Is it safe to eat during labour?

Labour can last for hours so what happens when you get hungry? Is it safe to eat or is it best just to drink water?

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A recent study from the American Society of Anaesthesiologists has found that not only is it safe to eat during labour, it’s actually important to eat – and to do so early on.

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The expert view

Midwife Anne Richley says it’s safe to eat while you are in labour because food and drink are the best way to maintain your energy and keep contractions coming.

“Once in established labour you can still have snacks and drinks,” says Anne. “Don’t bother with sugar-free. Get some high-energy drinks in and a bag of sweets or dried fruit. Toast and jam or a banana can go down well when you’re tired and need an extra boost.”

The only time you wouldn’t be advised to eat during labour, she says, is if you are high risk, need a general anaesthetic, for example for a caesarean, or have been given an opioid pain-relieving drug such as pethidine, meptid or diamorphine.

“Even when you don’t want to eat any longer, chances are you’ll still be thirsty, so cartons of drink with a straw will be useful. Ice lollies are also refreshing, so buy a bag of ice pops or small fruit lollies for at home.” 

So what’s best to eat during labour?

Midwife Nikki Carr recommends you chow down on:

  • Pasta
  • Eggs
  • Toast
  • Bananas

The NHS says women have, in the past, been advised against eating in labour because of the risk of breathing food back into the lungs if they are given a general anaesthetic. However, it advises eating and drinking regularly while in early labour to keep energy levels up. It’s also important to eat well after giving birth.

And the latest study from the American Society of Anaesthiologists agrees: “Women traditionally have been told to avoid eating or drinking during labour due to concerns they may aspirate, or inhale liquid or food into their lungs, which can cause pneumonia.

“But advances in anaesthesia care means most healthy women are highly unlikely to have this problem today and when researchers reviewed the literature of hundreds of studies on the topic, they determined that withholding food and liquids may be unnecessary for many women in labour.” 

So what’s top of the scoffs with you lot during labour? 

Ninky says: “I packed loads but couldn’t eat any of it as I was in too much pain. It did come in handy for the next day though when I was waiting to be discharged.

“I got multi packs of chocolate bars, cereal bars and a bag of sweets and then a multipack of those little orange juice cartons with the straws (stuff that I could pre-buy and didn’t need to be in the fridge). This time I’ll be sure to pack a couple of bottles of Lucozade!”

But Allyd28 says she ate absolutely nothing. “I didn’t bother packing anything to eat during labour as our delivery suite only let you have water. I did have some cartons of juice and cereal bars in my bag for afterwards though. And Mr Kipling cakes which were great at 3am when I couldn’t sleep. I didn’t bother with chocolate as the wards were so hot it would have melted!”

Lucky old Blackcat didn’t eat during her labour, but did gulp down a few gallons of Lucozade: “I had the lucozade sport (the still lemon & lime ones) flapjacks, chocolate, jelly babies, cereal bars. Both labours were very quick so only needed the lucozade both times. 1st labour I was incredibly grateful for the chocolate straight after labour whilst waiting the few hours to feel awake enough to go home but after this labour I was obviously at home so was snacking on the flapjack & chocolate biscuits we’d bought for the midwives for a few days after. Better to have too much to keep your energy up x”

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