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Food During Labour: How to Nourish Mama

Food during labour is an important way to nourish and support your body. But there are many things to take into consideration when deciding what food to bring to labour.

We asked Lindy Cook, Naturopath, Herbalist and Nutritionist all about the best food and drink options to have on hand during labour.

How do we prepare food during labour when we don’t know what to expect?

You might not be hungry at all. But you might be! The only way to move forward is to be prepared. A good guide is to have plenty of snacks or small meals to choose from, so you can pick what you feel like in the moment. 

When choosing foods, aim for light, nutritious snacks or meals that include complex carbohydrates, with protein and healthy fat to stabilise blood sugar and energy. This will provide your body with energy and nutrients, while eating and drinking small amounts more frequently is easier on digestion.

It’s a good idea to write your own list of what to eat during labour. I encourage you to go through the list of suggested foods below and write down a few things that really appeal to you. 

But if you have no idea what will sound good, use these tips to plan ahead what to eat during labour:

  • Bring a variety of foods to ensure you’re able to find something that sounds good when you need it. 
  • Have a variety of textures available: soft, crunchy, juicy. Pack it all.
  • Don’t forget your partner! Pack enough for them to eat too, without wiping out your snack supply.
  • Treat yourself. Choose items that are a little extravagant you don’t normally buy, like that premium organic juice or fancy European chocolate bar. 

Of course the most important thing of all is to listen to your body and not force yourself to eat something that doesn’t sit well with you. 

What food during labour do you suggest? 

Some hospitals will have a refrigerator you can store your drink and food in. If this isn’t possible, a small esky bag can be useful. The following list isn’t comprehensive but it covers a wide range of snacks and small meals to choose from:

  • Greek yoghurt – rich in good fats and protein. Try adding some berries for a little extra sweetness and energy, can also be frozen into cubes
  • Homemade bliss balls containing protein powder
  • Mini frittata with spinach, carrot and goats cheese
  • Green smoothie with a plant-based protein powder
  • Frozen berries, grapes or bananas, as these fruits are refreshing and remain soft when frozen
  • Quinoa with avocado, or brown rice and an organic egg. Both are light but substantial and well balanced
  • Banana or apple with nut butter
  • Dried fruit and nut mix (preferably without sulfur)
  • Granola bars 
  • Wholegrain toast or wholegrain crackers, with avocado or natural peanut butter or almond butter
  • A spoonful of raw honey, for a boost of energy
  • Peanut butter sandwich
  • Cheese cubes
  • 100% applesauce. The individual squeeze packs are great during active labour.

What are the best options when it comes to fluid intake?

Your body uses a lot of energy during labour and it’s very important you stay hydrated during this period. Aim to take a sip of fluids every 15 – 30 minutes. Another good option is to make ice cubes out of your favourite fruit juice or smoothie and suck on them.

Also, make sure to have a few straws on hand! You’ll probably find yourself in various positions during labour and you may not want to move much. Having your support person hold the straw to your lips will make it much easier to consume.

Here are some of my favourite options of what to drink in labour:

  • Coconut water – an excellent source of electrolytes and an ideal, healthy option for staying hydrated in early labour
  • Miso Soup.
  • Bone Broth – nutrient rich, can assist with nausea
  • Diluted cloudy apple juice .
  • Frozen red raspberry ice cubes with honey or natural raspberry popsicles.
  • Raspberry leaf tea is wonderful during labour and it can gently stimulate productive contractions.
  • Protein smoothie. 
  • Eating juicy fruits like watermelon and cucumbers will increase hydration. Frozen watermelon is very refreshing.
  • Sprinkle a little Celtic salt or other trace mineral salt into your water.
  • Lemon-lime labour aid provides electrolytes, required for muscle (uterine) contractions, particularly useful during active and later labour. 

Lemon-Lime Labour Aid

  • 2 cups coconut water
  • 1 cup water
  • juice from 1 lemon
  • juice from 1 lime
  • 2 tbsp organic honey
  • ¼ tsp unrefined Himalayan salt
  • 1 tsp good quality magnesium powder
  • A few drops of rescue remedy
  • optional: trace mineral/electrolyte drops

Mix all the ingredients together, refrigerate and sip on throughout labour. You could also try freezing it into ice popsicles or cubes in advance, which can be added to water or coconut water. 

When are the best times to eat food during labour?

Eating light snacks and staying hydrated during labour has been shown to significantly reduce the length of labour! Awesome, right? This is why you want to make sure you’re drinking enough fluid during early labour to avoid dehydration, as it can cause ineffective contractions. For food, you want to eat foods that give you lasting energy.

