Birth Boot Camp® Natural Childbirth Education Classes – Online and Instructor-

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Exercise

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Foam Rolling For Pregnancy

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Today we are pleased to share a guest post from our resident fitness and nutrition expert, Katie Dudley. Katie has created a program for our online and in-person childbirth education classes that is second to none. In fact, there is nothing that even comes close in depth and uncompromising quality when it comes to pregnancy health and nutrition. One element that she felt was imperative to our program was the practice of foam rolling or myofascial release. Here she explains how this practice, when properly done, can be helpful and effective. In your childbirth class you will receive much more in-depth instruction each week. Enjoy and have an amazing pregnancy!

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Throughout the course of pregnancy, a woman’s body goes through a vast amount of physical changes to accommodate for baby’s growth. As the body progresses during pregnancy the added weight and pressure of the physical changes may exacerbate preexisting muscle imbalances or create new ones. This growth places an abnormal amount of weight on a woman’s frame often causing a rotation of the pelvis and slight curvature in a women’s lower back (lordosis). Lordosis, a malpositioned pelvis, knee pain, hip pain, leg cramps, and back pain can all be caused by muscle tension and imbalances creating discomfort in mom-to-be.

The tension and imbalances are often a result of sitting for long periods, poor nutrition, stress, altered movement patterns, dehydration, and bad posture. Most of these symptoms are preventable and for a more comfortable pregnancy and better birthing process, we should be proactive in addressing them. Along with balanced daily nutrition, consistent pregnancy exercise and flexibility work, one of my favorite methods for alleviating pain and discomfort during pregnancy is through self myofascial release.

Self myofascial release or “foam rolling” is a convenient and inexpensive form of self massage. It is administered by using body weight and a high density foam roller to address knots and adhesions in our muscle tissues. From chronic positions like sitting or altered movement patterns (created by our daily physical habits), our tissues can become matted down and unable to contract and be activated properly. For example, when people sit at a computer or in the car all day, certain muscles, such as the glutes, become mashed down making it difficult for them to be activated correctly, thus placing more work on the lower back and hips. When this happens it alters our biomechanics, putting emphasis on the wrong muscles and joints to move our bodies. This is even more noticeable during pregnancy. By placing pressure on these trigger points and the surrounding tissues using a foam roller, we can help release the tension. This allows for greater blood flow and better muscle activation which relieves discomfort.

Many of us do not have the time or resources to visit the chiropractor or massage therapist as much as we would like. Regular foam rolling can help achieve similar results in between visits. The foam roller is a great maintenance tool. Often times we try to stretch the pain and tension away, but without relaxing the trigger points, it is difficult to increase muscle extension of shortened, tight muscles. By applying the myofascial release technique, you will create better range of motion and strength through the proper length/tension relationship between joints. There will be less tug of war on your frame.

By reducing overall tension in your body through foam rolling and balanced nutrition, you may find benefits in many different areas:

-Greater strength and muscle activation

-Less fatigue and better energy

-Decreased aches and pains (lower back pain, sciatica)

-Relief from physical demands of pregnancy and new baby

-Increased blood flow

-Better sleep

Not only is foam rolling beneficial for mom, it’s great for dad too. Myofascial release is safe for most individuals. Those that should avoid foam rolling are individuals with neuropathy, sensitive skin conditions, and severe swelling. When rolling, you want to avoid joints, spine, neck, lower back, abdomen, chest, and varicose veins. Pregnant women should also avoid their inner thigh, belly, and inside of their calf muscle. Mom may need to modify foam rolling as she progresses in her pregnancy. She should only roll to her level of comfort and adjust where needed. Moms with diastasis recti may want to avoid any prone positions during foam rolling.

Foam rolling is a great addition before or after exercise and is complimented by stretching afterward. Fit it in when you can, on the living room floor watching TV or at night before bed. The more consistently it is administered, the better your results will be.

How to foam roll:

Using a high density foam roller, roll muscle groups like calves, peroneals, hamstrings, quads, glutes, hip flexors, lats, and upper back. Roll slowly, taking your time making sure to release tension. Allow the muscle to relax. Rolling should be tender, but not unbearable. Spend a few minutes on each area. You may use a lacrosse ball or tennis ball for smaller areas like your upper back.

