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Yikes! I’ve Got a Cramp in My Leg!”–Leg Cramps and Pregnancy

So, it is the middle of the night and you are sound asleep. Suddenly, you wake up with a gripping tightness in your calf muscle that sends you sitting upright and grasping your leg in a panic. It takes you a few moments to catch your breath and stretch that poor muscle out.

The cramping of leg muscles is very common during pregnancy, especially during the 2nd and 3rd trimesters. The whys of it aren't completely clear, though evidence points to the changing of circulation and the shifting distribution of weight. Not staying hydrated enough can cause cramping. Your balance of electrolytes and nutrients, such as calcium, potassium and magnesium are also suspected of being factors. While studies haven’t been conclusive, some have shown some limited success with magnesium supplements. Some of my students swear by it. Consult with your health care advisor and see if that is right for you. It is also prudent to examine your footwear. For many women, pregnancy brings on an increase in foot size. Make sure you have a pair that is comfortable and not constricting your blood flow. Whatever the reasons for leg cramping, you can take action to help reduce, relieve and/or prevent them from occurring. Prenatal yoga can help!

Like with so many other symptoms of pregnancy, a prenatal yoga class can help you reduce or relieve leg cramps. Through gentle exercise and stretching, prenatal yoga helps improve circulation and keep the muscles supple. You can learn different stretches to help relieve a leg cramp when it occurs. Through breathing techniques and by practicing how to stay calm, you can stay relaxed and not panic when you are suddenly startled awake with a cramp. By practicing stretches before bed and finding time to reduce swelling and taking the weight off the legs, you may reduce the risk of leg cramps.

If you do find yourself waking up in the grips of a leg cramp, do not panic. Take a full deep inhale. Try not to move suddenly and see if you can breathe through the initial moments of the cramp. Simply by breathing and staying calm, the muscles will begin to relax. You may want to apply pressure to the muscle with your thumbs or heel of the hand to release it. After you do this, as calmly as possible, get youself out of bed and do some gentle stretching. If it is the calf muscle, go to a wall and place your hands on the wall. Set the leg with with cramp behind you, and send the heel towards the floor, stretching the calf muscle. Breathe deeply and evenly until the cramp subsides. You can then gently massage the muscle and (hopefully) fall back asleep.

It is important to take time for yourself during pregnancy. Remember to find time to nurture yourself. It wouldn’t hurt to get a massage now and again, either. See a massage therapist who specializes in prenatal massage and let the muscles relax!

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“My head hurts!” –Headaches during pregnancy.

After a stressful day, Barbie just wants to cry out, "Calgon!  Take me Away!"

Barbie’s head hurts!  She needs some relief!

It is early in your pregnancy, and you are feeling nauseous.  Along with this nausea comes a throbbing headache.  You don’t want to take any medication, but you really want to find some relief.  Prenatal yoga may help!

Headaches can come on for varying reasons.  During pregnancy, those reasons can be many.  Perhaps you are not eating enough or drinking enough water.  Many times, headaches will occur during the first trimester due to hormonal surges. Other times, headaches are caused by tension. As your body changes and you gain weight, poor posture can result, which can contribute to creating tension and stress on the muscles and nerves of the neck and shoulders. Alot of this tension can be relieved and maybe even avoided by practicing yoga during your pregnancy.  Remember,  it is important to mention the headaches to your healthcare provider, especially if accompanied by other symptoms, such as a fever, dizziness, and blurred vision.  If you typically suffer from migraines, they may lessen during pregnancy.  Unfortunately for some, they may get worse.  Always consult with your health care provider about frequent headaches or headaches that appear out of the blue. 

