Laminaria is a type of seaweed kelp. It may have antioxidant and antibacterial properties. It can also be used as a laxative.
A laminaria stick is a dried bundle of laminaria that’s been compressed into a stick. When inserted into the vagina, a laminaria stick absorbs the moisture and expands. This gently opens (dilates) the cervix.
Laminaria can also be taken as an oral supplement.
Read on to learn more about the use of laminaria, and what to expect when using a laminaria stick for cervical dilation.
When taken as a supplement, laminaria may be used to:
- promote scalp and hair health (one study found evidence that laminaria may promote hair growth, and reduce dandruff and scalp inflammation)
- reduce oxidative stress and improve liver function
- prevent obesity and diabetes, though more research is needed
- treat listeria infection or other foodborne bacterial infections
- improve digestive health by acting as a bulk-forming laxative
Oral laminaria supplements should not be used to induce labor or terminate a pregnancy. For these uses, your doctor may recommend laminaria sticks. When properly placed in the vagina by your doctor, laminaria sticks can help dilate the cervix, which can help to induce labor. Laminaria sticks can also help reduce your risk for complications when used for abortion.
Induction of labor
Induction of labor is most successful when the cervix is ripe and ready for birth. This means it should be soft, thin, and beginning to open. Laminaria sticks can be used to help the cervix prepare for birth, and they’re usually the first step in a medical induction.
Sometimes the insertion of the laminaria stick and the following dilation of the cervix is enough for your body to go into labor spontaneously. For this reason, your healthcare provider will usually wait 24 hours following the insertion of a laminaria stick to see if labor begins on its own. If labor doesn’t begin on its own in that timeframe, you’ll need further medical intervention for labor to start.
One of the most common reasons for induction is if the pregnancy has progressed to 42 weeks. Research suggests that the risk of stillbirth slightly increases after this time.
Your doctor will explain the benefits and risks of induction before beginning the process.
If you’re having an abortion early in your pregnancy, your doctor is unlikely to use laminaria. That’s because an early abortion can usually be done safely without dilating the cervix. If you’re 10 or more weeks pregnant, your doctor may recommend laminaria to reduce your risks during the procedure.
When using a laminaria stick, your doctor will usually insert it vaginally the day before the procedure. You should be able to go home with the laminaria stick still in place. When you return the following day, you will receive a general anesthetic. Your doctor will then remove the laminaria stick, and use gynecological instruments and suction to empty your uterus and extract the fetus.
Laminaria sticks do not result in the termination of a fetus. They’re only used to help prepare your body for the abortion procedure. However, due to the dilation of your cervix, they may increase your risk for miscarriage or other complications if you chose to not go through with the procedure.
The method for inserting a laminaria stick is the same whether you’re inducing labor or having an abortion. You’ll be awake for the procedure, but can have somebody accompany you if you wish. The doctor will place a speculum inside your vagina to help them see the area. Then, your doctor will clean the cervix with gauze soaked in soap. They will apply a local anesthetic to the cervix before inserting the laminaria stick. Once the laminaria stick is inserted, they will pack your vaginal cavity with gauze to help keep the laminaria in place.
The actual procedure only takes 5 to 10 minutes. However, your doctor will want to talk to you about the procedure beforehand, and they may perform an examination or an ultrasound. You will also receive some medications, usually muscle relaxants and pain relief, before the procedure.
Do’s and don’ts
Avoid sexual intercourse, douching, or soaking in a tub or swimming pool while the laminaria is in place. You may shower, but limit exposure of your vagina to water.
Ask your doctor if you’ll need to avoid eating. If you’re having a surgical abortion, they may recommend avoiding food after midnight. If you’re using laminaria to induce labor, you’ll likely be able to continue eating as you regularly would.
The use of laminaria sticks for induction of labor and abortion is not considered high risk. Even if the risks are very low, infection and perforation are possible. The risk of infection increases after 24 hours, which is why the laminaria stick will be removed after this time. If a perforation occurs, it’s usually immediately apparent and the cervix will need to be repaired surgically.
You may experience mild to moderate cramping as your cervix expands. Your doctor may recommend muscle relaxers, or over-the-counter or prescription pain relievers to help manage discomfort. If you’re using laminaria to induce labor, ask your doctor about medications that are safe for managing pain during pregnancy.
It’s possible to have an allergic reaction to laminaria, which could lead to anaphylactic shock. Let your doctor know if you’ve had an allergic reaction to laminaria in the past.
Will there be any effect on the birth or baby?
Laminaria sticks are safe for your unborn baby, though induction does come with some risks. For example, induction may increase your risk for cesarean delivery. There is no evidence that use of laminaria sticks reduces or increases this risk when compared to other methods for induction.
Induction will only be suggested by your doctors if they feel the risk of leaving your baby in utero outweighs the risks of induction.
Will using a laminaria stick affect future pregnancies?
Laminaria sticks should not affect future pregnancies, however, abortion or pregnancy complications can affect future pregnancies. Talk to your doctor about your concerns. They can explain possible complications associated with your specific procedure.
Laminaria sticks are used to help soften and dilate the cervix, either prior to a surgical abortion or as the first step in the induction of labor. You should not use laminaria oral supplements for this purpose.
The use of a laminaria stick is low risk, but induction of labor does pose some risks that need to be considered before deciding if it’s right for you. Talk to your doctors about your individual circumstances.