Expectant mothers might think that they cannot eat while in labor. While many hospitals restrict the mother from eating solids after she is admitted, laboring mothers can benefit from calories and energy that food and fluids provide.
Research Says Moms Should be Able to Eat and Drink
Fasting during labor is still routine in many birthing facilities, despite the fact that research studies have shown that there is little to no risk in eating or drinking in labor. Some experts now believe that restricting the mother’s intake of fluids and foods to just ice chips is unnecessary.
According to an extensive review of five studies, the Cochrane Review has stated that “since the evidence shows no benefits or harms, there is no justification for the restriction of fluids and food in labour for women at low risk of complications. No studies looked specifically at women at increased risk of complications, hence there is no evidence to support restrictions in this group of women.“
What Fluids are Best for Labor
Some of the best fluids to drink in labor are those that will be gentler on your stomach.
Recommended fluids for labor include:
- nonfat milk
- warm decaffeinated tea
- clear energy drinks (diluted if too much sugar)
Beverages to avoid include:
- heavily-sweetened drinks – increase stomach acid and nausea
- highly acidic beverages – increase acid content in stomach
- super cold or icy drinks – remain in the stomach longer
One solution if no other beverages are available is to dilute fruit juices to reduce the sugar and acid and leave out the ice. For example, add twice as much water as juice to a cup before sipping between contractions.
Good Foods to Eat in Labor
It is a good idea to think about nibbling periodically in early labor and into active labor, rather than eating large quantities of food all at once. Henci Goer, in her book The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth, recommends that mothers eat those foods that they tolerate well or “the kind you would consume if you were recovering from the stomach flu.” Her list of good foods to eat in labor include:
- nonfat yogurt
- soft, non-acidic fruits (ex. banana)
- cooked cereal (ex. oatmeal)
- cooked eggs
- graham crackers
- toast with jam
- fruit smoothies with non-acidic fruits
- non-creamy soups with noodles or rice
What to Ask Your Care Provider about Eating in Labor
Since eating in labor is still a relatively new concept, expectant mothers who would like to have this option may have a bit of an uphill battle. Be sure to bring the newest research studies (see below) into your prenatal visits with your care provider so that you can discuss your desire to eat and drink as early as possible in your pregnancy.
Singata, M., “Restricting oral fluid and food intake in labor”, Cochrane Review.
Kubil,M., “An Evaluation of Isotonic Sports Drinks in Labor,” Anesthesia & Analgesia.