What To Eat & Drink In Labour According To A Doula!!
(Updated May 2023)
There is a very common myth, generally perpetrated by Hollywood, that you can only have ice chips in labour. The thought of that may seem crazy, to do so much physical work, for many hours on nothing but water and ice chips. Sadly in generations past this was the norm. However now a days that isn't necessarily true. These days you can and should eat, especially if you are hungry and of course drinking something other than water is also necessary. But what are the best options to choose?
Staying well hydrated in labour is incredibly important. Not only does becoming dehydrated affect you but it will also affect baby. It could cause baby's heart rate to increase higher than normal and you would need to be placed on continuous IV fluids if you weren't already on it. This can cause swelling or edema in both you and baby and often lead to breast/chest feeding issues.
So while you can absolutely drink water in labour you definitely have other options. An obvious choice is juice. Apple, orange, cranberry, or whatever else you happen to like. Juice will give you the calories and energy you need to keep going with labour. Most hospitals will have a variety of juices available to birthing parents so you won't have to pack your own unless you want something specific or an unusual flavour.
Many people you ask will say you should drink Gatorade, or a sports drink. And you can definitely drink these, however I generally suggest that you drink it sparingly or watered down. Sports drinks are designed to replenish your electrolytes after you have done a huge workout. And in labour you are working very hard, however you aren't sweating like you would be in a workout. And because they are chemical based electrolytes they can build up in your system and you would actually need to be on an IV to balance out your electrolytes. A natural electrolyte that can a better option is coconut water. Because coconut water has natural electrolytes your body can manage them better and discard what aren't needed.
Other options for drinking in labour include, decaffeinated teas, broth or water with something in it like lemons, other fruits or cucumbers. They can be refreshing and you can eat the fruit when you are done.
I generally don't recommend any dairy products for drinking like milk. It isn't uncommon for the birthing parent to vomit during labour and vomiting dairy won't be good for anyone in the room after. The smell will be overwhelming and not a great situation for everyone.
Tip! It will be important for your partner to make sure you are taking sips of fluid throughout the labour and also reminding you to go to the bathroom. Staying well hydrated means your bladder will also fill and need to be emptied periodically. Having a full bladder will prevent baby from moving down into the vaginal canal, lengthening your labour and causing your contractions to feel more intense.
Eating in labour is also not prohibited until an epidural comes into play. If you are hungry, eating light snacks in labour can, again, give you the energy you need to labour and push your baby out. You want to choose foods that are packed with nutrients and proteins or complex carbohydrates as opposed to just sugary snacks. These will give you a longer sustained energy boost where as simple sugary snacks will give you a rapid boost but a quick crash.
My choices for my clients include, fruit or fruit purees, things like apple sauce are easy to pack for the hospital and easy to eat. Smoothies are great options as well while you are at home and can provide the energy and comfort you need to stay home a little longer as well it is hydrating, though it is usually best to make with juice instead of milk or dairy products.
Food that is easy to eat, such as toast with nut butters, trail mix, dried fruit or protein packed granola bars are things to nibble on throughout labour and again are easily eaten and transportable. And most hospitals will only offer food trays with clear fluids so these are foods you would have to bring with you. And packing food for labour is a great way spend early labour. Remember too, pack enough food for your support person / partner as well. They will need to stay fed and hydrated as well or you may find they faint during a long labour.
Remember though once an epidural comes into play what you can eat will be severely restricted. To keep your energy up you will be able to eat and drink but what you consume has to be see through. Those things include, apple juice, not orange juice, jello and popsicles. Most hospitals will supply these in their patient kitchenettes so you won't have to bring these with you.
And finally, as stated above, I don't generally recommend dairy products like yogurt or cheese in labour. As great as they are, if vomiting occurs it will be a terrible situation for all involved. I know this from personal experience....
Tip! For the partner, when the birthing parent tells you to eat, you eat. Even if you aren't hungry. It's not uncommon for birthing parents to worry about their support people while they labour and if they are worried about you they aren't focused on themselves and they really do need to be focused on keeping relaxed and calm during the labour. So if they say eat or drink you do it, no questions asked.
As a Virtual Doula, I support families during their birth, labour and the immediate postpartum period. One of my jobs is to help remind the birthing parents to eat and drink through out the birth so they can stay strong and up right for the entire labour and delivery. From personal experience (my husband fainted during the birth of our third baby) I know how important it is to stay fed and hydrated throughout. So make sure you make this a priority.