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Snacks for before and during labour
Whether you’re planning a home birth or a hospital delivery, 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 unhealthy options from a vending machine. And stocking up on a selection of foods at home makes it easy for you and your partner to snack healthily during the early stages of labour and once your baby is born.
Labour uses up an enormous amount of energy and your body requires a sufficient amount of nutrients to get through it.
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. Ketosis is a condition where the body dips into its fat reserves for energy, with symptoms including nausea and headaches. Even a small amount of nourishment, such as a small handful of raisins or a sip of an isotonic drink, can help to keep you going2.
When it comes to what to eat, it's best to be guided to some degree by your appetite. Bear in mind that high-fat foods will sit heavy on your stomach and could make you feel nauseous. And sugary foods will only give you a short-lived energy boost and may leave you feeling tired and less alert.
Try packing some of the following energy-packed 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, humous or sliced banana
- Wholegrain biscuits and crackers
- Energy bars (be mindful of the sugar content)
- Dried fruit and nuts
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As you might expect, labour’s thirsty work. It’s important to drink regularly to replace lost fluids from sweat and avoid dehydration.
While water is always a good choice, as you move into the later stages, an isotonic drink may be more helpful. Having an isotonic drink during labour can help to provide extra calories and energy if you don’t feel like eating.
It’s best to avoid fizzy drinks, which can provide energy, but may also cause nausea and sickness.
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.
- 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, so instead try wholegrain carbohydrates, like wholegrain oatcakes, for a slower release supply.
- Eating larger, heavier 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.
Stock up ahead of your due date
Labour can be long and unpredictable, sometimes lasting 24 hours or more. If you have your baby in hospital, you may have a longer stay than expected. Your partner is likely to need snacks too, and you may not want them to leave you to go in search of food.
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.
- Toohill J et al. Interventions for ketosis during labour. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2008;(3).
- Kubli M et al. An evaluation of isotonic “sports drinks” during labour. Anesth Analg 2002;94(2):404-408
- O’Sullivan GI. Effect of food intake during labour on obstetric outcome: randomised controlled trial. BMJ 2009;24:338.
Questions about feeding and nutrition?
Our midwives, nutritionists and feeding advisors are always on hand to talk about feeding your baby. So if you have a question, just get in touch.