Eating & Drinking During Labor

There are certain snacks and beverages that are typically fine to eat during labor, especially the early stages, but there are also foods to avoid.

nut butter toast and banana to eat during labor

Can you Eat While in Labor?

Eating and drinking during labor, especially in the early stages, can provide you with necessary energy and help you remain more comfortable. Labor is very aptly named because it is a physical task that requires both strength and stamina. 

Restricting your food intake during labor can cause stress, nausea, vomiting and headaches. Being properly nourished and hydrated can prevent you from becoming exhausted. Exhaustion can prolong labor and lead to fewer contractions that are less effective.

Although ice chips are one option, it’s common to see women eating other items with more substance during the birthing process. 

If birthing at a hospital or birth center, it’s best to discuss their policy on eating and drinking with your care provider well in advance. If you are having a c-section, your care provider should provide you with guidelines on food and beverage intake specific to that procedure.

What to Eat Before Active Labor (Early Labor)

Although excitement or nervousness may dampen your appetite, early labor is a great opportunity to eat deeply nourishing foods that will fuel you for several hours. 

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. Eating foods that appeal to you in the early stages can help you feel better as your labor progresses. Eating and drinking smaller amounts more frequently is easier on digestion than larger quantities less often. 

When choosing foods, aim for light, well-balanced snacks or meals that includes complex carbohydrates, with some protein and healthy fat to stabilize blood sugar and energy.

Here are a few ideas of snacks to bring to the hospital for labor: 

  • Quinoa and avocado, or brown rice and an organic egg. Both are light but substantial and well balanced.
  • Grass-fed yogurt, if you tolerate dairy.
  • Banana or apple with nut butter.
  • Whole grain toast with nut butter.
  • A green smoothie.
  • Dried fruit and nut mix, (preferably without sulfur).
  • Granola bars or Bliss balls.
  • Frozen grapes or berries.

What to Eat During Labor 

As labor progresses into the active stage, your appetite will naturally decrease as you focus on the task at hand. If you’re able to, eating small snacks or even just 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. Consume foods that are light and easy on your stomach, similar to the types of food you would choose if you were recovering from a stomach flu.

Here are a few ideas of healthy foods to eat during labor:

  • Natural sugars from healthy sources to provide quick energy.
  • Frozen fruit: banana, grapes, or blueberries. When frozen these fruits are refreshing and remain soft.
  • A spoonful of raw honey, for a boost of energy.
  • 100% applesauce. The individual squeeze packs meant for toddlers are actually great with a straw during active labor.
  • Frozen red raspberry ice cubes with honey or natural raspberry popsicles. Raspberry leaf tea is wonderful throughout pregnancy, and during labor it can stimulate strong, productive contractions.
  • Dried fruit bars with minimal ingredients.

Foods to Avoid During Labor 

  • Oranges or orange juice. The acidity may cause an upset stomach or burning if vomiting occurs after consumption.
  • Protein and fat. 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. 

Drinking During Labor

Just like any other intense physical activity, it’s especially important to stay hydrated during labor. Even when you no longer feel like eating, continue to take little sips of liquid in between contractions. In preparation for labor, assign someone attending your birth to be responsible for offering you a drink every 15 minutes. Having them bring a straw to your lips will make it much easier to consume.

What to drink?

  • In early stage: drinking water during labor will help you stay hydrated, while taking small sips of bone broth, which is nutrient rich, can assist with nausea. Coconut water which contains magnesium, potassium and electrolytes is also an excellent option for keeping hydrated.
  • In active stage: lemon-lime labor aid provides electrolytes, which are required for muscle (uterine) contractions.

Your Birth Team

Don’t forget about your birth team. Anyone attending the birth, like the father, a doula, or photographer will need to have more substantial food to keep their mood and motivation up while supporting you. You will be better off with foods that don’t have a strong smell, which could bother you as labor intensifies.

 

Preparing for Baby

Welcoming a new baby is an exciting and overwhelming time. Whether you decide to breastfeed or bottle-feed, ensure that you have the right equipment and accessories to make it easier. See our Feeding section for the best nursing pillows, breast pads, pumps and baby bottles.

For nursing moms, good nutrition is important to help you maintain good health and provide you with the energy you need to produce milk and care for your newborn. See our article on foods to eat while breastfeeding.