Comfort Measures in Labor: Food and Drink
Labor is hard work. Really hard work. Studies have shown labor to be as demanding of energy and calories as running a marathon. It is very easy to deplete your energy during labor and to become dehydrated.
Marathons always have water and energy stations throughout the race. They know how demanding such work is on the body and how important it is to keep nourishing your muscles. It is just as important with a mother in labor. However, for many years, laboring women were restricted from eating and drinking once labor began.
There was a reasonable reason for restricting women from food and liquid. Not too long ago it was standard for women to be put under general anesthesia to give birth. My own mother was not awake for my birth…thirty some odd years ago. With anesthesia, there is a risk of aspirating or breathing in vomit. This risk is increased if the person going under anesthesia has eaten recently. The biggest problem with aspiration is developing aspiration pneumonia or Mendelson’s syndrome. This is a very serious situation that has resulted in death.
The risk of aspirating during anesthesia has greatly diminished in recent years due to improved techniques, medications, and technology. The risk is even less now for the laboring mother due to the use of general anesthesia being very rare.
“Researchers said aspiration today is almost nonexistent, especially in healthy patients. In the United States, there was only one case of aspiration associated with labor and delivery between 2005 and 2013, involving a complicated case of a woman who was obese and had pre-eclampsia (a precursor to eclampsia, or high blood pressure that can lead to seizures), according to the American Society of Anesthesiology’s Closed Claims Project database. Researchers also noted that no cases of death due to aspiration were reported in the United Kingdom between 2000 and 2005, compared to 1.5 cases per 1,000 during the 1940s.” (The American Society of Anesthesiologist)
The restriction of food and drink is slowly being loosened, however, some physicians and hospitals still have policies that reflect the old traditions. I highly recommend checking with your physician/midwife and hospital/birthing center prior to going into labor about their policy regarding food and drink.
Eating in labor more beneficial in small amounts, more akin to snacking. Eating too much or foods that are heavy may make you feel nauseas when contractions start getting stronger, so choose items that are easy to digest and contain protein and carbohydrates. If you are planning to birth at a location other than your home, make sure you pack several snacks in your hospital bag. If you go into labor during the night, your options for hospital food is significantly limited. Also make sure you pack similar snacks for your husband and anyone else you plan to be with you during labor. (Don’t worry about your doula. She will bring her own snacks.)
You may feel like eating more during early labor than you will in the later stages so you may want to pack some things that will be an energy booster without requiring you to actually chew or feel like you are filling up your stomach such as honey sticks or coconut water.
- toast/bagel and jam/jelly
- fresh and dried fruit
- granola/protein bars
- protein shakes/smoothies
- plain pasta
- popsicles or sorbet
- honey sticks
- rice cakes
- oatmeal/cream of wheat
- trail mix
- nut butters
- broths/light soups
- beef jerky
- fruit leather
Dehydration can come on quickly and lead to complications in labor and delivery. It also increases your stress and anxiety which reduces you oxytocin production which can lead to labor stalling and increasing your chances of intervention.
Ketosis is one serious risk in labor that can be caused by dehydration. This can lead to weakness, exhaustion, fever, fast heart rate, and contractions to slow and become less effective. If this happens, an IV may be required and they may feel it is necessary to give you medications to speed up labor. This may require continuous fetal monitoring to make sure the baby does not become distressed which may restrict mom to laboring in bed. The large amounts of IV fluids that the mother is given can lead to fluid accumulation in the mother, and the baby’s, lungs that may require longer hospitalization and possible observation of the baby in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).
It is much more beneficial and more pleasant of an experience to make sure you get plenty of fluids orally rather than through an IV. If you birth outside of your home, they location will provide you with plenty of water and ice. However, you may also want to pack a few more drinks you enjoy, as well.
- coconut water
- water additives like crystal light
- homemade electrolyte drinks (lots of recipes on Pinterest)
- red raspberry leaf tea
What to avoid consuming in labor
Some foods and drinks are better to not be consumed in labor. Some may increase your chance of nausea, put you at greater risk of dehydration, increase water retention (edema), or may cause other undesirable effects.
What to avoid
- red foods that may look like blood if you vomit
- highly aromatic foods
- acidic foods/drinks
- Artificial electrolyte drinks
- Products which contain high amounts of artificial vitamins/minerals
- eating large amounts
- eating foods that feel heavy on your stomach
Eating and drinking in labor is very important. However, there are some conditions and complications that may call for more restriction than other mothers. Always check with your physician or midwife as to what is safe for you to consume in labor.
Make sure your pantry and fridge are filled with some of these goodies and that you add a few to your birth bag if you plan to birth outside of your home. These all make great snacks both during pregnancy and in the postpartum, as well. Have a healthy and well-nourished birth!
If you are in the Denton, TX area and are interested in hiring a doula for your birth experience, contact me today to schedule a free consultation. If you are interested in learning about more comfort measures in labor, check out my Comfort Measures page.
- “Most Healthy Women Would Benefit from Light Meal during Labor.” American Society of Anesthesiologists. American Society of Anesthesiologists, 6 Nov. 2015. Web. 03 Oct. 2016. <https://www.asahq.org/about-asa/newsroom/news-releases/2015/10/eating-a-light-meal-during-labor>.
- Dekker, Rebecca. “Q & A: Food and Drink during Labor.” Evidence Based Birth. Evidence Based Birth®, 01 May 2012. Web. 03 Oct. 2016. <http://evidencebasedbirth.com/q-a-food-and-drink-during-labor-9/>.
- Devine, Ruth. “Ketosis: Why Women Need to Drink Their Way through Labour.” Kidspot. News Life Media, 18 Aug. 2015. Web. 3 Oct. 2016. <http://www.kidspot.com.au/birth/pregnancy/pregnancy-health/ketosis-why-women-need-to-drink-their-way-through-labour>.
- Shaw, Gina. “Water and Stress Reduction: Sipping Stress Away.” WebMD. WebMD, 7 July 2009. Web. 03 Oct. 2016. <http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/water-stress-reduction>.