Foods to Eat (and Not Eat) in Early Labor - Baby Chick

Foods to Eat (and Not Eat) in Early Labor

Some foods are better for your body when you are in different stages of labor. Here are foods your should eat (or not) in early labor.

Updated June 9, 2022

by Dr. Nicole Avena, Ph. D.

Associate Professor of Neuroscience

You have been fueling baby and your body with nourishing foods throughout your pregnancy, but what about during labor? One may not have an appetite during labor, but knowing what foods support digestion, progression, and contractions can relieve stress. During early labor, your body uses a lot more energy than you may think. By eating these foods, you can ensure a steady and energized birth.

Certain nutrients, including complex carbs, protein, and fruits and vegetables, will keep you going throughout your entire labor. They will also aid with the healing process and with the start of breastfeeding. Utilizing this knowledge and making informed decisions when preparing foods for early labor is essential for you and your baby’s health!

Foods to Eat in Early Labor

Complex Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are our primary fuel source for all our daily activities. Complex carbohydrates are slower digesting and full of fiber to keep our bodies using the glucose produced by those foods for a more extended period of time. In other words, more complex carbs = more energy! By ensuring you eat enough carbs to fuel the entire birthing process, as well as prevent digestive discomfort during early labor, try incorporating these foods into snacks or meals:

Granola Bars

Granola bars are whole-grain options that are easy to keep in a hospital bag or your pantry. They will keep you full for longer than a processed snack alternative. Be sure to be mindful of the amounts of sugar in them, though, and opt for sugar-free or lower added sugar (less than 4 grams per serving) options.

Whole-grain Cereal

Packing a Ziploc of whole-grain cereal may seem like a snack for your infant down the line, but it is a great option to keep on hand during labor. The grains in cereals move quickly through the digestive tract and can help keep you regular, even during labor.

Power Proteins

Eating extra protein during early labor can help your muscles stay strong during a long stretch of stress, as well as recover quicker once baby is here. Protein also prevents many moms from excessive tearing. Your overall protein needs are increased during strenuous activity, like labor! Here are a couple of good options for protein-rich foods:

Greek Yogurt

Greek yogurt packs about 12 grams of protein per ½ cup serving. This quick snack can be easily eaten during any stage of labor and can help your body recover.

Protein Smoothies

Sipping on a protein-packed smoothie not only allows you to get your needs in fast but can also help keep you hydrated. Whey or plant-based protein powders can be purchased at your local grocery store or online and make a great staple to have on hand.

Colorful Fruits and Vegetables

Not only do raw fruits and vegetables taste great, but they pack a big nutritional punch. Each color carries different nutrients, from vitamin A in orange to vitamin K in green. Pre-slicing apples, bell peppers, carrots, and berries can help you prepare for early labor hunger.

Fruit is great because it is fast-digesting and filled with fiber and water. It will give your body the essential carbohydrate fuel you need to endure the rest of your labor. And you can never go wrong with vegetables! Adding a variety of cut veggies to your early labor snack can also add water, as well as water-soluble vitamins like vitamin C. This can help keep your electrolytes in check and prevent dehydration.

Pairing a fruit or vegetable with a fat and protein combo will allow the sugars in the produce to hit your bloodstream at a steady pace. Try combinations like apples and peanut butter or celery and hummus.

Foods NOT to Eat in Early Labor

On the contrary, there are some foods you should avoid during labor. These foods may not sit well in your stomach while your body works hard to deliver a baby. Try to aim for light, whole-food snacks rather than heavy meals or fat-dense meals.

Spare the Sauce

Sauces and condiments are often full of dense fats and oils. These can slow down our digestion and make labor harder. If using condiments or sauces, look for ones with little to no fat content on the nutrition label.

Leave the Leftovers

Leftover meals can be large portions of unbalanced nutrients. This combination can take longer to move through your digestive system and cause discomfort during labor. Instead, meal prep easily digestible snacks and meals to keep around for early labor.

Unfamiliar Foods

Some foods can cause bloating, skin reactions, and other reactions if we are unknowingly intolerant to them. Avoid trying new foods during early labor to prevent additional digestive issues.

Using the information above, if you are in early labor and have an appetite, you should eat! Aim for whole-food carbohydrates and protein like yogurts, fruit, vegetables, and whole grains. These can relieve some anxiety surrounding the labor process and make for a happy baby.

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Nicole Avena
Dr. Nicole Avena, Ph. D. Associate Professor of Neuroscience
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Nicole Avena, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Neuroscience at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and Visiting Professor of Psychology at Princeton University. She is the author of several books, including… Read more

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