Can I Eat In Labor?

Would you starve yourself to run aFor a long time now we’ve all been sold an idea that women shouldn’t eat in labor.

The “risk of aspiration” excuse is tossed around, and the idea of properly nourishing a woman during the physical endurance challenge of childbirth goes out the window.

The thing is though, there is no evidence that the risk is real. The idea is an archaic one, based upon medicine practiced in the 1940’s & 50’s, when medicine, technology and childbirth were managed differently.

A very good Cochrane review of the lack of evidenced in restricting food is summed up nicely here.

Childbirth birth, especially for a first time mom, can be an endurance challenge. Marathon runners load up and pay close attention to their calorie intake. Nourishing foods to enrich and sustain them are made available at every check point and threshold. Why shouldn’t a laboring woman be allowed the same respect for her laboring body?

A woman who is depleted of fuel will start to dwindle, and lose energy during her labor. It is simply common sense to make nourishment available. Yes, many, many women no longer have an appetite once active labor begins. And indeed, her instinct on what her stomach can handle should be honored. But gently offering small amounts of calorie rich morsels of food and drink can help to sustain her, and will likely be welcomed by the woman.

photo (6)Any good doula knows you don’t ask a woman in active labor if she’s hungry or what she wants to eat. Instead, have available little nibbles to offer here or there. They can pack a wallop of energy at just the right moment when she needs it most. Nothing big – soups, melon, spoonful of honey, smoothies, toast, cheese, nuts & nut butters,  scrambled egg, sherbet, water with fruit in it, berries, grapes, brown rice, healthy “comfort foods”. Much of this is transferable from home to the hospital setting.

You get the idea. Simple, small bites can make a huge difference in energy levels.

In 2013 Lamaze came out with a push to nourish women in labor through their campaign, No Food, No Drink During Labor, NO WAY! Check it out.

It just makes zero sense to routinely restrict women from eating or drinking in labor. Talk to your doctor or midwife ahead of time about their approach and hospital policy. Be an active voice, and ask for any evidence to support the practice of restriction. Advocate for eating as desired during the entirety of your labor. Change is happening for sure. In our years as working as doulas we’ve seen many more moms have access and be “allowed” to eat in her hospital setting. But the strongest voice to create real change comes from you, the laboring woman herself. So go ahead – pack a banana and some GORP in your hospital bag. Take a bite! Start eating! Nourish!

Happy labor & eating,
Deirdre McLary