Can I Eat or Drink During Labor?

JanelMS, RD, LDN, CBS

Read time: 4 minutes

What to know about eating while in labor

  • Are you allowed to eat and drink while in labor?

  • What foods are good to eat during early labor?

  • Can you eat before a c-section?

While many people try to eat well during pregnancy to support baby’s growth and development, not many think about how they should eat and drink to support labor.

Labor requires an amazing amount of energy. In fact, labor can last anywhere from hours to days. Being prepared for this marathon event by eating the right foods and staying hydrated will help give you the energy needed to labor and push, and even start your recovery process.

Can you eat while in labor?

You may have seen movies where the person in labor is restricted to chomping on ice chips only while they labor in bed. The recommendation for only ice chips while in labor was previously put in place to keep the stomach virtually empty to reduce the risk of aspiration in case anesthesia becomes necessary for an emergency surgical delivery, which is rare.1 Aspiration is when food or fluids are inhaled into the lungs.

However, research is starting to show that it may be safe for healthy women with no pre-existing factors to eat a light meal during the early part of labor.2,4 While more studies are needed for professional organizations to officially change the recommendation that solid foods need to be avoided during labor, many birthing settings are beginning to liberalize their guidance a bit.2,6,8

In fact, some doctors are reevaluating their practice and working with moms to find ways to make them more comfortable, including eating lightly in the early stages of labor, assuming they had a low risk, uncomplicated pregnancy.2,6 Though keep in mind that many practitioners are still following the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommendation of sticking to only clear liquids during labor.4

Chat with your doctor or the hospital / center you’ll be birthing at to discuss what their guidelines are for what you’re able to eat and drink during labor.

Read about: Easing Anxiety About Childbirth

Can you drink while in labor?

Yes! In most cases, clear liquids are allowed during most parts of labor.4 Staying hydrated is important, especially during a long labor.4,5 Have different beverage options nearby in cups with straws so your partner can easily hold the cup for you while you take sips between contractions.

Options available to you may include sports drink, coconut water, juice without pulp, clear broth, plain water, and perhaps even popsicles or Jell-O, if your health care provider allows them.

Learn more: Tips for Staying Hydrated while Pregnant and Breastfeeding

When and what can you eat before a cesarean section?

Those scheduled for a c-section often need to stop eating solid foods about 8 hours before the procedure, and then can have clear liquids up to two hours before surgery.3 This includes juice without pulp, clear broth, tea, black coffee, sports drinks, coconut water, and in some cases, Jell-o.7

What foods are good to eat during labor?

Speak to your doctor in advance about what they’re okay with you eating during early labor, if anything.

Some people have no interest in eating once they’re in more active labor, and that’s okay too.2 In these cases, focusing on carbohydrate-rich drinks, such as sports drink or juice, may be the best option to help keep your energy and hydration up.

For early labor, choose light foods like those listed below which contain complex carbohydrates. These are a better option than foods that are fatty or fried as they will help provide long-lasting energy that is also easily digested.

  • Whole grain/seed crackers

  • Fruit

  • Granola bars

  • Fresh smoothies

  • Bananas/apples with almond or peanut butter

  • Yogurt

  • Clear liquids such as 100% apple or white grape juice

  • Whole grain cereals

  • Whole grain pasta

  • Brown rice

  • Cooked whole grain cereal like oatmeal

  • Baked potato

Some people even pack sport gels or energy blocks (like those that are oftentimes used by endurance athletes and can be found in sporting goods stores) in their hospital bag. These can provide quick energy and electrolytes that is easy to eat during labor.

Remind your partner to pack some snacks too!

Even though you are the one doing the work of laboring, it may be helpful for your partner to have some snacks on hand as well. Quick and easy foods such as bars, nuts, fruit, or crackers will help give them the energy they need to support you from the start and all the way through your final push of labor.

Tips on fueling up during early labor

  • Speak to your doctor or midwife about your options for eating and drinking during the early and active stages of labor.

  • Many hospitals are stocked with juice, Jell-O, and popsicles. Ask ahead of time whether you can bring your own snacks when you head to the hospital.

  • If food is approved by your doctor, select light foods that you can easily pack in your hospital bag in advance, such as crackers, bread, granola bars, juice boxes, and oatmeal packets.

  • Have foods such as yogurt, fresh fruit, and cooked pasta or rice in a portable bag in your fridge as your due date approaches so you can grab it on the way to the hospital!

  • Have your partner bring easy-to-eat foods as well.

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For more on this topic, check out the following articles:

Optimal Exercises To Prepare For Delivery

Preparing to Breastfeed

Top Breastfeeding Latching Tips

Breastfeeding: How to Support a Good Breastmilk Supply