Early labour is a great opportunity to eat deeply nourishing foods to fuel you for several hours. Protein is so important for pregnancy nutrition, plus it helps balance your blood sugar so you don’t have crashes later. If you can stomach protein during labour, try to eat some.  

As labour progresses into the active stage, your appetite will naturally decrease. If you’re able to, eating small bites of easily digestible foods during pushing can help you to maintain your strength. 

It’s wise to have a few options available because you don’t know what might seem appealing, or if you’ll have an aversion to certain tastes or smells. 

Carbs are an excellent choice for that. If eating carbs feel too heavy for you, try having a smoothie, some fruit, a granola or protein bar. Avoid fried or greasy food in case you feel nauseous later in labour. 

What foods and drinks should be avoided during labour? 

It can be temping to just stock up on energy drinks for labour but it’s not a good idea as they’re high in sugar and caffeine. Some energy drinks have as much as 8 times the amount of caffeine as 1 cup of coffee.  It’s not recommended to drink more than one cup of coffee a day while pregnant. 

Other foods and drinks to avoid during labour include:

  • Oranges and orange juice. The acidity may cause an upset stomach or burning if vomiting occurs after consumption.
  • Protein and fat (late in labour). These slow the rate that your muscles use energy supplied from the sugar. Avoid foods like steak, fries or burgers. 
  • High sugar and fat foods. Foods high in sugar may give you that quick energy boost but will leave you feeling tired and nauseous once your energy peaks. Avoid foods like doughnuts, pastries or cakes. 
  • Try to avoid spicy food during early labour since it can cause you to have diarrhoea, which is no fun.
  • Avoid the sports drinks with artificial food dyes and high fructose corn syrup.
  • Energy drinks. These are high in caffeine which can affect you and your baby’s heart rate and blood pressure.

What should the partner or support person be eating throughout the labour?  

Make sure your partner has snacks packed as well! Avoid anything that will linger unpleasantly on their breath (garlicky pasta is out!).

Partners may like to have some easy to grab, quickly nutritious snacks like trail mix, granola bars, peanut butter, nuts, fruit. They will especially be thankful for preparing a sandwich or other simple meal ahead of time.

Your partner is going to need a lot of energy and support to prepare for the journey with you while you are going through the intense stages of labour. You will need a lot of attention, patience and support, so your partner needs to be prepared with nourishing food to stay focused on you. 

What are the best options for nausea during labour? 

The feeling of vomiting and nausea, also known as morning sickness, is fairly common during pregnancy, particularly during the first trimester. However, sometimes a woman may experience similar symptoms when she goes into labour. 

Most often, vomiting in labour happens around transition. This is near the end of the first stage, just before pushing begins.

Some women vomit throughout labour, which can cause dehydration and drain your much needed energy which may slow down contractions. So it’s important to have some tips on hand if you’re nauseous through labour:

  1. Don’t limit food intake: Pregnant women are likely to feel hungry and thirsty during the initial stages of labour. It is essential to eat during early labour to ensure you have plenty of fuel to get through labour. Restricting food intake can trigger ketosis, when your body burns fat reserves as fuel. This can increase acidity and cause you to feel nauseous.
  2. Avoid dehydration: Dehydration during labour can cause nausea and vomiting, as well as slowing down contractions and stalling labour.
  3. Food aversions: Sometimes, specific foods or drinks can bring about nausea during early labour. Some women may be adversely affected by foods like peanut butter or beverages like juice.
  4. Eat bland food: Eating bland food which is easier to digest, such as fresh fruit, rice, multigrain crackers, clear-based broths, yoghurt, bland multigrain cereals.
  5. Essential oils : Essential oils like lemon, lavender, peppermint can work well to stop vomiting at the time of labour. Sniffing the oils may ease the sensation of vomiting.
  6. Ginger: Ginger is known for its beneficial effect in controlling vomiting. You can use ginger tincture which may be an easy, effective and portable way to avert vomiting. You can add a few drops to your tea, broth, water or take it directly.
  7. Hydrotherapy: Some women may find hydrotherapy advantageous when dealing with the sensation of vomiting. Sitting in a tub of water or standing under a shower can ease nauseous feelings.
  8. Cold washcloth: Placing a cool piece of cloth on the face or back of neck can bring some respite from feeling nauseous. You may like to add a drop of essential oil like peppermint for a pleasing, cooling sensation. You can also put a frozen bag or ice cubes at the nape of the neck.

Nurtured Birth offers naturopathy support tailored to your pregnancy and birth needs. We’d love to nurture you on your journey, please contact us for more information or to book an appointment.

