I do not like to be hungry. I’m not the kind of girl who gets a little “peckish.” I get lightheaded, irritable and dramatic about every two hours, so I snack constantly. My labor was no exception.
But here’s the thing: women have traditionally been told not to eat or drink during labor due to concerns that, should they need to go under general anesthesia, they’d inhale their stomach contents into their lungs, running the risk of choking in it or getting pneumonia. So needless to say, my ongoing requests to get mango slices or a smoothie started a battle with my L&D nurses and pretty much everyone on the floor.
Yet, research has shown that restricting women to water or ice chips during labor can make them run out of fuel, which can then lead to complications and more medical interventions. Restrictive diets can be especially dangerous for diabetic mothers who, even more so than the rest of us, need to keep their blood sugar at a stable level.
So what can you do to keep your energy up during labor without putting yourself at risk? The official word from the American Society of Anesthesiologists is that low risk mothers can, in fact, eat light meals during labor! So throw the ice chips out the window and get ready to advocate for yourself (and your appetite).
Here are are 3 tips that every hungry laboring moms should keep in mind.
1. Eat early: Most unplanned C-sections will occur after labor is already well underway, assuming that you have no complications. Fortunately, going into labor is a much less dramatic affair than it is on TV, and the first few hours may be relatively quiet. With no way of knowing if you’ll be in labor for hours or days (seriously), my advice would be to take advantage of the downtime. As soon as you think you’re having contractions for real, eat something nourishing and take a nap. That’s pretty much my go-to advice for everything, come to think of it.
2. Tell your birth team: Make sure your doctor (and your doula, if you have one) know that you want to eat during labor. They can help you curate a menu that will be the least likely to cause any issues and that will work with any special conditions you have. They’ll also give you some reassurance that you’re not a high-risk patient (or at least a heads up if you are) and will want to know if your belly’s going to be any fuller in the case of surgery.
3. Avoid foods that are high in fat. A big meal can wind up coming back to haunt you as your contractions get more intense — more than one mom has reported throwing up during labor. So resist the temptation to take a final drive through for one last Happy Meal before baby’s grand entrance. Instead, opt for bland but sustaining foods, like toasts with jam or a small scoop of plain pasta. Popsicles and sorbets are also a great snack during labor — they’re full of water and, if made with fruits, of vitamins. So they will keep you hydrated and give you a jolt of energy.
4. Favor clear fluids: The hospital will provide you with a wide variety of clear foods to eat if you have an extended stay. During my induction I got water, apple juice, yellow Jell-O (red was off limits for some reason) and chicken broth. I added coconut water for the electrolyte boost and ginger ale for comfort (as well as some dried mangoes and walnuts).