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MoonDragon's Pregnancy Information

labor positioning contour

Relaxing is often thought of as being passive, but in labor it is something you have to do actively. No one can relax for you. You have to do this for yourself. Your partner and your birth attendants can help greatly, but it is you who must focus your attention and intention and release your muscles. To begin practicing relaxation, you and your partner must read through this information together. Then you and your partner find a comfortable position with plenty of pillows for supporting your head and your knees. Uncross your feet and let your arms lie comfortably at your side. Make sure the room is warm and the lighting is comfortable. Then, as you practice the exercises, have your partner read them to you. See the Relaxation Exercise Summary for a quick reference.


Sometimes your mind is racing and your emotions have you tied in knots. This may be true when you cannot sleep, and it may be true in early labor when the excitement and adrenaline rush of "This is it! I am in labor! Can I do it? Is everything ready? What about the...?" These internal worries and comments can make early labor much more strenuous than it needs to be.

A good method for calming the mind is centering on your breath. If done for 20 minutes daily until your baby is born, it can help you meet labor (or any other stressful situation) with more calm and clarity.


  • Sit in a relaxed position with the spine vertical. An upright chair is fine, or you can sit on some pillows with your legs crossed. Facing a blank wall or a plain rug, leave your eyes and your mouth relaxed. Rest you hands, palms upward, on your thighs.

  • yoga centering and breathing

  • Focus your attention on your breathing. Do not try to change your breathing, but simply watch the natural flow of the breath in and out of the body. Do not try to shut other things out of your consciousness, just choose to have your focal point be the breath.

  • When you notice your attention drifting, simply return it to the breath. There is no need to make any special effort to suspend thoughts, although with regular practice thoughts will gradually begin to fall away.

  • This exercise is best practiced at a regular time and place. Doing some stretching exercises and then washing your hands and face with cold water before starting will also help keep the body and mind from complaining.

  • This state of complete relaxation is one which you should get to know intimately, and be able to return to at will. Practice when you cannot sleep, when you are sitting in the dentist's office (you do not have to be lying down), on the train or the bus when commuting to work, or the next time you have too much to do and are feeling frazzled and tense. Complete release is the key to comfort in labor.


    sitting cross-legged on the floor, doing light massage

  • CLARITY: Focus your mind by placing your attention in your body. Watch your breathing. Every emotion has a characteristic holding or altering of the breath pattern. Allow the breath to be full and deep, so that your body, your emotions, and your mind all release. Remain centered in the breath and let your thoughts fall away.

  • RELEASING THE BODY: The breath is also the best tool for releasing the body of tensions.

  • RELEASE: Let your breath deepen, so you are breathing all the way down into your belly. Let your body feel heavy, as if it were sinking into foam rubber or into warm sand at the beach. Breathe with your diaphragm, as you do during sleep.

  • As your breathing becomes slower, use each breath to release more fully. On the out-breath, let go of any holding or tension that may be in your body. Feel the breath flowing all the way down your backbone so there is a connection between your tailbone and the top of your head. Let the breath surround your baby and go all the way into your vagina and anus, making sure they are both released.

  • WHOLE BODY RELAXATION: Now use your attention to travel throughout your body, releasing on the out-breath any tension you may find. Start with your face and eyes, cheeks and jaws. Travel down through the neck and shoulders, then the chest and belly, paying special attention to the muscles of the lower belly and upper legs. If you find any places of chronic tension which do not release with the breath, imagine the area to be warm, and imagine your out-breath flowing through it. Note these chronic places to work on with your partner.


    Being told to relax your shoulders is nowhere near as effective as feeling a loving, gentle, relaxing touch. The body responds on a body level, through non-verbal communication, the language of touch. Your partner knows your body intimately, and by working together now, touching and communicating about what helps you to release, you can work together as a loving and effective partnership during labor.


    Get into a full-body massage with some of the scented body oils or lotions that make you feel good. Being pregnant is an especially good time to be in touch with each other and to feel the baby both physically and psychically. Give your partner massages and backrubs too. It will make him feel good, but it also lets you experience what feedback you would like from him so you can be more responsive when he is working with you in labor.


    Build up a pattern within your body of releasing to your partner's touch.



