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Eating during and after labour

Snacks for sustenance


Labour takes a huge amount of energy, so it’s a good idea to have snacks on hand to help keep you going. Read about what to consider when packing snacks in your hospital bag, and how to stay well hydrated throughout labour.

Snacks for during and after labour

Wherever you’re planning to deliver your baby, it’s helpful to have snacks on hand in case you feel like eating during labour, and to replenish essential nutrients and calories after birth.

If you’re delivering in a hospital, adding a variety of nutritious snacks to your hospital bag checklist means you won’t need to rely on the canteen being open, or be limited to the often unhealthy options of a vending machine. And stocking up on a selection of foods at home makes it easy for your and your partner to snack healthily during the early stages of labour and once your baby is born.

Nutrition in labour

Labour uses up an enormous amount of energy. As with all other endurance events, the body requires a sufficient amount of nutrition to get through it.

Women are prone to a condition called ketosis if they don’t receive adequate nutrition during labour1. The body can dip into its fat reserves for energy, with symptoms including nausea and headaches, which can also be a sign of exhaustion.

Studies suggest that as well as helping you through periods of fatigue, receiving adequate nutrition during labour can help to reduce the risk of ketosis1. Even a small amount of nourishment, such as a sip of juice or an isotonic drink, can help to keep you going2.

Foods for during and after labour

Labour takes a huge amount of energy, so it’s a good idea to have snacks on hand to help keep you going.

Practical preparations for the long haul

Labour is unpredictable but first labours are often long, sometimes 24 hours or more. If you’re delivering in hospital, you may have a longer stay than expected. Being well prepared with plenty of snack options means you’ll have what you need if you feel like eating during your labour or to support those first few days of breastfeeding if you have an extended stay.

Points to bear in mind when it comes to eating before, during and after labour:

  • Eating little and often will help to sustain your energy.
  • Bite-sized portions are ideal.
  • High sugar foods provide a short-lived burst of energy. Try wholegrain carbohydrates instead for a slower release supply.
  • Eating larger snacks or meals may make you feel nauseous.
  • Eat when you feel hungry, rather than waiting until later.
  • You may be asked to avoid eating or drinking if a caesarean birth is likely.
  • Your partner is likely to need snacks too, and you may not want them to leave you to go in search of food. Pack plenty.
  • There’s no right or wrong when it comes to eating in labour, so listen to your body and respond accordingly. Some research shows that there’s no difference in the length of labour or the number of complications experienced between mums who chose to eat and those who didn’t3.

Staying well hydrated during labour

As you might expect, labour is thirsty work. It’s important to drink regularly to replace lost fluids from sweat and avoid dehydration.

Water is a good choice to drink throughout labour. As you move into the later stages, an isotonic drink can help to provide calories if you don’t feel like eating food.

It’s best to avoid fizzy drinks, which can provide energy, but may also cause nausea and sickness.

Next Steps

Pack some of the following foods in your hospital bag, or keep them stocked up at home, ready for when labour starts:

  • Bananas and other fresh fruits
  • Wholemeal bread and healthy sandwich fillings such as chicken, turkey and banana
  • Wholegrain biscuits/crackers/energy bars
  • Breadsticks
  • Dried fruit and nut mix
  • A bottle of water
  • An isotonic sports drink

View references

Hide references

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1. Toohill J et al. Interventions for ketosis during labour. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2008;(3).

2. Kubli M et al. An evaluation of isotonic “sports drinks” during labour. Anesth Analg 2002;94(2):404-408

3. O’Sullivan GI. Effect of food intake during labour on obstetric outcome: randomised controlled trial. BMJ 2009;24:338.

Last reviewed: 29th July 2014
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