Preparation for labor and delivery:
You and your mare have made it through 11 long months of waiting for the birth of her foal! Foaling can be anxiety inducing, mostly for the humans involved, but rest assured that most mares have uncomplicated deliveries. Being prepared in case of an issue though will make the moment more enjoyable and keep anxiety under control so you can assure your mare and foal get off to the best start. Actively monitoring your mare for signs of impending delivery when she is getting close to her foaling date will help you know when the time is near. Signs of foaling include filling of the udder a couple weeks prior to foaling, then distension and waxing of the teats a few days prior to foaling. Prepare the foaling area by disinfecting it and providing ample bedding. Wash your mare’s udder, vulva and hindquarters with a mild soap and rinse thoroughly. Wrap her tail with a clean wrap when you observe the first signs of labor. Be cautious when wrapping the tail to make sure it is not too tight, so it does not cut off circulation and remove the wrap as soon as possible after foaling. Also, time each stage of labor, taking written notes if possible, so you can see how your mare is progressing. Sometimes if we are stressed or anxious our perception of time can be altered so having written notes will help.
The stages of labor:
There are three stages of labor in a mare:
Stage 1 begins when contractions start and generally lasts 1-2 hours. Mares may stand up, lie down and roll to help position the foal for birth. The contractions move the foal through the cervix and into the birth canal. Fetal membranes (allantois) may be seen at the vulva. When the sac breaks signaled by a rush of fluid stage 1 ends and stage 2 begins.
Stage 2 is the active delivery of the foal and usually progresses quickly. If this stage takes longer than 30 minutes there may be a problem, if there is no significant progress 10-15 minutes after the membranes rupture call us immediately! If progression seems to be happening normally then wait and watch. The foal should present in a diving position with the front feet coming out first, one slightly in front of the other and hooves down, then nose, head, neck, shoulders, abdomen and hindquarters. If the foal’s hooves are soles up or you suspect any abnormal presentation you should call us immediately. The most dangerous and deadly foaling complication is the premature rupture of the chorioallantois also known as a “red bag delivery”. If at any time during stage 2 you see red/maroon membranes covering the foal as it emerges from the vagina the placenta must be rapidly torn open as the foal has been cut off from its oxygen and blood supply. Normal membranes covering the foal are white/yellow and translucent. Once the foal is out stage 2 is over and stage 3 begins.
Stage 3 begins after the delivery, and this is when the afterbirth (placenta) is expelled. Most placentas are expelled 1-3 hours after delivery. If the placenta has not been expelled completely in 3 hours, call us immediately. Retained placentas can cause problems for the mare including massive infection and laminitis. It is important to inspect the placenta to make sure it is whole. A piece that is torn off and still inside the mare can cause major problems.
Now you have a foal, here is what you need to know about your newborn bundle of fun!
Let the foal break the membranes on its own, unless it is a “red bag delivery”. Once the membranes are broken make sure the foal is breathing. Generally, it is not recommended to cut or break the umbilical cord. If it has not broken during delivery, it will usually break when the mare or foal gets up. The cord should break at a site approximately one inch from the foal’s abdomen, where the cord’s diameter is slightly narrower than the remainder of the cord. If it is necessary to manually separate the cord, it should be held firmly on either side of the intended break site, then twisted and pulled to separate (never cut the cord). Twisting and pulling of the cord stimulate closure of the umbilical vessels and reduce the likelihood of hemorrhage from the cord stump. If bleeding persists following cord separation, pressure can be applied to the stump for several minutes by squeezing with a thumb and finger. It is NOT advisable to suture or permanently clamp an umbilical stump. Foals will not typically lose enough blood to become anemic and there is significant danger of trapping pathogens in the umbilical stump when you suture it closed. Allow mare and foal time to bond and rest undisturbed. They are both undoubtedly tired from the experience. Treat the foal’s umbilical cord with a dilute (1:4) chlorhexidine solution. This is preferred over iodine as iodine can burn the skin. Monitor the mare and foal closely over the next 24 hours for signs of post-foaling complications.
Your foal should try and stand within 30 minutes of birth and should nurse from the mare within the first 2 hours. If it has been 3 hours and your foal has not nursed, call us. Colostrum is vitally important for the foal to get much needed antibodies for passive immunity until the foals own immune system kicks in. A foal must take colostrum within 8-12 hours post foaling for it to be absorbed. We strongly recommend IgG testing of foals and a newborn exam within the first 24 hours to make sure your foal is healthy and off to a good start in life.
You also need to make sure your foal passes the meconium, or first poop, within 12 hours after birth. If this does not happen, then an enema may be needed. Colts will usually urinate within about 6 hours of birth and fillies about 11 hours after birth.
Here is a link to a wonderful article with even more information about foaling:
Please remember if you have ANY questions or concerns regarding your mare or foal, please call us 951-444-1838 (office) or 951-444-8385 (Emergency line).