Foods To Eat (And Not Eat) in Early Labor - Baby Chick
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Foods To Eat (And Not Eat) in Early Labor

Learn what foods to eat in early labor, and find out what to avoid.

Updated June 7, 2024

by Dr. Nicole Avena, Ph. D.

Associate Professor of Neuroscience

You have been fueling your baby and body with nourishing foods throughout your pregnancy, but what about during labor? You 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 much more energy than you might think. By eating these foods, you can ensure a steady and energized birth.

Certain nutrients, including complex carbohydrates, protein, and fruits and vegetables, will keep you going throughout your labor. They will also aid in the healing process and the start of breastfeeding.1,2 Using this knowledge and making informed decisions when preparing foods for early labor is essential for your and your baby’s health!

Foods To Eat in Early Labor

Here’s what you should eat in early labor:

1. Complex Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are the primary fuel source for all our daily activities.3 Complex carbohydrates are slower digesting and full of fiber so our bodies keep using the glucose produced by those foods for a more extended period of time.4 In other words, more complex carbs = more energy! To ensure 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.5 However, be mindful of the amounts of sugar in them, and opt for sugar-free or lower added sugar (less than 4 grams per serving) options.

Whole-Grain Cereal

Packing a Ziploc bag of whole-grain cereal may seem like a snack for your infant down the line, but it’s 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.6

2. Power Proteins

Eating extra protein during early labor can help your muscles stay strong during a long stretch of stress and recover quicker once baby is here.7 Protein also prevents many moms from excessive tearing.8 Your overall protein needs increase 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.9 You can easily eat this quick snack during any stage of labor. It can also help your body recover.10

Protein Smoothies

Sipping on a protein-packed smoothie allows you to get your needs in fast and helps keep you hydrated. Whey or plant-based protein powders are great staples to have on hand, and you can purchase them at your local grocery store or online.

3. Colorful Fruits and Vegetables

Not only do raw fruits and vegetables taste great, but they also pack a big nutritional punch! Each color carries different nutrients, from vitamin A in orange to vitamin K in green.11 Pre-slicing apples, bell peppers, carrots, and berries can help you prepare for early labor hunger.

Fruit is great because it’s fast-digesting and filled with fiber and water.12,14 It will give your body the essential carbohydrate fuel to endure the rest of your labor.13 And you can never go wrong with vegetables! Adding a variety of cut veggies to your early labor snack can also add water and water-soluble vitamins like vitamin C.14,15 This can help keep your electrolytes in check and prevent dehydration.16

Pairing a fruit or vegetable with a fat and protein combo will allow the sugars in the produce to hit your bloodstream steadily.17 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. Aim for light, whole-food snacks rather than heavy or fat-dense meals.18

Here’s what you shouldn’t eat in early labor:

1. Spare the Sauce

Sauces and condiments are often full of dense fats and oils.19 These can slow down our digestion and make labor harder. If you’re using condiments or sauces, look for ones with little to no fat content on the nutrition label.

2. 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, prep easily digestible snacks and meals to keep around for early labor.

3. Avoid Unfamiliar Foods

Some foods can cause bloating, skin reactions, and other issues if you’re unknowingly intolerant to them.20 Avoid trying new foods during early labor to prevent additional digestive problems.

Using the information above, if you’re 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 labor 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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