The deep breathing exercises we practice in a prenatal yoga class can help calm the mind.  We learn to breathe deep and full measured breaths.  By breathing in this manner, we cue the muscles of the body to relax.  As we practice this breath, we also learn to create proper alignment in the spine, which, in turn, alleviates the tension we create in our daily lives.  As we drive, sit at desks, and look into our computer screens, we round out the upper back and jut the chin forward.  As we react to stress, we may creep our shoulders up to the ears,creating more tension.  These habits are further exacerbated during pregnancy as the breasts grow heavier, pulling the chest and the shoulders forward.  Many of the postures we practice strengthen the muscles of the upper back, allowing our hearts to stay lifted, rather then slumped.

If you are looking to relieve a headache right now, take the time to stretch and take pressure off the back of the neck. This may help alleviate a tension headache.  Set yourself up in a quiet space without any bright lights. If you have a chair handy, place a folded blanket or a flat pillow on the chair. Sit down on the floor and extend your left leg so that it is under the chair. Bend your right leg and place the sole of the foot to the inside of the thigh of the left leg. Take an inhale and you find some length through the spine and exhale and you come forward, placing your forehead on the pillow or blanket atop the chair so the back of the neck can lengthen. Let the arms relax atop the chair, as well. Adjust as necessary so that you can relax in this position for a minute or even more.  Change legs and repeat on the other side for the same amount of time.  You can repeat this stretch on both sides for an even deeper release.

DSCN0260

Prenatal yoga can help you build body awareness, strength and flexibility. It can address the common aches and discomforts that come along with pregnancy.  Yoga can help you come through your pregnancy, labor,delivery and beyond with strength and grace. If you live in the Lansing, Michigan area and are pregnant, please come and check out my prenatal and postnatal classes at Hilltop Yoga.

Namaste!

Logo_RYT 500

© mahamamas.com and Janet MacFarlane, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Janet MacFarlane and Mahamamas.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Janet MacFarlane is a Yoga Alliance registered teacher at 500 hours, with a specialty in  prenatal yoga.  Janet is also a Certified Prenatal Fitness Educator with ICEA

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“My Wrists Hurt!”–Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in Pregnancy

You are pregnant.  While typing out your latest status update, you notice a tingling or numbness in your wrists, hands or fingers.  You may even notice a dull ache.  Throughout the day, these symptoms  come and go.  At night, the pain seems to get worse.  The discomfort may extend to forearm and upperarm.  Your hands or wrists may even feel weak or clumsy.  Consult your health care provider.  You may have pregnancy induced Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

The carpal tunnel is a bony canal formed by the wrist bones on three sides and a ligament that runs across the wrist on the other side.  During pregnancy, fluid retention may put pressure on this very narrow and inflexible region.  It usually affects women during the second half of their pregnancy when the hormones in the body encourage fluids in the body accumulate.  This could lead to swelling in the wrists, which, when combined with poor posture,  creates tension in the shoulders.  The repetitive motion activities we all engage in, such as typing on a keyboard, can lead to carpal tunnel discomfort.  The extra fluid in these regions can compress the median nerve that runs through the carpal tunnel.  This is the nerve that gives feeling to the thumb, the index, middle, and half of the ring finger.  It is also responsible for movement of a muscle at the base of the thumb.  It can be painful.

Focus on your posture.  Notice if you are drawing your shoulders forward while working at a desk.  Notice if you tend to jut your chin forward.  Try to pinpoint what sorts of activities aggravate the pain, then avoid or modify those activities, when possible. Your physician may suggest a hand or wrist brace, which helps with the alignment of the carpal tunnel.  Gentle exercise, drinking enough water, and eating a low sodium diet are some ways to help reduce fluid retention which contribute to this condition.

Prenatal yoga can provide the exercise the body needs to increase circulation and help move fluid through the body.  In my prenatal yoga class,  at Hilltop Yoga, I commonly teach postures that help reduce tension in the muscles of the arm, hands and wrists.  I like to emphasize being mindful of your posture, something that you can bring to your workspace and daily life, which will, in turn, alleviate symptoms.  The movements we use in my prenatal yoga class can help you correct and maintain good posture through your pregnancy. Stretches and postures learned in class can help decrease tension in the shoulders, neck and arms, which may help prevent fluid from gathering in these regions. There are simple movements that you can incorporate into your day that just take a moment or two.  Stretching the fingers out wide with the palms open will feel good and and is beneficial.   You can lift the arms and make gentle circles with the wrists.  Keeping the chest lifted, while the shoulders relax will keep tension from creeping into the upper back.  Some simple chest and back openers as described in this post can also help.

