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Why Eating in Labour is Good For You and Your Baby
Don't go hungry in labour !
Irish women are often starved in labour despite there being significant benefits to eating - and significant risks to being starved.
Why hasn't Irish medical care caught up with the 21st Century?
Should women eat and drink freely in labour ?
As pregnant mums you’ve probably never been more focused on food than any time in your life. Even analogies about baby’s size and our body parts are associated with food - as if we weren’t obsessed enough ;-) Your baby is the size of a bean…..your uterus is now the size of a grapefruit…..your boobs are like….(well you get the picture !) You’ve probably spent endless hours online researching what you can and can’t eat during pregnancy.
Some mums have cravings and can’t get enough of a particular food….others struggle with all day morning sickness and it takes a huge amount of willpower and determination to even get a few Ritz crackers past your lips.
There’s also Pica which is the term for unusual cravings. The reason that some women develop pica cravings during pregnancy is not known for certain. There is currently no identified cause; but according to the Journal of American Dietetic Association there may be a connection to an iron deficiency.
Some speculate that pica cravings are the body's attempt to obtain vitamins or minerals that are missing from a mum’s diet.
The most common substances craved during pregnancy are muck / clay. Other pica cravings include: burnt matches, stones, charcoal, mothballs, ice, cornstarch, toothpaste, soap, sand, plaster, coffee grounds, baking soda, and cigarette ashes……..ewwwwww
Science recognizes that good nutrition during pregnancy is essential for both mum and baby. Newly pregnant mums often spend a significant amount of time ‘grazing’ or snacking regularly to keep their blood sugar normal.
If you’ve missed a meal lately you’ve probably experienced some of the following side effects
You feel exhausted due to low blood sugar
You may even have passed out
Skipping meals during pregnancy isn’t recommended and you’d never willingly starve yourself during your pregnancy……so why would you do it in labour?
Let’s look at the history of where this began and what can happen when a mum is refused nourishment during labour (assuming she’s hungry)
Mendelson’s Syndrome: Mendelson's syndrome is the inhalation of gastric contents and is a risk during intubation for a general anaesthetic (you’ve probably seen intubation on Grey’s Anatomy).
Most cesareans are performed with a spinal or epidural these days. It is rare to have a general anesthetic for a cesarean birth. The original article by Mendelson dates back to 1946 so it’s a little bit outdated. The great news is that in 1961 a technique called Sellick's manoeuvre (wonder if he looked like Magnum) was discovered which minimized the risk of gastric contents entering the lungs during a general anesthetic.
What a breakthrough for labouring mums….it meant that all normal low risk women (80 – 90% of you reading this) could go back to eating in labour again !! Yay !!!………but wait a minute….that was 47 years ago…..obviously some hospitals missed that memo.
Without food for a long period of time a labouring mums body enters into ketosis. When you first deprive your body of food your metabolism begins to shift to accommodate this. The first stage is known as lipolysis, and means your body is burning fat to provide you with energy (sounds like a great way of burning off those extra pregnancy pounds….AFTER you’ve had your baby !!)
Ketosis is the second part of the process that takes place when your body has no carbs to provide it with energy so it needs to use the energy from the fat being burned. In a nutshell (see …can’t stay away from those food analogies) The unused portions of the fat cells are called ketones, and are removed from the body in the urine. Ketosis is a signal that you are breaking down your fat reserves……your body is effectively eating itself to give you energy during labour.
So you're at the hospital....starving...cranky....exhausted and that's just your partner ! Plus you feel pain much more intensely ! That doesn't sound like a recipe for a positive birth.
Of course some mums have no interest in eating in labour – if you’re very anxious and afraid during labour adrenaline arrests the digestion process.
If you’re giving birth in a hospital that is stuck back in the 1940’s bring along some snacks for yourself and your partner – just in case you do get hungry. Chances are your won’t be in the mood for a Big Mac.
Even in these 1940’s hospitals there are some fantastic midwives that are happy for you to snack to keep your energy levels up if you’re hungry so all is not lost !
For more information on which hospitals support mother friendly principles and evidence based international practices have a look at Cuidiu’s comprehensive consumer guide here at
Bon appetite !!