    Tell her to contract her forehead. Then touch it with your whole hand, not massaging, but just lifting off the tension. Actually imagine energy flowing off the tension. Actually imagine energy flowing into your hand and out through you.

    Take your hand off, tell her to contract another set of muscles. Place your hand on the tension and encourage her to release to your touch.

    Continue, using other parts of the body, starting at the top of her head and working down. Take your hand off between contractions so you are only touching her when you want her to release. Make sure she releases fully to your touch, and use a touch which encourages release.

    tense muscles of your forehead release and relax muscles of your forehead


    Release to his touch, allowing tension to flow into his hand.

    By practicing this regularly, you will build up an association of releasing to the touch. Then in labor, when someone touches you, you will unconsciously release toward the touch.

    A good time to practice this is while having a pelvic exam, and it will be much more comfortable. For a more detailed description of touch relaxation and other excellent exercises for body awareness and relaxation, see The Experience of Childbirth by Sheila Kitzinger.


    Make some time with your partner, maybe some quite evenings, that you can set aside a time to share energy together. This can be done by lying in bed naked together, begin by touching one another, hugging and kissing each other. Then try to feel the totality of each other's bodies, inside and out, and feel the energy flowing between you. Allow the energy to flow, and consciously release any blocks you feel. Feel the presence of the baby, and allow energy to flow among the three of you. Welcome the baby, telling her/him you are looking forward to having her/him joining you in the exciting world of sights, smells, and touch.

    It is important that this energy sharing is NOT goal-directed, not to be trying to turn each other on or to reach any particular state sexual arousal, but simply to be sharing what is, in a loving and friendly way. Do not be afraid to verbalize your feelings. For a more detailed discussion of sexuality during pregnancy, see Pregnant Feelings by Rahima Baldwin.


    When you are actually in labor there will be time between contractions for you to relax fully, talking with each other if it is early labor, being massaged, or doing whatever helps you to relax and release tensions. During contractions, you will be doing the slow, deep breathing which can help you keep yourself centered. IT can be helpful to tell your body, "Okay, this is a really strong sensation that I am feeling, but I am staying relaxed, released and open." Direct your attention to any problem areas and tell them to release. The shoulders, the lower belly, and the legs are areas that may require special attention and help.




    Check her relaxed state (from the previous exercises) by picking up an arm or a leg with both hands, lifting it firmly and gently. Encourage her to let the limb be heavy, so she is not helping you lift it. Be trustworthy! Help her feel that you will not drop it.

    As you put it down, help the should and hip joints to release and widen by gently running your hands down the extremity and out the tips of the fingers or toes.

    When you put the arm or leg down, it should feel more released than the other side.

    Then do the other side, to help her feel symmetrical again.

    breathing pattern



    Signal to her, "Contraction begins." She should take a deep cleansing breath. Then she should do slow, deep, relaxed breathing throughout the "contraction."

    She should breathe from the diaphragm, so her belly raises up off the uterus on the in-breath.

    tummy breathing

    Placing your hand there can help her to feel if she is moving those muscles, which otherwise tend to become contracted along with the uterus.

    Maintain the contraction for about a minute, and then say, "Contraction ends."

    She will give another deep cleansing breath.

    After she releases completely for a few seconds, talk about what has just occurred and whether there are ways to improve the next contraction experience.


    In this version, the partner acts as her uterus. Simulating a contraction by squeezing the inside of her thigh.

    Start by squeezing gently (you do not need to tell her "Contraction begins" since she will be able to feel it). Build up to a fairly tight squeeze. Do not squeeze too tightly, you do not want to bruise her!

    Encourage her to maintain the slow breathing, and then release slowly. Remember, your purpose is to encourage her to greet the sensation with the breath and stay relaxed throughout.

    Wait a few minutes and do another one.


    During active labor, your contractions will be stronger and it will require more concentration to maintain the slow breathing. This slow relaxed breathing will help you with all your contractions, keeping your body relaxed and your mind focused. This type of breathing is much easier on your throat and expends less energy than shallow, rapid breathing. It also assures that you do not hyperventilate and that your baby receives adequate oxygen.