If you already have carpal tunnel, avoid placing the wrists at a ninety degree angle.   Some yoga postures that apply pressure to the wrists, such as downward facing dog,  may not be advisable. Hands and knees postures, which can be beneficial in many ways, may be modified by placing a loose fist on the floor instead of a flat palm.  Always listen to your body!

One of the best ways to find relief for pregnancy induced carpal tunnel syndrome is through massage.  An experienced prenatal massage therapist familar with carpal tunnel,  can massage away the pain, flushing the fluids from the affected areas, providing you with much needed relief.   Rachel, one of the certified massage therapists and yoga instructors who works out of the Hilltop Yoga studios, says that massage for pregnancy induced carpal tunnel syndrome can encourage  fluids to flow back into the lymphatic tissues.  When fluid retention subsides, so does the pain.

It is important to keep your health care provider aware of any changes in your body and health when pregnant, especially those that bring you discomfort.  Always be mindful and keep in tune to what’s happening inside.  Remain conscious and remember to keep breathing in, deep and full!

~Namaste

© mahamamas.com and Janet MacFarlane, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Janet MacFarlane and Mahamamas.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Janet MacFarlane is a Yoga Alliance registered teacher at 500 hours, with a specialty in  prenatal yoga.  Janet is also a Certified Prenatal Fitness Educator with ICEA.

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“Why am I crying all the time?”…The emotional rollercoaster of pregnancy

We’ve all heard the line, “Big girls don’t cry.”  Oh, but they do!  Pregnancy is such a life-changing event–Hormones are surging and the mind and body are coping with all the big changes that are happening and that are to come.   The feelings may be varied and wide-ranging, depending on your circumstances.  I like to think of a pregnant woman as an entity;  Your senses are super attuned to everything around you.  Your sense of smell and taste are extraordinary and your intuition deepens….it is almost like having super powers.  Your emotions are also scaled to fit–They are BIG emotions.  You may find yourself reacting to things in ways you never did before.  A mundane event, like a stranger picking up something you dropped, becomes a hallmark moment.  A sudden slight, or bump in the arm in public garners a fierce, protective reaction.  A slight criticism sends you into gloom.   No worries!  Even as you sit back and cry while watching a  soap commercial, these emotional changes are perfectly normal!

If you suffer from depression, symptoms, without treatment, may persist through pregnancy.  Consult your healthcare provider.  Check out this link for more info on depression.

Your emotions are a powerful tool.  They can help you become more attuned to what is happening around you and what is happening inside you.  While this is true at all times, no where is this is especially true during pregnancy.   When we don’t allow ourselves to feel or have no idea why we are responding the way we do, we can become confused and even more upset.  We may forget to trust ourselves and second guess our own feelings and intuition.  Usually there is some basis to our emotional state–Something is tipping us off.  We just react bigger then usual. I believe that our emotions can be guides to what is truly bothering or can be signposts to what is right in our world.  You can take this time while you are pregnant to become introspective.  Maybe it is time to examine why you feel certain ways and delve deeply into what is happening.  Maybe your body is just signalling you to rest more.  Perhaps you just need to expend energy–Exercise or get to that crazy cleaning that you really want to do.  Find ways to listen to your body. Nurture yourself first.  This is where yoga can help.

Breathe 

Your breath is your energy, your life force.  We can learn to alter and ‘control’ the breath, which in turns enables us to control how we  react to situations.  The slow deep breathing we practice cues the body to calm down.  This in turn cues the mind to calm down.  As a result, the swirling chaos of emotions begins to lessen and subside.  We are able to think more clearly and figure out what has set us off.  When you are feeling over-whelmed and you have  the space to do so, take a comfortable seat. Even if you don’t have the time and space in a hectic moment, you can do a mini version of this for a few breaths.   