1) Sit on foam roller or floor

2) Position foam roller on targeted muscle group

3) Support your body in a comfortable position with neutral spine

4) Slowly roll until you find a tender place, keeping body relaxed

5) Making sure to breathe, allow tension to release in surrounding tissues, about 30 seconds to 1 minute

6) Move on to other areas of the targeted muscle

As with any new exercise, consult your care provider first.

You can have an amazing birth- and pregnancy! Thoughtful and conscientious nutrition and exercise can help you along this path.

 


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Katie Dudley, HHC, CPT, CES, PES is passionate about natural health and wellness. She enjoys educating and empowering others to take control of their own health.  She believes women can have an amazing pregnancy and birth. Katie earned a Bachelor’s of Science in Psychology from the University of Georgia with a focus in Child and Family Development and Educational Psychology. Following her love of fitness and nutrition, a trainer since 2005, she is a Certified Corrective Exercise and Performance Enhancement Specialist and a Board Certified Holistic Health Coach. Katie currently has a private Holistic Health Coaching Practice, Cornerstone Integrative Fitness and Wellness, where she works with women and families all over the country. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her family.

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Exercises For A Great Birth Pregnancy (& Birth!)

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We are honored to share a guest post today from one of our newest board members, Katie Dudley.  Katie first became interested in natural birth as she prepared for the birth of her own child and attended our founder, Donna Ryan’s, birth class.  Our newest student manuals include her contributions in both exercise and nutrition.  They are nothing short of incredible and we are so proud and excited to have her on our team.  Today she shares three exercises (there are many, many more in the complete Birth Boot Camp class series!) to get you started in preparing for a great pregnancy and birth.  

One reason we chose Katie as the developer for our pregnancy fitness program is her trust in the female body and its inherent power. We too believe that women are capable of birth and that they are strong! There are many in the fitness industry who believe that pregnancy and birth are very harmful and damaging to women’s bodies and they need to be “put back together” afterwards. With proper exercises before, during and after pregnancy, in addition to phenomenal pregnancy nutrition, we don’t believe this to typically be true. 

As with any fitness program, seek approval from your physician before beginning, especially during pregnancy. These exercises are widely accepted as safe for pregnant women in general, but (as with everything relating to birth) there are exceptions. Be aware of your body and listen to it. Consult with your care provider if you have any questions.

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I always thought it was humorous when people would come up to me during the last couple of months of my pregnancy and say “Aren’t you ready for that baby to come out?” It was my first child! Of course I’m ready. They would then they would follow it up with “I’m sure you are so ready, you must be miserable!”

Being in the health and wellness industry, I find this sentiment is pervasive. In fact, my husband recently had a conversation with a pregnant couple urging us to get pregnant too so “we could be miserable together.”

As a personal trainer and fitness junkie, I don’t just love exercise and nutrition; I also believe that just as our bodies are strong and capable of fitness, women’s bodies are also strong and capable of an enjoyable pregnancy and birth.

Are there “uncomfortable” aspects to pregnancy at times? Yes. The possible months of nausea are not great, the swelling is pretty interesting, we all know about the weight gain aspects, the going to the bathroom throughout the night, being physically out of sorts and many other common pregnancy “symptoms”. Pregnancy is a multifaceted experience both wonderful and filled with unique challenges for each of us. A woman’s body goes through a lot of changes, but does it really have to be as physically uncomfortable as many women experience, let alone miserable? I say for many women, “No”.

I believe we can be proactive in combating many of these discomforts through proper exercise. That was my personal experience, but also, and perhaps more importantly, the experience of countless pregnant women I have worked with over the years. While I did experience months of nausea (not fun), other than that I felt great. I didn’t experience the aches and pains that other women talk about in their backs, hips and joints that I had anticipated before becoming pregnant. Pregnancy can be a joy! I felt good and I felt strong. I had a physical confidence with the extra 45 pounds I was carrying on my body and I really attribute that to being physically active before and during my pregnancy and eating nutrient dense foods.

