By Kate Sissons
We’ve all heard it before – giving birth is like running a marathon. Likely, we are all also aware that running a marathon requires optimal nutrition and hydration. The same goes for giving birth. In fact, according to the American Society of Anesthesiologists, “without adequate nutrition, women’s bodies will begin to use fat as an energy source, increasing acidity of the blood in the mother and infant, potentially reducing uterine contractions and leading to longer labor and lower health scores in newborns.”
In the past, food and drinks were restricted in labour, due to a risk of the birthing person being put under general anesthesia, vomiting and potentially aspirating. In some hospitals, and during certain eras, this was applied to all labouring people. More recently, it was, and is, most commonly applied to people who have chosen, or need, to use medication, such as an epidural or narcotic pain relief, as well as high risk pregnancies – twins or VBACs, where there is a higher possibility of a Caesarean Section. Yet, over time all these medications have become better managed, anaesthetists have gotten more skilled at controlling dosages, and evidence is proving that the benefits of eating during labour outweigh the risks.
For most people, the best time to eat is during early labour. Running a marathon really is a good comparison – you want to load up while you’re still interested in eating and your body is more open to it – and then focus on liquids while you’re running the race.
If you’re a support person, you are also going to want to keep your energy levels up. You won’t be in labour, but you will need to be very active – both physically and emotionally. And importantly, you are not going to be able to support the birthing person if you aren’t taking care of yourself. Plus, there is going to be a newborn needing your attention soon too!
Keeping all of these things in mind, how should you pack to ensure everyone is well fuelled?
Here are THREE top tips for packing a birth snack bag:
1. Liquids, liquids, liquids!
Hydration is key to keeping muscles happy and healthy. The entire body is involved in giving birth. If you choose to forgo medication, you will most likely be moving around – dancing, squatting, bouncing on a birth ball, and leaning. In addition, your uterus, heart, lungs – and every other muscle in your body will also need hydration, to keep them functioning optimally. Of course, your baby is doing so much work too – just like during your entire pregnancy, what you drink (or don’t drink) will also help them.
Water, ice chips, smoothies, “Labour Aid” (download the recipe here) and teas are all fantastic options. Having a straw handy will help to avoid spillage and make it easier for a support person to help you get the fluids you need.
It goes without saying that teas should not be too hot. Also, avoid anything caffeinated as this may interfere with your muscles’ ability to function properly.
2. High Energy, High Protein and Grab-able Snacks
You don’t want to be fiddling with spoons and forks during labour. Any finger foods that are relatively un-messy and can be easily grabbed (or fed to you) are the best. Try setting up a snack tray in the birthing room, with your drinks and snacks readily available.
My favourite snacks are energy cookies, fruit and veggie bars and obviously, Love Child Organic products. I always have them in my house, because my kids adore them. I’ve learned that I adore them too and that they come in really handy at a birth! My go to options are Oaty Chomps, Owlies, and Puree Pouches. If you are in a hospital, and receive medication, along with a direction not to eat, Puree Pouches are an excellent choice. They are liquid food! You’ll know you’re getting more nutrition than the Jello on offer at the hospital. Just make sure to run it by your healthcare provider first – hospitals and care providers may have different rules.
Fresh or frozen fruit is also a great idea. Blueberries, sliced grapes, and melon chunks are wonderful possibilities – they are all easy to eat and digest and they are full of natural sugars and water.
3. Be Prepared
Estimated due dates really are an estimate! In fact, only 4% of due dates are accurate. Just like it’s recommended to have your birth bag ready early, it’s ideal to have your snack bag ready to go by your estimated ‘full term’ date or 37 weeks gestation (earlier if you’re considered ‘high risk’).
Here’s what you can do to prepare:
- Bake cookies and freeze them. Like I’ve mentioned above, the best cookies I’ve made include high energy ingredients – nuts, dried fruit, dates, hemp hearts etc. My favourite recipe includes bananas and coconut milk – which make them ideal for freezing – they’re so soft and don’t loose that chewiness when they’re defrosted. Try to make sure they’re not too large – bite sized is perfect! You can find my recipe below.
- Get your packaged snacks organized and put them with your hospital bag, or in an area of your kitchen, so it’s all ready to go.
- Make your Labour Aid and freeze it. Either put it in a drink bottle that can be frozen or freeze it in an ice cube tray. You can then transfer the ice cubes to a cup (if you’re planning a home birth) or into a mason jar, for transfer to the hospital.
- Freeze some fresh fruit. Slice grapes, melon and blueberries (and/or your favourite fruits) and freeze them in freezable and easily accessible containers.
Remember, giving birth requires a lot of energy, particularly for the labouring person, but also for support people. Consider your nutrition and hydration needs, as you would consider any other element of birth. Preparation and planning are key, to make sure that you all stay well fueled. Your body, your support person, and your baby will thank you.
Happy birthing and happy snacking!
Kate is a Birth and Postpartum Doula, Childbirth Educator, Infant Sleep Educator and Yoga Instructor, currently living in Toronto, ON. When she’s not supporting new families on their parenting journey, she is running after her wonderfully active 2-year-old twins. She loves exploring the ravines of the city, drinking green tea and green smoothies (in large mugs), and the colour purple.