    However, if you are accustomed to rapid breathing in labor, or find that on the very heaviest contractions it helps you to breathe more rapidly, then make the breath light and shallow, centered in the mouth. Avoid rapid chest breathing, which can lead to hyper-ventilation, a condition that makes you feel light-headed, makes your hands and feet start to feel numb and go into claw position, and is not good for your baby. If you feel any of these symptoms, cup your hands over your mouth and nose (or use a small paper bag) and re-breathe your own air - and then change your breathing!


    Second stage is said to begin once your cervix is fully dilated and ends when your baby is born. Once your cervix is fully dilated, the nature of your contractions will change. They will feel different than they did in transition, and they will be further apart (perhaps every three minutes). As the baby's head descends and pushes against your rectum you will feel as if you need to have a bowel movement. Your breath will involuntarily catch during the peak of a contraction. You are starting to feel the urge to push.

    Much of the teaching you see in childbirth classes and see in films or TV shows of couples giving birth, even in a homebirth setting, often show an intensely athletic second stage. You will see her clutching her legs (even without stirrups while imitating the stirrup position). This is totally unnecessary and ridiculous. You will notice her birth attendants acting as cheerleaders, and the physician is yelling at her to "Keep Pushing! Keep the baby down! Do not let it slide back an inch!" which sounds like he is getting ready to catch a football and run with it. This approach has the woman holding her breath and pushing for the duration of each contraction from the time she is fully dilated until the head crowns (which can range from a few contractions in a multipara to 2 to 3 hours in a first birth). This is very exhausting for the mother, straining and tearing can often result since tissues are not given a chance to stretch at their own rate, and blood vessels will occasionally rupture in the mother's whites of her eyes from the intensity of forced pushing.

    Despite our cultural images to the contrary, there is no need for haste in the second stage. Even prolonged second stages, 3 hours or more, show no greater incidence of hemorrhage, infection, or distress in the baby. As long as your baby's heartbeat is good (it should be checked every 10 minutes in second stage), there is no need to either to bring the head down quickly or to get it out as rapidly as possible.

    A much better way of handling second stage labor, and I have seen this work very well with my own birthing clients, is not to push but to continue to breathe slowly and deeply through these contractions, even when the urge to push is there. I try to keep them breathing as much as possible, allowing the uterus to do the work that is was made to do. If the urge becomes overwhelming, then I recommend a controlled release pushing, only as much as is needed to take care of the pushing urge and then back to breathing the baby out again. These clients are able to deliver themselves instinctively with little more straining than is required in a bowel movement. This kind of second stage breathing allows the cervix to fully dilate and slip over the baby's head without damage; allows the baby's head to mold more slowly, resulting in less trauma on the baby; allows the mother's tissues to stretch slowly, resulting in less tearing and "skid marks".


    With the controlled breathing, the problem of when to push thus disappears. You push when the urge is irresistible and is taking you with it. Occasionally you will get a strong pushing urge when you are not fully dilated, and it is important to breathe through those contractions until dilation is complete. Do not resist the pushing urge in transition; allow it to be there, but continue to breathe through it just as you breathe through the tightening sensation of the contraction. It will feel as if your body is pushing, which is involuntary and is a sensation you should not run away from, but as long as you are breathing, you are not adding any extra force to these contractions before your cervix is completely opened (actively pushing against a partially dilated cervix can result in tissue swelling, pain, and a longer labor).

    By choosing not to push until you are fully dilated and have the powerful lead of your body, you rule out the possibility of a birth attendant misjudging dilation or friends (and you) wanting things to be further along than they are. Barring any abnormalities in position or your pelvis, your baby will be born even if you give up on pushing (your uterus can push the baby out if you are relaxed and releasing your pelvic floor). If your attendant is anxious for more progress, squat during contractions, which will help bring the baby down and often increases the intensity of the pushing urge.

    Of course, this approach to second stage does not mean that you can sit back and take a vacation. Second stage contractions, although they feel different from transition contractions, are usually quite strong, and your uterus is working very hard to push the baby out. If this is a first birth, you may have contractions that push the baby against your rectum for an hour or two as the baby descends. You will need to keep breathing to stay on top of the contractions and stay relaxed and released. But you do not need to add active pushing effort, such as holding your breath and pushing with your diaphragm while bulging the pelvic floor, except when your body is involuntarily holding your breath for you. Once you are fully dilated, you can push when you feel the need or breathe with it, but let the uterus do the work without you adding extra effort except when your body is taking you with it.


