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Eating in Labor

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Can you eat while you're in labor? Yes, but only if you stick to certain foods. 

Your grandmother was probably given much stricter advice: "Don't eat anything!" was the decree issued to laboring women in the 1940s and 1950s. The reason for such caution had to do with the large amounts of painkilling drugs given during labor and the general anesthesia used for birth. When women were heavily sedated or not conscious, they were unable to control their breathing and swallowing. If a woman ate just prior to labor, she ran the risk of vomiting and then aspirating the stomach contents into her lungs, which would cause her to choke.

Today: Similar Advice, Different Reasons

Foods You Can Safely Eat During Early Labor

Today: Similar Advice, Different Reasons

Things are very different today. Doctors no longer give women such strong drugs for labor, and general anesthesia is seldom used during birth. Women are alert and responsive and have full control over their breathing and swallowing. Still, you will probably be advised to avoid most foods during labor, mainly because of the discomfort that can result. As labor progresses, some women experience nausea caused by their pain medication or by the mere intensity of labor; if their stomach is full, the nausea may lead to vomiting. While this isn't dangerous, it is an added discomfort to deal with.

Also, digestion stops during labor. Your blood flow is directed not to your stomach but to your uterus, where all the work is being done. As a result, foods you eat during labor, especially high-fat foods like meat and dairy products, simply sit in your stomach. This can be uncomfortable, and it increases your risk of vomiting if you do become nauseous.

Foods You Can Safely Eat During Early Labor

That said, you don't have to cut out everything. In fact, new research has shown that fasting can actually cause the existing stomach contents to be more dangerous if aspirated, because they are higher in acid. If you become hungry during early labor (you probably won't feel like eating anything when you're in active labor), you can safely snack on certain foods that contain no fat and are therefore quickly digested. The following are all good choices: 

  • Clear beverages (apple juice, cranberry juice, tea, Sprite)
  • Clear soups, broth
  • Popsicles, ice chips 
  • Toast (not buttered), saltine crackers, graham crackers 
  • Plain pasta

If you think labor has started, resist any urge you might have to eat a big, heavy meal. The payoff for enduring hunger pangs is a more comfortable labor. So munch on the safe foods listed above, and celebrate with a pizza after the baby is born!


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