I was on my feet 8-10 hours a day with clients and I focused most of my exercise on my postural health. Making sure my spine and my hips were supported by a strong core can be life changing.Many women complain of lower back pain during pregnancy. There are things we can do about this!

Most of that pain is caused by lordosis (rotated pelvis). Many other women also have SI Joint dysfunction, leg cramps, numbness and aching in the hips and legs. The majority of these ailments can be alleviated with appropriate physical activity, massage/myofascial release, chiropractic and stretching. By doing so, individuals create strength and balance in their alignment relieving a lot of unnecessary pressure on their frame. I’ve seen this myself through my own pregnancy and the many women I’ve had the opportunity to work with over the years as well as others my colleagues have trained.

It’s a new physical world that we live in. Many of us spend our days sitting behind a desk or at a computer. Others are in the car for work or with their families. These positions can weaken and put strain on our bodies. We just do not have the physical demands as those generations that came before us. Our days are generally not spent foraging food, washing clothes by hand, and carrying water on our shoulders. Most of us have to make a point to get physical activity to strengthen our bodies. And that’s ok! We can do it!

Don’t know where to begin? Here’s a great place to start. These are a few of my favorite specific strengthening exercises for preparing the body for a comfortable pregnancy and a great birth.

bridging

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One of my favorite core exercises for everyone is bridging. Bridging is utilized to strengthen the glutes, hips, pelvic floor, and core. It is especially beneficial for individuals who spend a significant amount of time sitting. This particular exercise helps to lengthen those muscles that are contracted during sitting and help strengthen the muscles that are relaxed in that position. Women and men that sit often have weak glute muscles and have a difficult time activating them which can affect the knees and lower back.

Bridging is also advantageous for those that have an anterior rotated pelvis, by strengthening the hips to stay in a more neutral position.

~Simple directions~

1. Lie on back or stability ball with knees and feet straight and in line.

2. Tuck pelvis to neutral position, keeping shoulders relaxed and spine straight.

3. Squeeze glutes and pelvis up off floor keeping core tight and knees straight. Pause.

4. Slowly lower down to starting position and repeat.

*Try 2-3 sets of 12-15 repetitions 3 times a week.

squatting

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Squatting is one of the most functional exercises people can do. Individuals use it almost every day whether bending down to grab something out of a cabinet or to sit on the floor. It not only supports movements in everyday life, but can also help women achieve an easier birth physically and support their bodies throughout the pregnancy. A squat strengthens the glutes, hips, core, feet, back, pelvic floor and the stabilizing muscles around knees. People with previous injuries are often afraid to squat, but when executed and practiced with proper form, squatting can actually help prevent an injury from recurring.

The squat pictured above is a deep birthing squat. Not all women will be able to perform this easily or with proper form the first time. Pay attention to your body and listen to it! Consult with your care provider if you have questions. More specific thoughts are also found in your student “Field Manual” and the videos in your class. The deep squat was once a natural and everyday movement for women, now we often need to “re-learn” it to prepare for birth. But be assured: squatting is an incredibly important position for pushing with the ability to shorten and speed the second stage of labor. You don’t want to learn it in the heat of birth.

Squatting isn’t a competition! Go to a comfortable depth for you. Keep your spine and pelvis neutral. Don’t push beyond what you are able.

~Simple directions~

1. Stand with feet shoulder width apart, toes following knees.

2. Keep core and glutes tight, sit back straight and lower as if sitting in a chair with a neutral spine

3. Pause at bottom, keeping feet flat on floor.

4. Sitting up tall, keeping glutes contracted, press through heels and return slowly to starting

*Try 2-3 sets of 15-20 repetitions.

quadruped

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A perfect asymmetrical exercise for pregnancy, the quadruped helps to strengthen our core through an unstable position. By executing exercises in this manner, it allows for better control over the body by strengthening the stabilizing muscles. To keep the body in a neutral position when practicing an asymmetrical exercise requires better muscle recruitment. Over time this provides more support for the spine and more control over the body. This is an especially beneficial exercise for those combating sciatica or Diastasis Recti. (If your Diastasis Recti is known and severe this may not be the best position for you. This will often feel wrong for these particular women. We encourage all women to pay attention to their bodies.)

