By: Nicole Salo
Part 2 of 3
- In the second part of this series on Development of a Healthy Foal, we’ll have a look at all three stages of labour, this is the most exciting and stressful part of waiting for your new foal to safely arrive!
First Stage of Labour
- Restlessness; lying down and getting up often
- Pacing the stall
- Pawing at her bedding
- Looking and/or nipping at her flanks
- Milk may drip from a full udder
- Tail can be bagged at this time and removal of Caslick if needed
The mare may show several “false starts” as she gets closer to her due date, annoyance, pacing, lying down and getting back up. They will be due to the fact that she is helping to align the fetus into its foaling position. These “false starts” will not last as long as the real thing. As foaling approaches, the mare may begin to drip milk, if she is dripping large amounts of milk some can be milked off into a clean container to help save the vital colostrum (first milk containing antibodies and nutrients) for the foal. Once the first stage of labour is in full progress, the mare will become more agitated with increasing contractions working towards a breaking of the allantoic sac releasing the fluid within it. The “breaking of the water” is contributed by the breaking of the chorioallantois at the cervical star – the start of the second stage of labour! While there is no real time frame for the first stage of labour, your veterinarian should be contacted if the mare is sweating profusely, showing extreme discomfort or if you feel she is becoming exhausted.
Second Stage of Labour
- Breaking of the waters/allantoic fluid
- Mare lies down in an effect position for straining
- Episiotomy preformed if needed (cutting of the vulva to allow better passage of the foal)
- Brief internal exam may be done (within first 5min of start of second stage of labour) to ensure the foal is in proper position for birth
- Amniotic sac should be seen bulging from the vagina
- Foaling between 5-30min
- Umbilical cord should be allowed to break naturally
- Mare should be allowed a rest period immediately after foaling
- Umbilical cord allowed to break naturally, and treated with an antiseptic should as .5% Chlorhexidine
During the first few minutes of this stage of labour, the mare can have a brief internal to ensure that the foal is presenting properly, if it is not, contact a veterinarian promptly. If the foal is in proper position (forelegs, one slightly proceeding the other, and a muzzle can be felt) it is best to leave the mare to foal out on her own, watching from a safe distance just incase she may need help. Stepping in to check when the amniotic sac ruptures that it is not discoloured a sign that the foal is stressed and needs immediate help. The start of the second stage of labour should be noted, as this is a critical part of birth. This stage of labour should last between 5-30min, normally lasting only 15min, if this time runs over or if the foal is presenting wrong, call the veterinarian immediately!
After delivery, the foal’s back legs should be left in the mare, as this seems to trigger a relaxing effect on the mare. This allows the mare sometime for a little breather, and reduces the risk of “wind sucking” through the vulva immediately after birth. The mare may stay resting for up to 30min during this time. She may reach to sniff or lick the foal, while allowing time for her reproductive tract to start to recover and vulva to retighten, reducing the chance of bacterial infection via “wind sucking” through the vulva. The umbilical cord should be allowed to break naturally by the foal when it starts to get restless, moving about, preparing to try to stand. If the umbilical cord is broken prematurely, this will lead to valuable blood lost to the foal. After the umbilical cord has been severed, it is recommended that the foals naval be treated with an antiseptic to reduce infection at the umbilical cord stump. You may aid the foal by helping to dry it off (keeping the foal between you and the mare, as not to upset her); at this time you can also check its heart rate by placing a couple fingers on the foal’s thorax. Below is a brief list of vitals for the just delivered foal:
- Heart rate: 40-80 bpm
- Foal should breathe within 30sec of final delivery
- Respiratory rate: 60-70 bpm
- Rhythmic breathing by 1min of final delivery
- Body temperature: 37.5–38.5C
- Umbilical cord broken within 5-9min (if not, assist)
- Foal should be up right, in a sternal recumbence position within 5min of birth
- Note if your foal is born normal, moderately depressed or depressed, contact your veterinarian for further instructions if your foal seems to be depressed or if any other worries arise.
Third Stage of Labour
- Expulsion of the placenta is the main focus of the 3rd stage of labour
The main focus of the 3rd stage of labour is the expulsion of the placenta. The mare may have expelled the placenta with the foal or right after, but this often not the case. The mare will begin to become restless again, similar to the 1st stage of labour; contractions aimed at removing the placenta and other retained birthing fluids. If the placenta has not been expelled prior to the mare standing, it is recommended that the placenta is tied up when the mare stands, to prevent standing on it and tearing it out. The result of a placenta being torn out of the mare may do damage to the mare’s reproductive tract or may leave part of the placenta behind in the mare, this can lead to serious infection. After the placenta has been expelled, you can examine it for any missing parts or other damage. If the placenta has not been expelled within 10hr or the placenta is showing signs of damage, call your veterinarian.
In the third part of this series on Development of a Healthy Foal, we’ll look at managing your new foal from the first few days of life right up to weaning your new little one as well as touching on looking after your mare throughout this time.
Nicole Salo is an equine entrepreneur with experience in various parts of the industry, including: training, breeding, management, social media and online content. Nicole currently holds an Equine Science Certificate and Diploma in Equine Studies through the University of Guelph while aspiring to finish her Certificate in Equine Business Management.