Why Can’t You Eat During Labor?
Going into labor and giving birth is hard work, so it’s only natural that you may get hungry, especially if you’re in labor for hours. But you can’t expect to order Uber Eats and get it delivered to your labor room. There are rules in place when it comes to eating solid foods during labor. Your food intake during labor can severely impact your health and the delivery process, so it’s important to understand the dos and don’ts.
We’re going to take a look at why eating during labor is often restricted and what foods and beverages you may be able to actually have while you’re hard at work delivering your baby.
Is It Normal to Feel Hungry During Labor?
It can be normal to feel hungry and thirsty during labor, especially if you have a long labor and you haven’t been allowed to eat for hours. Many women are hungry in the beginning stages as well. When you’re still at home during the early stages of labor, you may want to have some light snacks to prepare for the hard work ahead.
While some women get hungry during labor, some get nauseous even at the mention of food. You have to see where you fall to determine the best steps to take for your body. When it comes to actually giving birth – well, you’re likely to be otherwise occupied, and craving your favorite meal will probably be the last thing on your mind.
Can You Eat During Labor?
There’s no cut-and-dry answer here because some healthcare providers may allow patients to not only have clear liquids but also light foods during labor if they’re not considered high-risk.
The opinion that it’s healthy to fast during labor dates back to the mid-20th century when pregnant women were put under general anesthesia during labor. This puts them at risk of aspiration during labor. Aspiration occurs when food or liquid is inhaled into the lungs. It can lead to severe inflammatory reactions and even death. It’s often the reason why people are asked to fast before going into surgery.
Some pregnant women can be at an increased risk of aspiration for two main reasons:
- Progesterone, the hormone associated with pregnancy, is a muscle relaxant. The muscles at the bottom of the esophagus that acts as a wall to keep the contents of the stomach from getting into the lungs and windpipe are less likely to be as tight to keep the stomach contents inside.
- A woman’s enlarged uterus puts pressure on the stomach.
This is why it was decided that women should not eat during labor. Ice chips were allowed because they would melt, but any other liquids would come through an IV.
Since general anesthesia is no longer commonly used during vaginal delivery, and women are awake and conscious, the risk of aspiration is no longer a major concern. Many women opt for an epidural for pain relief during labor.
If you are having a C-section, there is an entirely different set of rules and general anesthesia may still be used. Since a Cesarean is treated like surgery, your healthcare provider will typically ask you to avoid eating anything.
Why Do Some Doctors Allow Women to Eat During Labor?
Some doctors may allow healthy women to have some light snacks during labor. Researchers have found that having fewer restrictions on eating during labor resulted in shorter deliveries. Other studies have shown that restricting what women can have during labor & delivery can increase stress.
For some women, eating and drinking can make them more comfortable during labor. But what you can ultimately have during labor will be up to your healthcare professional. It’s best to follow those guidelines to have a safe delivery.
Eating & Drinking During the Stages of Labor
Many hospitals will allow pregnant women to have clear liquids during the early stages of labor, just when the contractions are starting. They will typically allow ice chips or small sips of fluid. But some birthing centers forbid drinking or eating at all once a pregnant woman is in their care and preparing for delivery.
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), low-risk pregnant women in labor should be allowed to drink clear liquids during labor. Since there is always the possibility of dehydration, drinking during labor and keeping hydrated is a good move and can help to prevent the need for intravenous (IV) hydration.
As you prepare for labor and delivery, here are some tips to keep in mind when it comes to eating during the various stages of labor.
Before you get to the hospital, you may eat light foods. Avoid eating anything heavy because you might soon begin to experience nausea.
When you’re still at home in very early labor (the period when your contractions are not close enough to be admitted to the hospital), you’ll want to choose light meals and small snacks that are easy to digest. Lay off the spicy and fatty foods!
Eating complex carbohydrates is a good idea because it can give you energy. Oatmeal, brown rice, and crackers are often good choices. Frozen fruits or popsicles can also be refreshing. You may also want to consider foods high in protein to keep your energy up. These can include cheese or Greek yogurt.
At the Hospital or Birthing Center
Once you get to the hospital or birthing center, you have to follow their policies and those of your OB/GYN. They are going to set the rules for you to follow. Some places may allow you to have clear broth or even light toast or cooked fruits, while others won’t.
Some women opt for things like honey sticks or energy gels that marathon runners use. These types of things can give you the energy to reach the finish line. But you’ll have to get the green light from your care provider before having them.
During Active Labor
As your labor progresses and you’re in the active stage of pushing, water, clear liquids, and ice chips may be all that you’re allowed to have. Hospital policies can be strict at this point, so you want to be sure to follow them to ensure safe delivery. Save the heavy meals and snacks for your postpartum hours! Let’s be honest, eating is probably going to be the last thing on your mind when you’re in active labor anyway.
The Bottom Line on Eating During Labor
When it comes to eating during labor, follow hospital policies and your doctor’s advice. Some may allow for light snacks during labor, while others are strict on clear liquids and ice chips only.
Before you get to the hospital for labor & delivery, eat only light meals and stay away from anything overly fatty or spicy. Stick with complex carbohydrates and protein to give you the energy you’ll need to deliver your baby. Remember, they don’t call it labor for nothing!
Was this article helpful?