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What did you eat during labor?

by Adriana Lozada

During a recent birth, the birthing mom was feeling peckish. This is a common state for her, as she usually goes about her day nibbling here and tasting there.

As we walked up and down labor floor corridors, she nibbled on power bars. After getting out of the tub, she gobbled up a cup of chocolate ice cream. But the best part was when – after finding out that the hospital cafe was having a special cheese tasting event (cheese tasting!), she sent her husband down to get some for her, and some for himself as well. She nibbled on aged gouda, and remarked that the chèvre was delish as she approached transition. She didn’t want any coconut water, but preferred ginger ale and a cranberry-grape juice combo while she pushed.

From the get-go, she never considered that eating during labor would be a problem, so she just matter-of-factly went about eating to satisfy her hunger and keep her energy level up throughout her day-long labor. None of the medical staff made a comment when they saw her eating. By that point it was either a non-issue, too late, or better ignored.

Many practices limit what a laboring mother can ingest to “clear liquids” (this includes ice pops, lollipops, water, juice, jello, clear broths, ice chips, etc. and is recommended by the American Society of Anesthesiologists for “uncomplicated laboring patients”), or NPO (which means “nothing by mouth” and will basically leave you sucking on ice chips, or some sips of water at most). Considering that labor can last long hours or even days and requires intense work by the whole body, this seems counterintuitive.

The infamous “Risk of Aspiration”

So where does this recommendation come from? It’s mostly due to Mendelson’s Syndrome, which goes something like this:

  • IF mom were to require an emergency C-section
  • AND there was no time to give her a spinal block
  • AND she didn’t already have a working epidural
  • she would need general anesthesia
  • AND IF while being knocked out she threw up
  • AND IF she happen to breathe in (ie. aspirate) the vomit
  • then really bad things could happen.

The risk of this happening is 7 in 10 million births. You have a much better chance of being struck by lightning (which would also qualify as really bad things happening), but still more likely than winning the lottery.

Now, these really bad things could happen even if you haven’t eaten, because they are created by getting ANY stuff (gastric juice, blood, bile, water, semi-disgeted food) that’s in your stomach, into your lungs. The consensus behind not letting you eat is that there would be more stuff in your stomach if you ate, so more chance of it being aspirated. A woman who wants to sit down to a three course meal while in labor is rare. Most women–like in the example above–will just want to nibble throughout, and that small nibbling will not linger for long in her stomach.

This practice of limiting what mom’s eat started after cases of aspiration were reported in the mid-40’s, but since then anesthesia has greatly evolved and very few moms require general anesthesia. The fact that epidurals and spinal blocks exist and are widely used for c-section has significantly reduced the number of cases of aspiration.

If you want to read up on the research that has been done on the subject, concluding that “in women who are low risk, there is no evidence of harm in eating and drinking during labor.” go take a look at the Q&A on Food and drink during Labor done by Rebecca L. Dekker, founder of Evidence Based Birth.*

Evidence Based Birth even has it in a printable “practice bulletin”. All you have to do is sign up for her fabulous and non-spammy newsletter, then you can download, print, and take it to your care provider for discussion, or to hand to staff at the hospital in case they are opposed to you taking part in that day’s cheese tasting, or whatever other special event your place of birth is hosting to coincide with your day of delivery.

Nibbling throughout,
Adriana

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*I’m not affiliated with Evidence Based Birth. I am a big fan of the blog and the great work that Rebecca is doing for the birth community at large! You should follow her!

This information is not intended as medical advice. Consult your health-care provider to address your specific situation. The above information refers to low-risk mothers, and not those with medically indicated reasons for limiting their food intake (like gestational diabetes, or preeclampsia, altered glucose levels, for example).

What did you eat during labor? Tell me in the comments:

Adriana Lozada

Comments

Cheryl

Homemade banana bread! I made and froze a few loafs and some muffins before my due date. Then, I just thawed it out, buttered it and munched! That’s my favorite birth snack.

Also happend to have a slice of pizza too, since that’s what hubby was having for lunch.

Adriana Lozada

That’s such a yummy suggestion!

Rachel

When Luke was born, I got to enjoy hospital-provided sugar-free jello on day one. On the morning of day two, they let me order a “light breakfast” (french toast, if I recall correctly). I didn’t eat until after he was born on day three. I also remember sneaking peanut butter granola bars out of our personal stash throughout.
I don’t remember being the slightest bit hungry during Harper’s (much faster!) birth. I just wanted water. And maybe jelly beans? I was all about fruity candy with that pregnancy.

Adriana Lozada

Those second babies come quick! Thanks for sharing.

Anne

I did Hypnobabies and knew how important it was to eat and drink during labor. That said, I just couldn’t get anything down. The thought of eating made me want to die. It was everything my husband could do to get me to drink water & apple juice. Even after giving birth, I didn’t want to eat anything. I had to choke down a few bites of bread and maybe three spoonfulls of chicken noodle soup.

Adriana Lozada

We think births are going to go one way, and then they do something completely different! The whole time I was in labor, mom was making chicken soup, and the smell made me soooo nauseous. Water was about it for me at that point too. I was happy to finally go to the hospital so I could get away from the smell. 🙂

Jessica @ A Bushel and A Peck

I woke up in labor around 2am and was awake from that point on until I had baby boy around 8:45 pm that night…
I munched through the wee morning hours, ate a normal breakfast can’t remember what exactly, around noon I was really hungry so I suggested we all go out for Chinese. I was the laboring mom so no one argued, we went for Chinese, I had to stand up and breath through a couple contractions during lunch 🙂
Around 3:30/4pm labor was getting a bit painful, but hubby suggested I eat so I had yogurt and some nuts… Shortly after that labor really kicked in and transition was starting so I didn’t think about food again until after I had delivered baby around 8:45pm. I never threw up, I never even felt nauseous even during the toughest part of labor…

Adriana Lozada

No one argued with the laboring mom. Love it! Seems like you were able to munch the whole way trough as well. 🙂