Take a really big inhale and let it out completely…and I mean completely, big sigh and all!  Sit tall in the spine and grow long.  Let your shoulders come down and back and let your heart space lift and open.  Allow your neck to elongate and let the tension at the top of the back melt away.  Start to tune into your breath, breathing deep and full in and out through your nose.  Send the breath all the way down to your baby, filling completely.  Exhale completely and fully, letting go of tension as you do so.  Tune into this rhythm.  Try to create and even inhalation and exhalation, perhaps by counting how long it takes to inhale and then how long it takes to exhale.  From there, try to even out the two.  Allow the throat to be open and soft and notice a gentle ocean sound as you breathe.  Whether if it is just for a few moments or several minutes, let this deep rhythmic breath calm your mind.  Allow this breath to release tension in the body.  When you are through, take another nice deep inhale and then fully let it go.  Notice how much clearer the mind is. 

Move your body!

The benefits of exercise for the pregnant woman are many.  It is good for the body, the mind and the spirit.  The simple act of taking a walk or moving the body can do so much to lift one’s mood.  Yoga is  ideal, because it combines breath work with movement.  Prenatal yoga provides the benefit of exercise and the helps calm the mind helping you find a sense of peace within.  Many postures,  especially forward bending ones, can even alleviate depression.   A simple forward bend is Paschimottannasana:

   Sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front.  Legs come as close together as feels comfortable; You want to have them far enough apart to accommodate your growing baby.  If you have discomfort in this position, sitting on a small pillow may help by raising the hips.  Activate the legs.  Heels are reaching, feet are pressing, as if there is a wall in front of them.  The back of the legs are pressing to the floor as the front of the legs lift and press to the back of the legs.  Make sure that the back of the knees are not flush against the floor.  Lift the pelvic floor, engage and lift the torso as arms reach to the sky.  Let the shoulders come down–no tension.  Inhale length.  As you exhale, leading with the heart, begin to fold forward.  Keep the heart lifted.  Remember that it is about finding length.  Grow through the tailbone with each inhale and soften into your length with each exhale.  Find this space for a few breaths, and then inhale back up to sitting.

Incorporate movement and breath into your days.  Allow yourself to rest when you need rest and be active when you have the energy.  In the midst of emotional chaos, breathe and find your center.  Your life is about to change in a very dramatic way….don’t be hard on yourself.  Surrender into yourself and go with the flow.

~Namaste

© mahamamas.com and Janet MacFarlane, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Janet MacFarlane and Mahamamas.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Janet MacFarlane is a Yoga Alliance registered teacher at 500 hours, with a specialty in  prenatal yoga.  Janet is also a Certified Prenatal Fitness Educator with ICEA.

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Tearing each other down…

These female elephants from Disney’s Dumbo were mean and harsh.  Sometimes that behavior is mirrored in our own converstations and judgements.   

I have been following the Baby Project on NPR–Basically, it is a collection of stories following nine pregnant women of various backrounds. As a prental yoga instructor and mother, I love reading the stories..Everyone’s experiences are so different and I am usually moved.  Recently, I read a post that particularly stood out.  It was the story of Lateefah Torrence and her broken epidural.  While it ended happily–her baby was born healthy–I felt so bad for her.  I know first hand how things may not always go as planned!  It was an awful experience for Lateefah and it had to take lot for her even share it.   She went in with a lot of expectations that just did not come to fruition.    As I finished reading, I made the terrible mistake of  scrolling through the comments.  Wow!!!  So much negativity, degradation, ‘I told you so’s “and out and out name calling.  Sadly, most of the negativity came from other women.  Some of it came from those who are completely anti-conventional birth in the hospital.  Some it came from others who just said things like, “Quit your whining.”  Still more were from some who seemed to believe that this woman had no right to tell her story and have complaints because their ‘birth story was worse and besides, she came away with a healthy baby.’  

