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Can I eat when I'm in labour?

25 November 2013

In preparation for your birth you may have thought about where you will give birth and what things you will need to help you relax and be more comfortable. But have you considered what you might like to eat and drink, especially if you are in labour for several hours? Naturopath Stephanie Hamilton debunks some old ideas of restricting food and drink in labour and offers some healthy, energising options.

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It was common practice a couple of decades ago to be given strict instructions not to eat anything once you had started labour. You might have heard your mother’s/grandmother’s birth story before: “I went the whole day without eating anything when I was in labour with you!” Recent research now shows that the restrictions are often unnecessary.

A recent Cochrane review of 5 studies involving over 3000 women compared the effects of food and drink restrictions on specific birth outcomes with the effects of no restrictions. The researchers found no difference in the baby’s wellbeing, highlighting that there is likely to be no benefit to restricting food and drink during labour for women at low risk of complications.

Physicians have often restricted women’s fluid and food intake during labour in case a caesarean section and general anaesthesia are necessary at some point. The restrictions, according to the authors of this study, were largely the result of a 1940’s study which showed that during general anaesthesia women have a higher risk of having their stomach contents enter their lungs, which can be life threatening. However, today caesars are most often performed using regional anaesthesia e.g. epidural anaesthesia. Even if general anaesthetic is needed, today’s procedures are a lot safer than the 1940’s and the risk of aspiration is minimal.

Some women may not feel like eating or drinking while in labour, which is completely fine. But for those women who do, this is information may come as a relief. If a woman is in labour for several hours, her body needs energy in the form of calories to keep her going. She also needs hydration.

The following table offers a few food and drink options that would be great to have on hand during labour. They are easy to digest, easy to take, and provide the nourishment and energy required in such a physical endurance event. If you have any concerns or questions about what to eat or drink in your labour, be sure to discuss this with your obstetrician or midwife.

Something to drink

  • Coconut water - cold or frozen as ice cubes to suck
  • Diluted apple juice - cold or frozen as ice cubes to suck
  • Plain, filtered water

Food to eat

  • Power balls containing dates, raw cocoa, almonds (or other nuts like cashews), sesame seeds (or other seeds like linseeds or chia seeds), coconut
  • Homemade, wholegrain muffins containing oats, nuts, seeds, apple
  • Pre-purchased superfood/raw food bars

Quick-boost energy

  • Fruit pieces - fresh or frozen: apple, mango, grapes, berries, banana all work well

References available on request

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