In addition, “all-fours” positions are fabulous for birthing and women left to their intuition often birth in this position. Many care providers notice that hands and knees positions can help in properly positioning a baby when done during pregnancy and even during the birth. They can also make labor more comfortable, particularly back labor. Practicing things like the quadruped or pelvic rocking can help prepare you in many ways. Exercises like this help strengthen your body so that you can function better in pregnancy and during your birth.

~Simple directions~

1. Start on all fours with hands directly under shoulders and knees directly under hips.

2. Activate core and glutes.

3. Keeping back and hips level, raise arm and opposite leg straight out. Relax shoulder.

5. Take your time, move slowly keeping core tight (draw belly button to spine) and glutes

6. Return to starting position and alternate sides.

*Important to keep spine straight and not twist or shift hips.

Pregnancy and birth are miraculous and under-appreciated times in our life. Opinions are pervasively negative regarding the functioning of our bodies during pregnancy. But knowledge, effort, and some labor can help prepare our bodies, ease the burdens placed on them, and help us enjoy the amazing moments of pregnancy and birth a little bit more.

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Katie Dudley is responsible for the new and improved exercise and nutrition program in the Birth Boot Camp 10 week educational series.  This article is just a tiny taste of what she has created for our students. Her amazing program appears in our new online classes and our new work book for students (the “Field Guide) and includes myofascial release, stretching, exercises, postural support, nutritional awareness and charting and much more. You can find her at Cornerstone Integrative Fitness and Wellness in the Atlanta, GA area and weekly in your online classes!

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5 Fabulous (and Simple) Exercise Ideas for Pregnancy

We believe that an integral part of any comprehensive childbirth education includes appropriate pregnancy exercise. When you take a Birth Boot Camp class it will include an exercise program created just for you and this time in your life.  

But maybe you are wondering what you can do right now (before you start your birth class) for everyday fitness during your pregnancy.  This guest post from Jessica Socheski has five wonderful ideas that you can easily incorporate into your life.  

Read more

Should You Kegel?

 

Introduced in 1948 to strengthen the pelvic floor, Kegel exercises have recently experienced a surge of controversy. The discussion on how and when Kegels (an exercise designed to improve core strength and support the internal organs) are appropriate for women requires examining how the pelvic floor functions and what keeps it in shape.

This article discusses the function of the pelvic floor, how to properly incorporate Kegels into your lifestyle and alternatives if Kegels are inappropriate for you.

The function and purpose of the pelvic floor.

The pelvic floor consists of a group of muscles that sit between your pubic bone in front and your coccyx, tailbone, in the back.  Ideally, the pelvic floor acts like a trampoline – flexible to weight when needed, but strong enough to hold up what is placed on it.  The pelvic floor has four main functions:

  1. It acts as a sphincter, which means it closes the openings of the urethra and the vagina.
  2. It is supportive. In particular, it supports the pelvic organs (uterus, bladder, etc.).
  3. It has a sexual function.  An orgasm is a rhythmic contraction of the pelvic floor muscles.
  4. It is a stabilizer.  The muscles of the pelvic floor stabilize the pelvis during movement.  When functioning properly, the pelvic floor can help prevent or decrease pain in the low back, pelvic region, hip, and even the knees.  Think of the pelvis as the foundation of a house and your spine as the house.  If the foundation is weak, then the house won’t stand properly.  Your pelvic strength is important to your spinal health and thus the health of the entire body.

The pelvic floor muscles do not exist alone.  They work together with your transverse abdominals and multifidus (deep back) muscles to support your pelvis and spine.  Your glutes are also very important to the stability of your body- specifically your gluteus medius.

In addition to the everyday necessity of a strong pelvic floor for prevention of problems like urine leakage, a strong pelvic floor is specifically important during pregnancy and childbirth.  Most every pregnant woman has noticed increased pressure and, sometimes, trouble with leaking urine as the baby gets bigger and presses down more and more on the bladder.  A strong pelvic floor can help with this and is important to proper positioning of the baby at the time of birth.

