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Snacks for Labor: Why and What You Should Eat During Labor

Some birth places restrict eating and drinking during labor, but that needs to change. All the evidence suggests women should be eating throughout labor, if they want to. In this blog post, learn why it’s important to eat during labor and the best snacks for labor.

pregnant woman eating a bowl of fruit

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There’s no doubt giving birth is a strenuous physical event. Some have even compared it to running a marathon. Any physical activity like that requires fuel – food and water – to sustain it.

The crazy thing is that in a lot of birth places, eating and drinking is restricted during labor. 

Why Do Hospitals Restrict Eating and Drinking?

The reason food and drink was originally restricted during labor was to avoid the possibility of aspiration. Aspirating is breathing in bits of food while unconscious and it can be a risk when someone is under full anesthesia.

The risk of aspiration alone is quite low with our modern anesthesia methods. And the chance of needing full anesthesia during labor is next to zero.

So there really is no reason to keep laboring women from eating. In fact, it’s more risky to not allow them to eat!

If a woman doesn’t fuel her body while laboring, she will get tired more quickly. The faster she gets tired, the more likely it is she’ll want or need interventions, like an epidural. And interventions carry far more risk than the tiny chance of aspiration.

What to Eat During Labor: Some Guidelines

When it comes to the kinds of foods you’ll want to have available during labor, there’s a few guidelines that can help you decide what to buy.

Overall, the best rule of thumb is to eat what you feel like eating. If you want to eat a hamburger, do it. If you prefer to sip a smoothie, do that. Don’t worry too much about rules and what people say you should and shouldn’t eat during labor.

That said, it’s hard to know what you’re going to want to eat during labor so it’s a good idea to get a variety of foods – sweet and salty, soft and crunchy, hot and cold. Because your appetite may come and go, you’ll also want to have some heavier foods – like high-protein snacks and fatty foods – and some lighter options – like applesauce and popsicles.

During my first labor, I didn’t feel like eating once I was in active labor. But my husband did a great job of bringing me snacks and helping me eat them so I could keep my energy up. I had yogurt with granola, spoonfuls of honey, and lots of water.

On the flipside of what to eat, let me add just one caution about what not to eat during labor.

Don’t try any new foods while you’re in labor. Stick to foods you know you like and that you’ve been eating throughout your pregnancy. You don’t want anything that will increase your chances of throwing up during labor because that’s just not fun. 

Can I Eat a Full Meal During Labor?

I want to quickly address one question: can you eat a full meal while in labor? The answer is a resounding “yes!”

As is the theme of this blog post already, if you want to eat, do it! Especially in early labor, when you’re still moving around and not too focused on labor yet, it’s a great idea to get some good food in you.

If you can stomach it, try to eat a high-protein meal. Even if you can’t eat much later on, the protein can sustain you for hours.

Is there a chance you might throw it up later? Yes. But that’s okay. It’s fairly common to vomit during labor. As long as you’re trying to stay hydrated, it usually isn’t a problem. In fact, sometimes vomiting can help labor progress.

After several hours of labor, I threw up after a contraction and the extra pressure broke my water! It wasn’t too long before I reached full dilation after that.

The Best Snacks for Labor

In addition to your full meal, or if you don’t feel like eating one, you’re going to need snacks. So what are the best snacks for labor? Well, put simply, the best ones are the ones you’ll eat.

But here are some ideas of snacks a lot of women eat during labor.

Fruit: Fruit of any kind provides nutrients and hydration. Applesauce is a good option since you don’t have to bite or chew it. Bananas are high in carbohydrates so they can give you quick energy.

Veggies: Carrots, peppers, and more can be cut into sticks to make them nice one-handed snacks that you can nibble on.

Nut butters: Whether you dip fruit in it, put it on toast, or eat it by the spoonful, nut butter (peanut, almond, etc) is a yummy source of protein.

Smoothies: Smoothies are great because they can be sipped, rather than chewed. Plus, they can provide nutrients from fruit and berries, protein from any added nut butters or milk, and hydration!

Greek yogurt: Yogurt can be gentle on the stomach while providing protein. I like mixing in some granola and/or fruit for extra yumminess.

Spoonfuls of honey: If you need a quick boost of energy, try a small spoonful of honey. If you’re not giving birth at home, you can buy honey sticks to bring with you to your birth place.

Energy bites or protein bars: If you’ve found a type of bite or bar you’ve liked during pregnancy, have a few on hand for labor.

Cheese sticks or cubes: Cheese has protein. It’s also a softer food if crunchy snacks aren’t your friend during labor.

Crackers: Crackers can be gentle on the stomach and provide a nice crunch if that’s what you’re wanting.

Popsicles: Eating a popsicle can help you cool down if you’re too hot. They also provide a quick energy boost because of the sugar and some extra hydration.

Hard-boiled eggs: Some people might gag at the thought of eating eggs during labor, but some women might love the idea! If it sounds good, eat a hard-boiled egg for some protein.

Trail mix: Trail mix is one of my favorite pregnancy and labor snacks. The combination of salty nuts and sweet fruit and chocolate makes it easy to eat handfuls. And nuts have protein!

Hard candies: If you aren’t wanting to chew anything but you’re tired, try sucking on a hard candy. Just make sure it’s one you know won’t make you gag!

This list obviously isn’t exhaustive, but hopefully it gives you some ideas.

If something sounds good, have it on hand! And don’t be afraid to treat yourself to a snack you wouldn’t normally buy. You’re working hard – you deserve it!

How to Stay Hydrated During Labor

In addition to eating during labor, it’s super important to stay hydrated. This is part of the reason IVs are routine in hospitals. It’s also why ice chips are often allowed even when other food and drink isn’t. 

Water is the best drink during labor. You might want to add some electrolyte powder for extra hydration. (Redmond Relyte is my favorite by far.)

A lot of women like coconut water.

Juices are a good option, too. (Keep in mind that extra acidic juices, like pineapple and orange, may not feel very nice on your throat if you vomit.)

If you are feeling nauseous, Ginger Ale or Sprite may help calm your stomach.

Gatorade has electrolytes but also has a lot of added sugar and color dyes, so I’d recommend keeping to the electrolyte powder in water instead.

Get Snacks for Your Support Team, Too

You are the one giving birth and that requires a lot of fuel. But your support people are working hard, too. Make sure to have snacks on hand for your husband or partner, your doula, and other labor support people who might be with you.

They can eat all the same things you can, but they might have more of an appetite. So options like sandwiches and microwave burritos can be good. 

Conclusion: What to Eat During Labor

To summarize, eating and drinking is restricted in some birth places because of old practices put in place to help women avoid aspiration. But the risk of that now is almost zero.

During labor, you can eat whatever you feel like eating. Eat a full meal early on, if you can, then keep your energy up with a variety of snacks you’ve eaten throughout pregnancy and that you like. Make sure to stay hydrated, too. 

And don’t forget about your support people. Have food on hand that your husband and other support people can eat to keep their energy up as they help you. 

You will be working hard during labor. Don’t be afraid to give your body what it needs. 

Until next time,

Allison

READ MORE:

The Three Stages of Labor (and How to Know Which You’re In)

The Brewer Diet: What, Why, and How (+ free checklist)

Why “What Not to Eat While Pregnant” is the Wrong Question

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