Share your views in the comments section below!