Gestation is the period of time from conception to birth. The average length of gestation is 340 days, with a range of 320 to 370 days. There are three stages of labor. The first stage lasts 2-4 hours and is characterized by uterine contractions that dilate the cervix (the opening of the uterus) and shifting of the foal from a resting position into the position for delivery. The mare is noticeably more active and restless, turning and nipping at her abdomen, as if she has colic. The end of the first stage is marked by the appearance of the amnion, or membrane, protruding from the vulva. The membrane ruptures, releasing fluid; this event is known as "breaking the water" and marks the beginning of the 2nd stage of labor. The 2nd stage of labor short, usually lasting from 10-20 minutes. After the water breaks, most mares lie down on their side with their legs extended; although some mares will get up and down frequently and some will stand to deliver. The normal position of the foal in the birth canal is called anterior longitudinal presentation. In this position the foal is aligned lengthwise with his spine parallel to the mother's spine, head tucked between extended forelegs, and pads of the feet pointing down. As the chest enters the birth canal, one leg is placed slightlt in front of the other so that the shoulders may pass through one at a time. The amnion, or membrane, usually ruptures as the foal passes through the pelvic opening; however, if the foal is born with the membrane covering its nostrils, it must be removed or the foal may suffocate.The 2nd stage of labor ends with the delivery of the foal. After delivery, the foal rests for 10-15 minutes, still attached to the mare by the umbilical cord. Normally the cord will be broken naturally by the mare, but if it does not separate by 30 minutes, it should be torn by hand. The foal's navel stump is then dipped in 2% tincture of iodine to prevent infection. The 3rd stage of foaling is when the placenta is expelled, usually 30 minutes to 3 hours after foaling.
The first few hours are critical in the development of a strong bond between mom and baby. The mare will usually lie quietly, often licking her baby and nickering to it without rising. As she begins to get up, it is important to make sure she does not stand on her foal. Soon after the delivery, the foal will roll up on its chest and attempt to stand. It takes about an hour for the baby to have enough strength and coordination to do so. If a foal is not standing by 2 hours of age, the vet should be notified. As soon as a foal is able to stand, it will begin looking for an udder. Learning to nurse is often a trial and error process, but given enough time and encouragement from its mother, a foal should be nursing well within 3 hours of standing. If the foal is not nursing by then, a vet should be notified. The baby must receive the first milk, as it contains important maternal antibodies which protect the baby from infection
Here you can see that the amnion, or membrane is still intact, and that only the hindlegs need to be delivered!
Mom and baby bonding! You can see
the umbilical cord is still attached.
Mom has licked her foal clean!
Being born is hard work; foals need to eat soon after delivery
This baby will be nursing very soon. He already has a pretty good idea where mom's udder is!
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