    The positions for second stage will be very much like those used throughout the rest of your labor. You may be propped up with several pillows, standing while leaning against your partner, hands and knees, squatting, on your side with a leg raised and held by an attendant, on one knee with one foot on the ground while being held by your partner, whatever is the most comfortable for you and the position you find yourself in at the time of the birth. The only position you should NOT be in is flat on your back. When the head starts to be visible at the vaginal opening, you might want to lie back in a propped position with lots of pillows and back support from your partner behind you so your birth attendants can do perineal massage and support and aid in the gentle birthing of the baby's head. In this position, you just let your legs flop apart, perhaps supported with lots of pillows so you do not need to hold them at all. It is good for your perineal muscles if your feet are about 14 inches apart. Let your arms relax at your sides. Keep your back and shoulders rounded and relaxed, jaw dropped slightly open. Feel the energy coming down through your head and out your vagina (untrained women tend to pull away from this energy and go backwards, out the back of their head). Consciously direct energy as you open. Your body and the energy of the Life Force are birthing your baby. Look over the bulge of your belly and see or touch the head as it begins to show. It is an exciting experience. (I will often take the mother's hand as the head is crowning and guide her fingers to touch the baby's often helps her to center herself and realize that the baby is right there and will soon be in her arms.)


    When you are getting the urge to push with a strong contraction during second stage, there is a technique you can use to really help your body push effectively. This is bulging out your lower belly and perineum. Most of us, when we think of pushing as in having a bowel movement, think of pushing in on the belly as we hold our breath. This is just the opposite of what you need to do in second stage to birth your baby. Your baby's head requires that everything down below is open and stretches as the head bulges forward on your perineal tissues.



    Have your partner place his hand on your lower belly and practice moving his hand out, as you did when practicing deep abdominal breathing.


    Now, with his or her hand pushed out by your belly, also push down with your pelvic floor muscles to bulge the entire lower belly and perineum (you should feel your vagina and anus wide open). See the Elevator Exercise below. This is the movement you want in pushing, so that everything is wide open for the baby to pass through. End by gently contracting the pelvic floor, so you leave the muscle with good tone.
      Pelvic Floor Elevator Exercise: Sitting where you are, imagine the pelvic floor like an elevator, and slowly contracting bring it up to the second floor. Then slowly keep contracting up to the third, and then the fourth floor and hold, with the "elevator" all the way up to the top. Now slowly release and go back down through each floor. Release, and repeat several times each day.


    It's easier to do Exercises 1 and 2 while holding the breath, but this time, once you have bulged the lower belly and pelvic floor, hold them out and take several quick breaths to convince yourself that there is a definite independent muscular movement involved.

    This bulging is important, for there is a tendency during strong second stage contractions for the area just above the pubic bone to go in when the uterus hardens. You need to remember to counteract this tendency so your baby can come out more easily.


    As the baby pushes against your lower bowel during descent, you will find that you start to get a catch in your breathing, and later on your breath will involuntarily be held. When you breath is held, your diaphragm (which goes across your body at the bottom of your ribs) is in a down position, pushing on the top of the uterus.

    Feel what is happening with your body and do not strain unnecessarily. Holding your breath more than 6 or 7 seconds has been shown to deprive your baby of oxygen. Many women do not hold their breath at all, but push as they exhale, as they would in chopping wood or other exercise.



    Take a deep breath and hold it. Your diaphragm is pushing down on top of your uterus. This, together with bulging the pelvic floor, is all that is involved in pushing. Release the breath.


    Take a deep breath, hold it, and then drop your lower jaw. With your mouth open, you can still push. There is no need for chipmunk cheeks!


    Feel your stomach muscles while you blow into your fist like a trumpet. Even exhaling does not detract from the bearing-down effort.


    There is an unconscious neuromuscular association between the vagina and the mouth, so that if your pelvic floor muscles are tense (and they are often hard to relax when the baby is pushing against them), you can help relax them by intentionally relaxing your mouth and jaw.

    To demonstrate this connection, contract all the muscles of the pelvic floor, holding the vagina tightly closed. Feel your jaw, tongue and palate. You will feel that they have tension in them that can be released when you release the pelvic floor muscles. Similarly, clench your jaw, and tighten your lips and throat. Now feel your vagina and see if it is relaxed and open. Almost everyone will have unconsciously contracted both.