Comfort in Labour: 4 Ways to Nourish Mama

As you prepare for birth, take some time to think about what comfort in labour might look for you.

How will you meet the demands of labour, no matter how long it takes? What essentials will  you bring to the birth to keep up your energy and cope with contractions? How will you remain supported, focused and encouraged?  So many questions.

There is so much to think about, especially if it’s your first baby.  It’s exciting and overwhelming and nerve wracking all at the same time. 

There’s more to giving birth than packing a hospital bag and writing out a birth plan. Part of your preparation for birth should focus on one simple theme: nourishing mama during labour. 

When we think of nourishment what immediately comes to mind is food. But humans are complex beings and we need more than just food for our bodies. We rely on many things for our mental sustenance and emotional wellbeing. 

Here we have included 4 simple options to provide comfort in labour for mama: water, food, support and sensory. You can pick and choose the options that will work best for you and include these ideas for your baby’s birth.

#1: Water as comfort in labour

The source of life, the essential building block of life. Human bodies consist of up to 60% water so it’s no wonder we find it a source of nourishment.

During labour, your body works hard and uses up a lot of energy. It’s important to keep hydrated, to support your body’s efforts to give birth. 

Drink small amounts of water often. Sucking or chewing ice cubes prevents taking in too much too quickly, which can cause nausea or vomiting. Using straws to drink liquids is preferable.

Water can be used in the form of hot and cold packs to ease pain and discomfort. Cool face washers or a spray bottle with a fine mist can be refreshing.

Water also offers comfort in labour in the form of the bath or shower. This can make you feel refreshed, cleansed, warm or cool. Taking a bath or having a shower can be relaxing and a form of pain relief, easing tension and backache during labour. Birthing in water is a popular option for some women.

#2: Food as comfort in labour

Lindy Cook, Naturopath at Nurtured Birth, offers the following advice when it comes to the food we should eat during labour for the best nourishment.

“Your best bet is to make sure you have plenty of snacks on hand that are super hydrating, highly nutritious, high in protein and easy to digest. As with the rest of your pregnancy, it’s best to stick with healthy foods that will provide your body with the energy and nutrients needed while giving birth to your baby.”

Research shows restricting nutrition and fluids during labour can make them more painful and last longer. If you are having a c-section you will be given specific guidelines on food and fluid intake. 

In early labour, have regular snacks so you’re building your energy reserves. Eat foods that are easy to digest and give you a more consistent release of energy. Lindy suggests the following options for your labour:

  • Granola bars, protein balls, dried fruit and nut mix
  • Wholegrain toast or crackers with nut butter or avocado
  • Low fat yoghurt, add berries for sweetness
  • Apples or bananas, frozen grapes or berries
  • Smoothies – fruit or vegetable or green with added protein powder
  • Quinoa and avocado, or brown rice and an organic egg
  • Mini frittata with spinach, carrot and goats cheese
  • Drinks – coconut water, raspberry leaf tea, diluted cloudy apple juice, homemade labour aid. Sometimes other drinks are managed better than water. Avoid drinks high in sugar or caffeine
  • Clear soup such as bone broth or miso soup
  • If feeling like a sweet hit – spoonful of honey or piece of dark chocolate
  • Avoid fatty, rich or spicy foods, & strong smelling foods – this includes your support person too.

#3: Support in labour

Comfort in labour can come in the form of support, which might be emotional and physical. Who you have to support you during labour can impact your birth experience, either in a positive or negative sense. Studies show that women with good support have shorter, less painful labours, with less medical intervention. 

Think carefully about who could offer you the support you need to feel comfort in labour. There will be moments you will feel very vulnerable, afraid, or even lost. You may need someone to ask questions, draw out information and make sure your wishes are being heard and honoured.

Choose someone who nourishes you in your daily life. Your partner, your children, your mum, your sister, a friend. You could also choose an independent midwife or doula to guide you through the experience of childbirth.