Why do we judge each other so harshly?  Why were these women being so self-righteous about their own birth experiences and not capable of sharing a little compassion?  Why couldn’t this story serve the writer and other women as a lesson in navigating the potential problems in a hospital birth?  Isn’t the intention of sharing stores like these  a way to educate ourselves and help foster a conversation to improve maternity care in this country?  Why cannot we see this?    Perhaps, this negativity and criticism would not exist if Lateefah was standing right there in front of some of these people telling her story.  Her eyes, her expressions, and gestures would convey much more then the words glowing on a computer screen could.  Perhaps, one would bite their tongue, hold back, or even show a little understanding.  Maybe it is the result of the distance and safety of our own little keyboards and our glowing screens that help foster judgement and let fly commentary that seemingly comes without consequence.  But there is a consequence….names and words do hurt.   The yama, Ahimsa is the practice of non-violence.  It is not just the physical action.  It means not to do harm to others or yourself, in thought, word or deed.  Perhaps, before we set out to judge and criticize one another, we should think first, “Will this hurt the other person?”  

We all hold opinions and we have a right to express them.  When it comes to pregnancy, childbirth and beyond, the opinions are especially strong and passionate.  There is a way to express our opinions without negativity and judgement.  It is not easy, but sometimes,by taking a deep breath and taking a few moments to gather ones’ thoughts and to contemplate another’s perspective,  opinions can be expressed in a more constructive way.  Sometimes, we need to go outside our personal perceptions and let go, cross the bridges that divide and recognize the value of our of shared experience.   Only this will foster a climate of understanding.  

Perhaps Atticus Finch said it best:  “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view – until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
- spoken by Atticus Finch, by Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

Namaste and Shanti

  • © mahamamas.com and Janet MacFarlane, 2010-2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Janet MacFarlane and Mahamamas.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
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“I’m a Hot Mama!”–Feeling the heat during pregnancy.

Baby, it is hot out there! If you are pregnant, you are probably feeling the effects more then the next person. Why do pregnant women feel so hot during pregnancy? A woman’s metabolic rate increases 15-20% during pregnancy. As this rate increases, so does heat production.  This is why you may feel like stripping everything off of your body and retreating into an air conditioned cave.   When the weather is unbearable hot, like it is right now, you can begin to feel down right miserable.  Not only that, but it can be unhealthy for you and your baby.   

Keep Cool! 

Barbie is feeling the heat during her pregnancy! Stay cool and keep hydrated, Barbie!

 

Heat stress is something to take seriously when pregnant.  It can lead to birth defects in the first two months of pregnancy–This is why women are cautioned against the use of hot tubs and saunas during pregnancy.  Excessive heat is not desireable at any time.  There is no way for a growing fetus to dissipate heat, except through mom.  If your core temperature rises, so does your baby’s.  Dangerously high core temperatures will put you at risk.  

Moving the body.  

Exercising though pregnancy is excellent for the body.  The increased circulation and blood volume all help heat dissipate.  Regular exercise will increase the sweat threshold response, allowing you to cool the body more efficiently.   If you can keep fit and healthy, you will then, in turn, be better equipped to handle the heat.  This doesn’t mean to go for a long run when it is super hot or  jump into a hot power class!  Precautions should be taken!

Here are some guidelines:

  • Avoid exercising in hot and or humid environments.  Exercise in a climate -controlled facility.  (We run an air-conditioner in our prenatal class at Hilltop Yoga)
  • If you feel lightheaded, nauseous, faint, are excessively sweating or uncomfortably hot, STOP.
  • Avoid high intensity work-outs for prolonged periods of time.
  • Drink, drink, drink!  12 glassses, or more during the heat, will help you stay hydrated!

