Updated: May 1, 2021
Most of my homebirth clients have already read up on eating and drinking during labor and already plan to have snacks. It's one of the many reasons why they decided to hire a midwife and plan to deliver at home.
If you haven't already thought about eating and drinking in labor, check out "Evidence on: Eating and Drinking During Labor" by Evidence-Based Birth.
If you are planning to birth in the hospital, your hospital will have a written policy over what you are “allowed” to consume in labor. Some of our local hospitals allow clear liquids, which includes broth, juice, popsicles. But some of the rural hospitals still allow ice chips only. And your hospital may allow clear liquids, but your old-school OB may order ice chips only. It's one of the things you should ask about ahead of time.
(You should also take a childbirth class that covers all your options so you'll know what questions to ask!)
How strictly those policies are enforced will not only depend on your doctor but also on your labor nurse. Some nurses will remind you of policy and document your response without making a big fuss. Some will say "What snacks? I didn't see anything." And some may be downright indignant that you are ignoring their warnings and hospital policy. In that case, you have to make a decision: are you going to stand your ground? Or just be more sneaky about the snacks? You may have an easygoing nurse followed by a "by the book" nurse, or vice versa.
Just remember at the end of the day that you are ultimately the one responsible for your health and your baby's health. If you've done your homework and have decided for yourself that the discomfort/risk of going for a long period of time without eating outweighs the discomfort/risk of vomiting and possible aspiration (again, read the EBB article!), then here's what you need to know about snacking in labor.
At a home birth, I will regularly remind my clients to eat and drink something. This helps to keep your blood sugar stable, preserve your energy for pushing out a baby and help prevent clinical exhaustion—our most common reason for transporting to the hospital.
It also will increase your comfort and satisfaction with your birth experience. Can you imagine being hungry, wanting food, and being told you can't have it? For an indefinite period of time?
Ideal foods have protein and complex carbs. Some suggestions for easy to digest foods include soup, bananas, applesauce, berries, melons, dates, avocado, smoothies, yogurt, granola or other energy bars, hummus, nut butter, crackers, toast, rice, and cereal or oatmeal. Of course, you will want to avoid any foods that trigger discomfort for you.
Choose foods you won’t mind coming back up later! You won't appreciate that heavy, greasy, spicy meal later. I’m not going to tell you that you can’t eat it if you really really want it. But I will caution you that women often vomit during transition. Vomiting is more tolerable if you keep your foods light.
During hard labor, you may not feel like eating at all. We will still encourage something like licking some peanut butter and honey off a spoon. We especially encourage you to take sips between contractions. It is very important to stay hydrated; dehydration can slow down your labor and make your contractions more painful. Coconut water, herbal teas, juice, broth, and electrolyte drinks are good choices to have available. You can also do a search online for "labor-aid recipes" to make yourself, especially if you want to avoid artificial colors, HFCS, and preservatives. Here's one for lemon-lime labor-aid, but if this one doesn't appeal to you, there are dozens more.