Sarah Goldberg, founding Director of Nurtured Birth, is a doula and she has shared some tips for support as comfort in labour:

  • Touch – simple and firm, holding the space, calming and soothing you, holding your hands.
  • Massage – of the back, shoulders and neck, legs. Especially the lower back and sacral region to reduce muscle tension and distract from contractions.
  • Encouragement – emotional support is key. A labouring woman needs to stay focused as she works hard to birth her baby. At times it’s normal to feel really confronted and tired. Encouragement and attention help you feel held, cared for and safe. This promotes the production of oxytocin. Oxytocin is the love hormone and needed in peak levels to cause contractions which open the cervix and bringing the baby down and out. 
  • Environment – create a loving, relaxed space with the right team of people, where you can laugh and feel joy, and aim to make it a precious memorable life experience. 
  • Physical support – helps to make you physically comfortable, stay connected to your breath,  help you to stay active, perhaps even dancing, support in upright & active positions, encourage you to try new positions. 
  • Support people – let others take on practical tasks, like getting heat packs or cool washers, making sure you are sipping water and nibbling food that will keep you going. Running a bath, hanging out in the shower, making sure the lights are low, adjusting music or  applying tens machine.  

#4: Sensory comfort 

Our human spirit needs nourishment and encouragement, especially in challenging moments during labour. What lifts your spirit, affects you positively and fills up your cup? Bring those special elements into your birth space to provide comfort in labour.

Some sensory comfort in labour ideas you might like to explore:

  • Visual stimuli – pictures or photographs that evoke emotions, assist focus and meditation, affirmations practiced during pregnancy.
  • Breathing – practice deep breathing techniques during pregnancy to create a habit of using this in labour, to promote deep relaxation during labour.
  • Encouragement – appropriate encouragement in words or touch that is nurturing, supportive and strengthening.
  • Music – sound can be a good distraction and very relaxing, or uplifting to promote energy. 
  • Rest and sleep – allow your body and mind to rest in between contractions, especially in the first active stage of labour, to build up energy reserves.
  • Scents – essential oils can offer support and calm, assisting you through each stage of labour, providing nurture, strength and positivity. 
  • Pain management techniques – coping with contraction pain can be assisted with the use of a tens machine, acupuncture or acupressure.
  • Comfort items – these might be special to you, such as a blanket, clothes, warm socks, a favourite throw rug, your own pillow.

Make sure your time in labour is a positive experience by surrounding yourself with all forms of nourishment. Comfort in labour can be found with one or many of these 4 simple ways to nourish yourself.

If you need help in finding what are the right choices for you, consider some childbirth education classes. Nurtured Birth offers private birth education sessions in the comfort of your own home or via online conferencing. Please contact us for more information. 

Written by Sharon Clarke, Remedial Therapist at Nurtured Birth

Sore Nipples and Breastfeeding: What You Need To Know

Sore nipples are one of the more common concerns new mamas face when beginning their breastfeeding journey. 

Breastfeeding mum and baby sore nipples

Breastfeeding is a wonderful, natural way for a mother to bond with her baby, and breast milk is recommended as the only source of food for a baby’s first six months of life. 

Whilst the production of breast milk occurs naturally, the art of breastfeeding doesn’t always go smoothly.

For many mothers the experience is simple and straightforward, but for some it can become a painful ordeal. 

Breastfeeding is a learned skill for both mother and baby, and there are bound to be some hiccups at the beginning. Sore nipples are often dismissed as part of the process but pain definitely isn’t something new mamas should ‘put up with’. Sore nipples can be so painful that a mother gives up breastfeeding altogether.

Find out what you need to know about sore nipples and breastfeeding, and what we recommend for prevention and support. 

Pre-pregnancy breast soreness 

Breasts, areolas and nipples come in all shapes and sizes and will change throughout a woman’s life cycle, from adolescence through to menopause. We need to have an awareness of what is normal for our breasts by doing regular breast checks so we can spot any unusual changes quickly. 

Breast soreness is very common. It affects most women at some time in their lives, usually in the form of swelling, lumps, bumps, general aches and soreness. Commonly felt at varying times of the menstrual cycle, breast soreness is usually regarded as normal. The soreness will vary from woman to woman, so it is important to be aware of what is normal for you.

If there is any unusual pain, extreme pain, or changes in the breast tissues (with or without pain) it needs to be explored further. This could be due to other factors such as cysts, tumours or mastitis. Seek advice from a medical professional for further investigation into the source of pain and treatment.

Pregnancy breast soreness

During pregnancy, your breasts undergo many changes, influenced by hormonal fluctuations. 

During the first trimester your breasts may feel generally sore and tender. The breasts often increase in size and as the pregnancy moves forward the areola and nipples will usually darken and become larger. 

It is important to make sure to be fitted with the right style and size of bra during pregnancy, to prevent not just soreness but long-term damage to the breast tissue.

During the third trimester the breasts will begin to make colostrum in preparation for milk supply for the soon to be born baby. This can be seen as a shiny, clear discharge from the nipples. 

Some women may hand express this colostrum after consultation with their midwife, obstetrician or doctor. In certain situations babies need supplementation after birth and a supply of colostrum in the freezer can be used instead of formula. 

