What should I eat and drink during labour?

Dr Ros Miller, Registered Nutritionist at Yummy Tummy Nutrition

Giving birth to a tiny human requires a lot of energy. Planning what to eat and drink before, during and after labour is a bit like what you would do when planning to run a marathon! It is an important element to consider, you probably wouldn’t start a marathon without having put a little bit of thought about the food and drinks your body needs before, during and after the event, and the same goes with labour. To allow your body to do its thing, it needs adequate fuel and fluids. Without appropriate nutrition and enough fluids you can quickly run into a state of exhaustion and suffer from things like headaches, extreme fatigue and nausea.

It is best to be prepared and consider what types of food and drinks you may want to be available to you, at home and in your hospital bag (or wherever you are planning to have your baby). If you are planning a hospital birth, you can’t rely on the canteen or shop being open or being provided with a hospital meal as babies have a habit of arriving in the middle of the night when little food is on offer.

Early stages

Labour can be long, particularly with first pregnancies, sometimes 24 hours or more. Therefore, when labour first starts it is a good idea to try and eat something. As labour progresses you may not feel like eating so having something substantial during the early stages can help to give you the energy you need later on. If you can manage a meal, go for it! Try to include some starchy carbohydrates in your meal, for example pasta, rice, bread, potatoes or oats to provide your body with the energy it needs.  Selecting wholegrain starchy carbohydrates will help to release the energy slowly. You may wish to avoid spicy or high fat, heavy foods but listen to your body and eat and drink accordingly.

After your meal, you may wish to eat little and often, to top up your energy reserves. You could try a bowl of cereal, wholegrain cracker, banana or another piece of fruit, wholemeal toast, sandwich, oatcake or yogurt.

Try to make sure you are drinking adequate fluids. Water is a good choice for the early stages of labour. Have a drink with your meal and take regular sips afterwards.

If you are having a hospital birth – remember to take some snacks and drinks with you in your hospital bag (see below). Pack some for your birth partner too so they have the energy to give you the support you need!

 Active labour

It is likely you won’t want to eat much during this stage of labour. However, you may still want to take regular sips of a drink. This is probably going to be one of the jobs for your birthing partner – to keep offering you a drink, ideally through a straw or sports bottle so they can hold the drink whilst you take a sip. You may be losing a lot of fluid in sweat and so it is worth thinking about having an isotonic sports drink which will help to replace any electrolytes lost in sweat and top up your body’s carbohydrate stores. Fruit juices and fizzy drinks may make you feel nauseous so these are best avoided.

If it is looking likely that you will need a caesarean section under general anaesthetic, you may be asked to stop eating and drinking. However, most caesarean sections aren’t done under general anaesthetic, it may be that you have an epidural instead.

 Post birth

Your amazing body has worked incredibly hard. After enjoying those first cuddles and getting yourself settled you may feel more than a bit peckish and thirsty! Rehydrate with a drink such as water, isotonic sports drink or a cup of tea. If you have given birth in a hospital, you might not be offered any food until the next mealtime (which isn’t so good if it is the early hours of the morning). Therefore, packing some easy to eat snacks (particularly ones which can be stored at room temperature) in your hospital bag can be a real saviour. Here are a few suggestions….

 Hospital Bag Snack Suggestions

Mini malt loafs

Breakfast biscuits

Wholegrain crackers

Fruit (e.g. Apple, banana, small oranges)

Oat/corn or rice cakes


Nuts and seeds

Plain popcorn


Be prepared and make sure you have quick and easy meal and snack options available to you at home and in your hospital bag. Try to eat little and often during the early stages of labour and remember to keep hydrated by taking regular sips of fluid throughout labour.

At Yummy Tummy Nutrition we offer evidence-based family nutrition advice for pregnancy, weaning, feeding toddlers, fussy eating and more through private 1-2-1 consultations (online and in person) and group workshops. So, if you would like to book a session or find out more about the services we offer, please get in touch

Ros Miller