MS, RD, LDN, CBS
Janel holds a Master’s in Nutrition Communication from Tufts University. As the recipient of the 2010 Massachusetts Young Dietitian of the Year award, she believes in making healthy eating simple, sustainable, and delicious.
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You’ve been eating well during pregnancy to support your
baby’s growth and development, and maybe you’ve even stockpiled some freezer
meals to enjoy once your baby is here and you don’t have time to cook. But have
you thought about how to fuel your body during labor? While your labor time is
short – at least compared to a 40 week pregnancy – it’s obviously a big event
and requires good nutrition to provide energy during labor, childbirth and
immediate recovery. Some women compare labor to a marathon, and fueling
yourself properly will only help to make the process better by giving you the
energy to labor and push (or recover from c-section surgery).
You may have seen movies where the woman in labor is
restricted to chomping on ice chips only while she labors in bed. The
recommendation for only ice chips while in labor was previously put in place to
keep the stomach virtually empty to reduce the slight risk of aspiration if
anesthesia becomes necessary for an emergency surgical delivery, which is rare.
Now, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has issued
guidelines okaying small amounts of clear liquid for women who are having
uncomplicated labors. This includes juice without pulp, clear broth, tea, black
coffee, sports drinks, coconut water, and in some cases, Jell-o. Those
scheduled for a c-section can have clear liquids up to two hours before
surgery. Staying hydrated is especially important as a long labor can make
women especially thirsty. Have different beverage options nearby in cups with
straws so your partner can easily hold the cup for you while you take sips
The current guidelines stop at clear liquids and laboring
moms are still advised to stay away from solid food. However, some hospitals
are loosening their grip on this recommendation as the likelihood that a laboring
mother will aspirate during childbirth is rare. In fact, some doctors are
reevaluating their practice and working with moms to find ways to make them
more comfortable, even if that means eating lightly in the early stages of
labor, assuming they had a low risk, uncomplicated pregnancy.
Speak to your doctor in advance about your options for fuel
during labor. Some women have no interest in eating once they’re in more active
labor, so have appealing, easy-to-digest foods on hand for early labor. Choose light
foods like those listed below that contain complex carbohydrates as opposed to
those that are sugary, fatty or fried so you have long-lasting energy for
Some women even pack sport gels or energy blocks (like those
that are oftentimes used by long-distance runners and can be found in sporting
goods stores) in their hospital bag to provide quick energy and electrolytes in
a tiny package that is easy to eat during labor.
Don’t forget your partner! They’ll be glad to have packed
bars, nuts or some crackers – nothing with a strong smell that may be
off-putting to you – to quickly grab and snack on so they have the energy to
support and coach you in your final push of labor.
“Restriction of oral intake during labor: whither are we bound?” American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, date accessed October 8, 2018. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26812080#>
“Most healthy women would benefit from light meal during labor.” American Society of Anesthesiologists, date accessed July 27, 2018. <https://www.asahq.org/about-asa/newsroom/news-releases/2015/10/eating-a-light-meal-during-labor>