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:
- 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.
- Avoid dehydration: Dehydration during labour can cause nausea and vomiting, as well as slowing down contractions and stalling labour.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.