When you’ve never experienced it before, labour can feel like a big mystery.
There are so many new things, that mums can get overwhelmed.
Something that comes up quite often when women talk about their labour queries is whether they will be able to eat or drink when they’re in labour. For women who take comfort from eating, or women who are concerned about long labours, it can be daunting to think they might not be able to consume any food or liquids.
This article aims to tackle some of the main concerns about eating and drinking during labour, separating fact from fiction to give mums-to-be some peace of mind.
Is it ok to eat when in labour?
The short answer to this question is YES, it is ok to eat and drink during labour.
Some women, but not all, get both hungry and thirsty when they’re in labour, particularly during the early stages of the process. Current studies on the topic have found that there are no harmful effects to either eating or drinking during labour, and that is for mums and their babies.
Generally, hospitals follow these guidelines and advise that women can eat lightly during labour, just as long as they aren’t using specific painkillers or at risk of complications. However, in Australia, there are still some hospitals that restrict women from eating and drinking during their labour.
If there are no limits on whether you can eat or drink, many women find that eating light snacks and sipping on drinks can help you deal with labour better. The reason behind this is that not getting enough food and drink can send your body into ketosis, a state where your body breaks down its fat stores for energy. Ketosis is a natural reaction, but during ketosis, you can experience nausea, vomiting and headaches.
Labour is an exhausting activity, so providing there are no limits on you doing so, it makes sense to get a few extra calories to burn to keep you going.
What things are good to eat?
In terms of the kind of foods you should be eating, mums-to-be should listen to what their stomach is calling for. However, you should keep in mind that high-fat foods can sit heavily in the stomach, potentially making you feel sick, while high sugar foods provide only a short burst of energy, followed by an energy low.
The best kinds of foods to eat during labour are carbohydrate-heavy foods, which provide a longer and more gradual release of energy. Just what you need when you have contractions!
Suitable high-carb foods include:
- breads (including toast, naan or chapati)
- plain biscuits
Other suitable foods include:
The key with eating during labour is to eat small amounts regularly, instead of one large meal. If you’re hungry in the early stages of labour, you’ll tend to find that a small snack every hour will provide the energy you’ll be needing later on.
What about drinking?
Along with food, you’ll need to drink during labour. Some mums find that the urge to eat and drink diminishes when they’re in established labour, but it is thirsty work and you’ll need to ensure you don’t get dehydrated. If you’re concerned about having to go to the toilet and pee, don’t worry. Many midwives encourage this movement to keep active during labour!
In terms of the kinds of drinks you might find best during labour, many mums like the isotonic drinks that are popular with sports people. However, it does pay to try a few of the flavours before you’re actually in labour, to make sure you like the taste. Other than that, coconut water, diluted apple juice and weak cordial are all good ideas, along with fruit smoothies (particularly those with banana and yoghurt). Of course, you could just drink water as well! Drinks to avoid include fizzy drinks that will give you a sugar high, and overly acidic juice like orange and grapefruit.
How about emergency C-sections?
One of the main reasons that women are often encouraged not to eat and drink during labour is in case they have to undergo an emergency c-section under general anaesthetic. With general anaesthetic, there is a small risk of food that a patient has eaten being regurgitated and aspirated as the drug is being administered.
However, this risk is much lower than it used to be, and not just because caesareans are more often undertaken with an epidural or spinal injection instead of a general anaesthetic. Some high risk pregnancies might require a general anaesthetic caesarean, so if you are considered high-risk, always talk to your doctor or midwife before eating.
If you have eaten and you do need general anaesthetic, don’t worry too much. We have come a long way in the world of anaesthetic science over the last few years, and these anaesthetics are often used on emergency patients who have not fasted prior to surgery. Even if you did fast during your labour, there’s no guarantee you’ll have an empty stomach because digestion can be quite slow during pregnancy.
At the end of the day, it’s important to listen to your body, and the advice of your doctor, when it comes to eating and drinking. Done right, eating during labour provides you with much-needed energy for the task ahead.