Always, listen to your body!  Never go beyond its edge!!!   To read more about heat and the pregnant body, click this: 

http://www.aafp.org/afp/980415ap/wang.html

~Namaste

© mahamamas.com and Janet MacFarlane, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Janet MacFarlane and Mahamamas.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Janet MacFarlane is a Yoga Alliance registered teacher at 500 hours, with a specialty in  prenatal yoga.  Janet is also a Certified Prenatal Fitness Educator with ICEA.

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“I’ve got shifty hips!”–The softening of the ligaments and joints in pregnancy.

 “A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips,” so the expression goes.  For many of us, the widening of our hips may bring a negative reaction.  For much of human history, however, the hips have been a symbol of sexuality and fertility. The hips are the home of our second chakra, our sexual and emotional chakra, ruled by the element of water.  Images of fertility goddesses usually have full hips or even exaggerated hips which would be anathema in today’s weight obsessed world.  But the widening of the hips are important and necessary in pregnancy and childbirth. 

 

Fertility Goddess, Uma. Notice the wide hips and full breasts. You can read about Uma and other goddesses at A Goddess A Day.

 ‘Shifty’ or ‘loosey-goosey’ are just a couple of descriptions of how the hips feel when they go through the process of softening and the subsequent widening during pregnancy.   The body secretes the hormone,  relaxin ,which causes the ligaments and joints to loosen.  The purpose of this is to allow the pelvis and the hips to expand in order to accomodate your growing baby and help make  your baby’s entrance into this world more accessible.  For most women, this process is a source of just a little discomfort which can be relieved with exercise and stretching. 

{For about 1 in 35 women, however, the secretion of relaxin can  result in Symphisis Pubis Dysfunction.   Due to the softening,  small gaps form between the bones in the pubis, resulting in too much ‘play’ which leads to pain and discomfort.  It is best to follow your care givers advice regarding this and avoid postures that open the pelvic floor deeply.

Strengthen and Stabilize

In order to cope with the newfound softness, it is best to strengthen the muscles supporting the pelvis.  Prenatal yoga  focusses on the areas of most concern to the pregnant mom.  Many postures highlight the hips and the pelvic floor.  The Transversus Abdominus (TVA) muscle is activated through standing postures and during deep belly breathing .  The TVA not only stabilizes the core and pelvis, but it is the primary muscle used in pushing during labor.   Yoga  is hugely beneficial to the pregnant body and can counteract the minor aches and pains that come along with this remarkable transformation.. 

Buddha Squat

One of my favorite postures to teach in class is Buddha Squat.  It is not as deep as a full squat, but it serves to strengthen the legs, tone the pelvic floor and activate the TVA muscle. 

Barbie in Buddha Squat--Unfortunately, she cannot press her heels to the floor.

  • Begin with legs a little more then hip distance apart. 
  • Turn heels in toward each other and begin to bend deep in the knees.  Be mindful that the knees do not go beyond the ankles.

    Barbie in Buddha Squat near the wall--Notice her little baby bump?

  • The inner thighs rotate externally–think “roll open.”  Press deeply into the feet.  Spread the toes wide.
  • Tailbone comes down, engaging the pelvic floor and lengthening though the low back…This will counteract over-arching.
  • Hands come to namaste.  Breathe in deep and full for a few breaths. 
  • Slowly lengthen the legs to straight. 

If you feel unbalanced in this posture, perform it near a wall or hold onto the back of a chair, for safety.  Always listen to your body!

If you notice too much pain in the pelvic floor, always, come out of the posture.  If you are suffering from SPD,  do not perform the posture.  It might be possible to modify with a chair.  Avoid this posture if your baby is breech during the last 6 weeks of pregnancy. 

 Namaste!

 

© mahamamas.com and Janet MacFarlane, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Janet MacFarlane and Mahamamas.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Janet MacFarlane is a Yoga Alliance registered teacher at 500 hours, with a specialty in  prenatal yoga.  Janet is also a Certified Prenatal Fitness Educator with ICEA.

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