Gone are the days of mothers crunching on ice chips during labor. Evidence-based practice supports (and even encourages!) mothers to eat during labor. Why? Because your car won’t run well on an empty tank, and neither will you!
Even the American Society of Anesthesiologists said that most healthy women would benefit from a meal during labor. In a study done between 2000 and 2005 in the U.K., “Researchers analyzed 385 studies published in 1990 or later that focused on women who gave birth in a hospital. The research suggests that the energy and caloric demands of laboring women are similar to those of marathon runners […] Without adequate nutrition, women’s bodies will begin to use fat as an energy source, increasing acidity of the blood in the mother and infant, potentially reducing uterine contractions and leading to longer labor and lower health scores in newborns. Additionally, the studies suggest that fasting can cause emotional stress, potentially moving blood away from the uterus and placenta, lengthening labor and contributing to distress of the [baby].”
This last piece of the puzzle is an especially important thing to consider: what you eat during labor won’t just be fuel for you, it will be fuel for your baby. Your baby has an active role in his or her birth, too. So what kinds of foods should you eat?
Here are our suggestions:
Fresh fruit and vegetables
The natural sugar and fiber will provide energy while the water content will help to keep you hydrated. Keeping it refrigerated or on ice will add a bonus cooling effect. Dip apple slices or celery sticks in peanut or almond butter for a protein bonus.
You can make your own with fresh fruit, which can be a fun and mindful way to prepare for labor. Include any older siblings or friends to make preparations a family affair! Here is a list of 100 different natural flavor combinations you can make at home – the lemonade cucumber pops sound especially refreshing!
Wholesome grains and cereals
Toast, crackers, cereal or granola bars are all great options. With their complex carbohydrates, they will help keep you feeling full and energized. Munch on them dry or with milk.
Protein, such as eggs cooked how you like them
Few foods pack the protein and nutrition content of eggs. A hearty plate of scrambled eggs with cheese, tomatoes, or peppers, will certainly give you an energy boost.
Ultimately, whatever sounds good to you
This is your body and your labor. You know yourself best and should choose foods that make your body feel strong and make your stomach happy.
What may be best to avoid:
- Greasy, oily or highly acidic foods – Excess oils or acid may increase feelings of nausea for some women.
- Super sugary foods – loading up on processed sugar will give you a momentary feeling of energy, but will lead to sugar crashes shortly after.
- Foods with very strong or distinct smells – you may find your sense of smell more sensitive during labor, so especially aromatic foods are often best saved for after birth.
Lastly and perhaps most importantly, remember to stay hydrated. As you progress through labor, your appetite may wane, at which point you’ll want to be sure to continue to drink. Talk to your partner, doula, or birth support person(s) about making sure that you have water or your preferred beverage – such as an electrolyte drink, either bought or homemade from recipes such as this one – available and consistently offered to you.
Despite clear evidence to the contrary, many birth locations will limit or withhold food once a mother is in active labor. This is an important conversation to have with your care provider prior to labor to make sure that he or she is on the same page and understands and supports evidence-based practices such as this one.
Jennifer Stutzman, Freelance Writer
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