The ideal position for a baby to be born is with the face towards the mother’s tailbone with the chin tucked to the chest.  This ensures that the smallest presenting part (that “cone head” sometimes noticeable in the hours after birth) is presenting.  A strong pelvic floor applies appropriate pressure to the top of the baby’s head, causing the chin to tuck and encouraging this birthing position for the baby.  A face or military presentation (where the face of the baby is the presenting part) is much bigger, can cause more pain, and can, in fact, be impossible to deliver vaginally.

A properly functioning pelvic floor will help prevent embarrassment, discomfort, and even difficult labors.

What are Kegels? 

Arnold Kegel was a gynecologist in the 1940s who worked with women suffering from “genital relaxation” or a weak pelvic floor.  He used an instrument that could measure the strength of the pelvic floor muscles to determine the severity of the condition.  Dr. Kegel saw women of all ages who struggled with various problems (incontinence, sexual dysfunction, etc.) due to a weak pelvic floor.  His intention was to find a way to help people who struggled with urinary incontinence without resorting to surgery.  (You can read Arnold Kegel’s published paper on the pelvic floor here.)  He sought to help women learn to identify and strengthen the pelvic floor through resistance exercise, ie, muscle contraction.  His findings indicated that in all but the most severe cases of pelvic floor damage, women could return to a normal, functional lifestyle through these exercises.  The strengthening of the pelvic floor muscles, pioneered by Dr. Arnold Kegel, are known today as Kegel exercises.

Researchers are still finding great benefits to women who are doing proper pelvic floor exercises.  Today, rather than using the instrument used by Dr Kegel, physical therapists and others specializing in female pelvic floor health use biofeedback machines to measure the strength of the pelvic floor and to help women learn how to properly contract and relax these muscles.

Proper Kegeling

While Kegel exercises for the pelvic floor are currently very accepted and widely done, it is apparent that just doing Kegels, without proper instruction, is simply not enough.  A Kegel exercise program should be done properly and should be individually geared for each woman and her needs.  The Kegel program taught in Birth Boot Camp classes is based on the work of Pamela Jones, PT.  This individualized program helps each woman assess her pelvic floor needs and adjust her exercise program.

It is important that women struggling with severe or specific problems or pelvic pain consult with their care provider or seek out a physical therapist specializing in women’s health.  The following are general tips for properly strengthening the pelvic floor.

A proper Kegel requires FULL relaxation and then FULL contraction and then back to FULL relaxation.  Remember, proper Kegels don’t just involve contractions.  Relaxation is a very important component to your pelvic floor health.  If a woman cannot achieve full pelvic floor relaxation then stretching and relaxation techniques should be used first.

To begin Kegeling, you must first recognize the muscle that you will be strengthening.  This is often done by stopping the flow of urine mid-stream.  The muscle that you tighten in order to do this will be the same one you strengthen doing Kegels.  (Don’t do this frequently, only to initially identify the correct muscle.)  Noting how easy this is for you and how quickly it can be done can give you some indication of your pelvic floor strength.  Another way to identify strength of the pelvic floor is by tightening your pelvic floor during intercourse and getting feedback from your partner.  Note how long you can hold this contraction and how many times you can repeat it.  As you begin a pelvic floor strengthening program, continually ask for feedback from your partner.

Once your pelvic floor strength has been determined, you can tailor your Kegel program to fit your needs.  A weaker pelvic floor will require just three to five repetitions five times per day in a position where gravity can assist you.  For example, with your hips propped up with pillows.  A woman with a stronger pelvic floor will be able to Kegel in an upright position, even while walking or running and will be capable of doing more contractions.

Remember to tighten and then FULLY relax the muscle.  A proper Kegel will develop both strength and awareness of the muscle.  We don’t just want a “tight” pelvic floor; we want a strong pelvic floor which we are able to fully relax.  Also, be aware of the surrounding muscles.  The point of a Kegel is not to tighten the gluts or bottom.  Those should stay relaxed.  Focus on muscles in the front.  It will feel like you are tightening the vaginal opening rather than the rectum.

