During labour, should women eat (and drink) some specific foods?

Labour is a particularly challenging time for a woman. Not only is there a certain level of trepidation, there is also a lot of pain and discomfort. It then becomes necessary that the mother-to-be is made to feel encouraged and is comforted throughout the process, so as to make it an easy birth.

On Instagram, actor Neha Dhupia’s breastfeeding and parenting page ‘Freedom To Feed’ shared a post that listed a few food and drink items for women to consume during labour, because they will need to “stock up on energy-boosting snacks and drinks”, “find a comfortable position for labour, and let [their] body do its thing”.

Here are the items:

– Coconut water
– Sports drink
– Fruits
– Whole grain toast
– Crackers
– Nuts and seeds
– Protein bars
– Honey sticks

According to Dr Nirmala M, consultant – obstetrician, gynecologist and fertility specialist, Motherhood Hospitals, Whitefield, Kannamangala Clinic, Bangalore, going through labour is a physical and mental challenge that requires a lot of calories and energy in the body.

“Obviously, women during labour do not have much desire to eat or drink as the body is entirely focused on the task at hand. Your uterus at this point is the strongest muscle in the body and like any other body part it would require enough fuel to work to its full potential. What to eat and what not to during these circumstances has been subjected to debates for a very long time,” she told indianexpress.com.

Dr Nirmala added that when in labour, women can eat something that is easy to digest. She suggested something that is not too spicy or oily. “Having heavy food during this time would make your body make more efforts in the process of digestion. Such food items can also make you vomit,” she warned, adding that complex carbohydrates — multigrain bread or crackers, whole-wheat pasta, brown rice, oatmeal etc. — are very good sources of fibre and carbohydrates. “Consuming them would provide energy.”

She also said women can eat assorted berries, grapes, melons, bananas that are easy to digest. They will provide essential nutrients and different flavours. “Protein will provide you the energy to go through labour but choosing the right source is also necessary,” the expert said, explaining that no one will recommend red meat during this time. “Opt for Greek yogurt, nut butter, protein shakes etc., that can be easily eaten and digested.”

The doctor also said that staying hydrated is also very important. “Women can go for frequent sips of their favourite juices, coconut water, soup, etc. You would not want to go for drinks that have artificial food dyes and high fructose corn syrup, and too many preservatives.”

Dr Nisha Kapoor, director and HOD – obstetrics, gynaecology and minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery at Marengo QRG Hospital, Faridabad agreed. She told this outlet that to eat or not to eat during labour completely depends on the situation and the risk factors.

“In most cases, labour is a long process, it can last for several hours, and the body might need the energy to handle it. On the other hand, some women may not want to or feel like eating due to continuous nausea.”

She added that a woman who is “healthy, has a low-risk pregnancy and is expected to have a normal delivery” can continue to eat during labour. “Healthy, non-fatty and non-sugary items like coconut water or natural juice, fruits, toast etc., are the best options. Eating healthy and easily digestible snacks and staying hydrated is recommended to keep your energy up. Fruit, veggies, seeds and breakfast bars, healthy sandwiches and rice crackers are some of the best snacks,” Dr Kapoor stated.

She, however, cautioned that in case one is likely to have a C-section delivery, their doctor may suggest to have only clear liquids and would strictly recommend not to eat or drink anything for a certain period of time before the surgery.