    This is why during labor, and especially during pushing, it is important to have the lower jaw dropped and the lips gently parted and loose. It is also why vomiting, kissing your partner and laughter often increases dilation and the relaxation of the pelvic floor.


    Sit back against lots of pillows or sit supported by your partner (who then needs to be leaning against something comfortable). Let your legs flop apart. Your arms can be relaxed and at your sides. You body rounded, jaw dropped, shoulders relaxed.

    practice pushing while sitting

    1. Contraction begins. Deep cleansing breath.

    2. Feel the contraction build. Breathe as you normally do during contractions. When actually in a pushing contraction, you may find your breathing accelerates as the urge to push grows.

    3. As the urge to push establishes itself strongly, inhale and hold the breath.

    4. Then bulge the lower belly forward and the perineum out, opening the vagina. Coaches can help by putting a hand on your lower belly.

    5. Check your shoulders and lower jaw - they should be rounded and relaxed.

    6. When you run out of breath, feel the contraction again, perhaps taking several short breaths and then feeling the urge to hold again. In a really strong contraction, you may feel the urge to keep pushing through several held breaths. And then such a contraction might be followed by one or two weak ones.

    7. When the contraction is over, take a deep cleansing breath and relax. After practicing contractions, contract your pelvic floor muscles gently so they always remain in good tone.

    practice pushing while squatting

    Try pushing in various positions, such as squatting, hands and knees, or while lying on your side. Think about opening up. Focusing on the opening rather than contracting can help you remain relaxed both up top and down below, even when pushing.


    With a second baby the head may be visible at the vaginal opening before you ever push, so you do not need to push at all. Your body will deliver the baby. But with a first baby you may have second stage contractions for quite a while before the head is visible. This is normal, and it is important not to get discouraged. Also, the head will go back between contractions, but each time it will show a little more.

    As the head descends, it feels something like a grapefruit pressing down against the rectum and rounding the arch of your pubic bone. It is an amazing sensation, one you do not feel very many times! You may think, "How am I ever going to open up enough for the head to be born?" But with gradual stretching, the perineum does open to accommodate the head, which molds and makes itself as small as possible.

    Once the baby's head can be seen, look over the curve of your belly, or have a large mirror so you can view the head as it comes further and further out. Reach down and touch it. Feel the amazing quality of the baby being both inside and outside at the same time. See and feel how strongly you need to push, and stop pushing when the perineum looks rigid and shiny or the head crowns (to minimize tearing).

    As the baby's head crowns, you gradually feel yourself open up, and you may get a warm, tingling sensation (like stretching the corners of your mouth very wide). Many prepared women find the crowning intensely pleasurable and very exciting. With a second or smaller baby, it is often possible to be sensitive to each part of the baby as it emerges from the birth canal.

    By the time the head crowns (when the largest part stays at the vaginal opening), you should make sure you have stopped pushing and breathe through the contractions, no matter how strong the urge to push is. The force of your uterus alone is enough to bring your baby out. Adding extra force at this point can result in tearing of your tissue and is not particularly good for the baby, either.

    delivery and touching your baby as it is being born

    There is a tremendous feeling of release as the head slips out. Continue to breathe through the next contraction as the shoulders emerge, unless you are told by your midwife to give a gentle push. Again, if there has been no sign of fetal distress, it is not necessary to hurry this stage. Feel and savor it! Touch your baby, even bore (s)he is completely out, helping him/her to come up onto your belly once the shoulders are born.


    Many things throughout your pregnancy contribute toward your preparation for the birth; regular exercise and good nutrition, practicing full-body relaxation when you have trouble sleeping, practicing breathing and relaxation when you are emotionally tense, massaging your partner. Making sure that you are in a good relationship with your partner affects how you feel and how you take care of yourself, as well as your experience of labor. Use visualizations as a tool in preparing for birth. Visualizations of normal labor and delivery can help your body and emotions to prepare in a way that bypasses the conscious brain. Done in a state of relaxation, they can increase your confidence in your body's knowledge and ability to give birth (just as it knows how to grow your baby). They can be valuable tools for counteracting specific concerns from previous birth experiences, for example. Many cassette tapes are available with guided visualizations, and several of the books listed on this page contain visualizations you may find helpful.