No more Kegels?

It seems clear that the scientific literature and popular opinion recognize the importance of both the strength of the pelvic floor and the importance of Kegels in this strength.  Despite this, Kegels have fallen out of favor in some circles and this sentiment has made its way into the birthing world.

Often those who believe Kegels should not be done recommend squatting instead.  Any comprehensive birthing class will encourage and focus on squats.  They are a very important exercise for many reasons – flexibility, strength, and opening up the pelvic outlet.  They are also effective in strengthening the pelvic floor without the use of Kegels.  Our instructors encourage their students to appropriately squat AND Kegel as part of their comprehensive physical preparation for childbirth.  Many other exercises are also encouraged which help strengthen the body for birth.  Ideally, these two exercises (squats and Kegels) will both be employed by women for a fully functional, flexible, and strong pelvic floor.

Is there a time when Kegels are not appropriate?  Some women will find that their pelvic floor is excessively tight.  Tight is different than strong.  In fact, a woman can have a weak pelvic floor that is very tight.  This is usually accompanied by pelvic floor pain.  Women describe this pain as feeling like a headache in the pelvis.  For those women whose pelvic floor is very tight, doing excessive Kegels would not be appropriate and could make the problem worse.  Diagnosis and treatment from a physical therapist specializing in pelvic floor problems may be appropriate.  Your physical therapist would be able to prescribe an individualized program that could help.

In addition to exercise, we recommend that pregnant women seek chiropractic care from a Webster certified chiropractor.  Chiropractic care during pregnancy can also help with some of the pain associated with pregnancy and, like a strong pelvic floor, can help ensure proper positioning of the baby.  As mentioned earlier, the pelvic floor, spine and pelvis all work together for a functioning, healthy, and pain free body.  If the pelvis is badly misaligned causing torque on the pelvic floor muscles and thus excessive tightness and an inability to fully relax, it can not only cause pain but make it nearly impossible to properly Kegel and strengthen the pelvic floor muscles.  A chiropractic adjustment by a Webster certified chiropractor can remove the misalignment in the pelvic bones allowing full relaxation of the pelvic floor and relieving pain.  Once the bones are properly positioned and the muscles are allowed to fully relax, a complete Kegel exercise program may be implemented to strengthen the muscles that were once weak and hypertonic (tight), allowing it to be both supple and strong.

In conclusion

Without a doubt, a strong and healthy pelvic floor is important to every pregnant woman.  A comprehensive childbirth class should include various ways to strengthen the pelvic floor, including Kegels, squats, and other core strengthening exercises.  It is important for women to evaluate their own individual needs and adapt, as necessary.  Your childbirth educator will also go over many of the ways you can protect both the pelvic floor and the perineum (tissues between the rectum and the vagina) during birth.

Additional information and resources-

Dr Kegel’s Research:
http://journals.lww.com/greenjournal/Citation/1956/11000/Early_Genital_Relaxation__New_technic_of_diagnosis.4.aspx
 
Study finds Kegel exercises more effective than cone or electric treatment:
http://www.bmj.com/content/318/7182/487.abstract
 
Cochrane Library meta analysis finds that doing Kegel exercises improves lifestyle and in particular, stress incontinence:
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD005654.pub2/abstract;jsessionid=ECFB884EB2A0D1D252E134351F9B8AA4.d03t01
 
Website for Pamela Jones, Physical Therapist specializing in women’s issues:
http://physicaltherapy-northtexas.com/
 
To find a chiropractor certified to work work with pregnant women, check out:
http://icpa4kids.org/Find-a-Chiropractor/
 
Thanks to Sara Bogner, Physical Therapist and Nathan Clark, DC for lending their professional opinions on this subject.
 
 
 
Sarah Clark has been a birth instructor since 2008 and now helps train future birthing instructors for Birth Boot Camp.  A mother of four, she also blogs about natural birth and motherhood at www.mamabirthblog.com.
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