Breastfeeding soreness

Breastfeeding is biologically the normal way to feed mammal babies and the production of milk (lactation) occurs naturally after giving birth. Breast milk contains everything your baby needs for nutrition for the first six months of life. 

Breastfeeding begins soon after birth, often with mum bringing the baby to her breast within minutes after birth. Babies left on their mothers bellies after birth have an innate instinct to seek out the breast, and will crawl up to the nipple. 

In the first few days, your breasts will produce colostrum and this provides everything your baby needs. Within a few days, your milk ‘comes in’ and changes in volume and composition. This can cause some discomfort as breasts become full and engorged, and your baby is increasingly hungry and more demanding.

Breastfeeding shouldn’t be painful. But in the initial few weeks, at the beginning of a feed, there may be some discomfort when the baby first attaches to the breast. The sensation should subside within a short time and as the feed continues it should not be painful.

There can also be other issues such as engorgement, mastitis, nipple vasospasm, thrush and other infections. Nipples may appear bright pink or red in colour, bleeding, dry, flaky, or have a white rash (thrush). 

Causes of sore nipples when breastfeeding

Sore nipples most often occur if the baby doesn’t have the proper attachment or ‘latch’ to the breast.This can cause cracking, splitting and bleeding of the nipple. Sometimes these sores are obvious, but small cracks can be hard to see, even if very painful.

There can be other issues such as a baby with tongue tie, incorrect use of breast pumps, or medical conditions such as dermatitis or an infection. In these cases it is important to seek help from a qualified professional to properly diagnose the problem and offer the right course of treatment.

Even if breastfeeding is going well problems can still arise. Nipple soreness can occur if mum or baby become complacent about latch, the baby has a growth spurt causing a sudden increase in feeds, or baby begins teething.

What can be done to help breastfeeding and sore nipples?

Even if you have breastfed before, breastfeeding each baby is new and can take some adjusting to. Being prepared for breastfeeding before you have your baby is a good foundation to understanding what can go wrong and what to do about it. 

Nurtured Birth recommends Born To Breastfeed, a comprehensive and accessible breastfeeding guide for mothers, answering all your questions and providing support for challenges. You can purchase this through Nurtured Birth’s shop here

  1. Seek advice straight away! The best person to help is a lactation consultant. They will have specialist training and knowledge on breastfeeding issues. Your midwife, maternal & child health nurse, postnatal doula or paediatrician can also provide some support. 
  2. Consider attending breastfeeding classes during pregnancy to prepare yourself and your partner. You can also make contact with a lactation consultant so they will already be on hand to assist once the baby is born.
  3. Try to feed on the baby’s first cues of being hungry, not waiting until they are crying. You can try putting the baby to the breast more often, expressing some milk prior to feed and offering the less sore side first.
  4. Finding the proper positioning while feeding. Getting the right set up of chair, pillows, baby’s position to allow for correct attachment to the breast.
  5. Keep nipples dry between feeds. Make sure to change nursing pads frequently and use 100% cotton for best airflow, not plastic lined ones.
  6. After a feed leave some fresh breast milk on your sore nipples and keep them open to air for a few minutes. Pat dry gently. 
  7. Products like the BodyICE Breast Pads provide relief for sore nipples. You can purchase these cleverly designed pads that fit into your bra through Nurtured Birth’s website here
  8. Soothing products to assist with the pain and healing: after a feed apply a saltwater rinse to the nipple or try a warm cloth compress. A lanolin ointment that is 100% medical-grade is also safe to use on your nipples after a feed.
  9. Check your expressing technique – some electric pumps can be too harsh and may need to be adjusted. Sometimes a manual pump or hand expressing can be gentler on sore nipples.
  10. Nipple shields can be used for short periods of time to ease sore nipples. They often lead to future issues with poor attachment so need to be used with advice and careful consideration. 
  11. Some causes of sore nipples need medical intervention. Thrush can be treated with an ointment that is safe for baby, mastitis may need antibiotics so it does not become serious and lead to hospitalisation. Always seek out advice from a medical professional.

Where do I find help?

You can contact the following organisations for more information:

Lactation Consultants of Australia and New Zealand (LCANZ) 

Australian Breastfeeding Association runs the National Breastfeeding Helpline 1800 686 268

Maternal and Child Health Line (24 hours) – 13 22 29

Nurtured Birth postnatal doula available for home visits in Melbourne, even during Covid-19 times. 

Written by Sharon Clarke, Remedial Therapist at Nurtured Birth