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Can I Eat During Labor? If So, What?

By Alex Frost

For decades women have been warned, even prohibited, from eating and drinking during labor, with the loose explanation that if they ended up in surgery for a Cesarean section, they could aspirate (inhale) food particles. So for as long, women have been undergoing one of the physically most difficult tasks they will ever complete, which some equate to running a marathon, on ice chips. Some doctors have started questioning this practice of withholding food, or “labor fasting” to give the research a second look. Also, practices have changed surrounding emergency C-sections, which used to involve full anesthesia and now often just involve a spinal injection.

One doctor reports to Parents that there was only one case of actual food aspiration over decades, and that one case involved a high risk patient. Now, patients are starting to demand their rights to eat and drink, even in the hospital, and many of their requests are being accommodated unless they do have a higher risk condition such as pre-eclampsia. At the very least, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists (ACOG) have determined that clear liquids are safe. Some research has even concluded that snacking can shorten labor, by as much as 16 minutes (sounds kind of short…unless you are pushing a baby out), What to Expect reports.

Talk to your doctor about eating during labor, and if they give you the okay, don’t think this means you will be ordering a full takeout meal before your baby makes his or her debut. Here are some tips for keeping it light and simple, while still giving you a boost of energy to make it through labor.

Easily digestible foods 

This isn’t the time for complicated, spicy, or otherwise difficult to digest foods, because your body is directing all of its energy towards the task at hand. Non-essential bodily processes slow down, such as digestion. So, keep things simple with carbs that will go the journey, such as oatmeal, rather than teriyaki chicken from the hospital’s cafeteria.

A fruit smoothie with protein

Not only are fruits easy to digest, the protein will give you a much-needed energy boost. If your birth partner is on your nerves, send them on an important mission to find a cold and soothing, nutrition-packed fruit smoothie. You can even pack a jar of protein powder to add to foods or to drink on its own mixed with water if you aren’t sure a smoothie will be accessible in the moment.

Drinks with electrolytes (and without the extra sugar)

Coconut water is a great option as it hydrate, provide energy from natural sugar, and contains electrolytes. There are also individual packets of electrolyte powder you can add to any water bottle (we love LMNT brand).

Peanut butter sandwiches, nut butter packets or Gratisfied Bars

This childhood favorite is easily packable, and has a good combination of complex carbs and protein, along with some fats to keep you going. Top with banana, or even honey, for an extra energy boost. Some midwives and doulas even recommend a spoonful of honey during labor, or right before you birth the placenta, for a quick energy increase. Pack a small amount in your hospital bag ahead of time in case. Think healthier sources of bread like Simple Kneads sourdough. If a sandwich isn’t possible, think individual packets of nut butter or coconut butter to eat on its own. Gratisfied bars are also a great option, providing conveniently packaged fuel made with easily digestible ingredients. The fact that they are blood sugar balancing will also provide you with sustainable energy for hours.

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