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.

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