    1. Partners, talk her through whole body relaxation, starting at the eyes and working down through the whole body.

    2. Check and encourage her relaxation by lifting up her arms and legs in succession.

    3. Practice touch relaxation, so she releases to your hand.

    4. Reverse all of the above sometimes, and let her help you relax.


    1. Call a contraction with your hand on her lower belly. Slow breathing should fill her body and move your hand.

    2. Do a contraction with light massage on her belly and upper thighs.

    3. Do a contraction in which she does light massage on herself. Remember,the breath should be slow and deep.

    4. Do a contraction in the side relaxation position.

    5. Do a contraction while you push with steady pressure on her lower back, as in transition.

    6. Coach her through a really strong contraction using eye-to-eye contact.

    7. During one of the contractions, she might pull away or lose her breathing pattern. Have her blow out, establish eye contact, and breathe with her.

    8. Once or twice a week, simulate several contractions of varying strength by pinching the inside of her thigh. Provide coaching to keep her relaxed.

    9. Help her into a squatting position and do a contraction.

    10. Do a contraction standing up. Walk around. Do another.

    Always talk and hear her responses between contractions.


    1. Help her into the contour position for pushing.

    2. Have her breathe with a contraction until she feels the urge to push just at the peak of it.

    3. Repeat #2.

    4. Now call a really strong contraction during which she will feel the urge to push for the entire contraction.

    5. Repeat #4.

    6. Now, during the contraction, tell her to stop pushing while the head crowns and is born.


  • Active Birth: The New Approach to Giving Birth Naturally By Janet Balaskas.
  • Birthing Normally: A Personal Growth Approach to Childbirth By Gayle Peterson.
  • Childbirth Without Fear By Dr. Grantly Dick-Read.
  • The Experience of Childbirth By Sheila Kitzinger.
  • Husband Coached Childbirth By Dr. Robert Bradley.
  • Open Season: A Survival Guide for Natural Childbirth & VBAC By Nancy Wainer Cohen.
  • Painless Childbirth By Dr. Fernand Lamaze.
  • Pregnancy As Healing By Gayle Peterson.
  • Pregnant Feelings By Rahima Baldwin.
  • Silent Knife: Cesarean Prevention & VBAC By Nancy Wainer Cohen.
  • Transformation Through Birth By Claudia Panuthos.


    MoonDragon's Pregnancy Information: Easy Natural Birth Suggestions
    MoonDragon's Pregnancy Information: Effleurage & Massage
    MoonDragon's Pregnancy Information: Guided Imagery For Birth, Health, Relaxation
    MoonDragon's Pregnancy Information: Laughter Is The Best Medicine For Childbirth
    MoonDragon's Pregnancy Information: Childbirth Preparation Classes
    MoonDragon's Pregnancy Information: Childbirth Preparation Methods
    MoonDragon's Pregnancy Information: Birthing From Within
    MoonDragon's Pregnancy Information: HypnoBirthing
    MoonDragon's Pregnancy Information Index
    MoonDragon's Pregnancy Information & Survival Tips

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  • MoonDragon's Nutrition Basics Index
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  • MoonDragon's Nutrition Basics: Phytochemicals
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  • MoonDragon's Nutrition Basics: Limit Your Use of Salt
  • MoonDragon's Nutrition Basics: Use Proper Cooking Utensils
  • MoonDragon's Nutrition Basics: Choosing The Best Water & Types of Water


  • MoonDragon's Nutrition Information Index
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  • MoonDragon's Nutrition Therapy: Preparing Produce for Juicing
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  • MoonDragon's Aromatherapy Chart of Essential Oils #1
  • MoonDragon's Aromatherapy Chart of Essential Oils #2
  • MoonDragon's Aromatherapy Tips
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  • MoonDragon's Alternative Health Index
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  • MoonDragon's Holistic Health Links Page 1
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  • MoonDragon's Health & Wellness: Nutrition Basics Index
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  • MoonDragon's Health & Wellness: Steam Inhalation Therapy
  • MoonDragon's Health & Wellness: Therapy - Herbal Oils Index


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