How Will You Fuel Your Labor?

Labor and birth is hard, physical work. Your uterus is a muscle — the strongest muscle in the human body, in fact. With each contraction, your uterus contracts and releases (approximately 200-400 times or more throughout labor, depending on the length of labor). Add to that the force it takes to push out a baby (a whole lotta force!), and you’re looking at a woman who is really working hard during labor and birth — sometimes for more than 24 hours!

Like any other major, prolonged physical activity (sports game, running, hiking, swimming, biking, etc.), labor and birth require hydration and nutrition to maintain your stamina. And, similar to other physically demanding events, you may do better to seek food and drink that digests easily and is packed with nutrients and electrolytes. For example, laboring women don’t usually crave a loaded slice of pizza and a giant Coke (though some do!). The following list of great labor foods are staples that laboring women often turn to, and provide the best bang for the buck, so to speak:

  • Water — it’s on the top of must-haves; sip it often throughout your labor to stay hydrated
  • Coconut water — natural electrolytes!
  • Fruit juice or smoothies
  • Sports drinks
  • Honey sticks
  • Yogurt
  • Simple carbohydrates, like bread, muffins, crackers, and plain pasta
  • Hard candy — not very nutritious, but can cure a dry mouth and curb nausea
  • Gel packs — used by endurance athletes because they are easy to digest and process quickly for a boost of energy
  • Soup broth
  • Applesauce
  • Fruit
  • Eggs

You might be thinking, “But I’ve heard you can’t eat during labor?” For many years, doctors have restricted laboring women from eating and drinking during labor (ice chips only!), but the evidence has emerged and it has found, in fact, that it is safe to drink and eat during labor and birth. To learn more, read a review of the research by Evidence Based Birth and a study on eating and drinking in labor from the Cochrane Summaries.


How did you fuel your labor?



photo credit: Jim Nix / Nomadic Pursuits via photopin cc

Avatar of Cara TerreriAbout Cara Terreri
Cara began working with Lamaze in 2004, two years before becoming a mother. Three kids later, she's a full-fledged healthy birth advocate and the Site Administrator for Giving Birth with Confidence. Most recently Cara began study to become a Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator and DONA certified doula (learn more about her services at She continues to stand in awe of the power and beauty in pregnancy and birth, and enjoys helping women discover their own power and joy in the journey to motherhood.


  1. This is a great list! I’d add peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, yogurt and protein bars to the list. A little protein goes a long way! When many women hit transition (7-10 cm) and feel nauseated and don’t want to eat any more – which is OK. The protein lasts longer and helps get you through the tough spots.

  2. I am open to any thing that a woman wants to eat, even though I sometimes don’t agree with the choice. I wonder if protein has ever been looked at for labor from a research perspective? It seems to me – and I may be wrong – that protein takes more energy to digest and having something stuck in your stomach or intestines waiting to be digested while the rest of the body is gathering strength for labor may be counter-productive. Do we really know that protein is a good idea? (I’m not saying it isn’t – I just wonder what we really know about it).

  3. I’ve found that normal sports drinks can aggravate nausea in my clients. I never want to drink red powerade ever again after seeing a lot of it back up in those little plastic barf bags! Less sugary drinks like Recharge or diluted fruit juice, even Popsicles low in sugar tend to mitigate this.

    Thanks for this article! It’s so important women stay nourished and hydrated in labor!

  4. Isabel Crest says:

    nice list that you have there, i now that eating healthy will always be good for you specially this time around of our lives. awesome post i really like it. :)

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