What Can You Eat During Labor?

pregnat patient is on drip receiving a saline solution with cooked rice and other food in white bowl.

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If you’re planning on giving birth in a hospital or birthing center, you're probably aware that there may be restrictions on what you can and can't eat during labor. Rules like these are based on the idea that a birthing person shouldn’t consume any solid foods because of the chance that emergency surgery may be needed, and food aspiration is a potential danger if you go under general anesthesia.

Restricting solid food during labor is still suggested by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). However, rules have loosened over the years, and each facility has different ways of interpreting this guidance. Gone are the days of “ice chips or bust.” Today, most experts agree that birthing people do need sustenance to get through labor—especially since labor can last many hours, or multiple days!

Here, experts share with us what to know about the guidelines for eating during labor, what your food and drink options might look like, and what snacks you should consider packing in your hospital bag.

Is It Necessary to Restrict Food During Labor?

Restricting what birthing people can eat during labor has been around for decades, and although ACOG still considers restricting solid foods a good idea—and many facilities still enforce this rule—not all healthcare providers continue to be on board with this guidance.

The main reason laboring folks have been directed away from eating during labor is because of the risk of aspiration, which is when food is inhaled into the lungs, explains Michael Green, MD, an OB/GYN at Winona. “While there are mixed opinions about whether or not [birthing people] should eat during labor, I like to go by what medical research shows.”

Dr. Green cites a 2015 study put out by the American Society of Anesthesiologists, which found that most low-risk, healthy birthing people would actually benefit from a meal during labor. “They cited improvements in the realm of anesthesia for their opinion, saying pain control during labor is much safer than when fasting first became the standard of care,” Dr. Green explains. “Therefore, eating-related risks have fallen drastically.”

Aaron Gelfand, MD, an OB/GYN at ChoicePoint agrees that food during labor shouldn’t be restricted as strictly as it once was. “Food during labor was contraindicated in the past, and some practitioners still follow it religiously,” he says. To him, it makes sense to give birthing people more leeway with what they can eat, especially during early labor.

“You can have food during labor, especially during the initial phase,” Dr. Gelfand suggests. Not eating for long periods of time can cause hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), which can be harmful for both the birth parent and their baby, says Dr. Gelfand.

Research from 2018 backs these points of views, finding that eating a light meal not only doesn’t increase chances of aspiration during surgery, but it can actually shorten labor.

What Are the General Rules Around Eating and Drinking During Labor?

All that said, the rules of what you can eat and when vary widely from one birthing facility to another. In more conservative facilities, restrictions may look like no solid foods from admission to delivery, says Risa Klein, CNM, NP, RN, the director of midwifery at Lenox Hill Hospital. In other facilities, you may be able to eat light meals during early labor (2-5 cm dilated) only, she says.

“From the onset of active labor (6 cm) until delivery, the protocols do vary upon the medical institution,” she describes. Either way, once an epidural is taken, most facilities will restrict solid foods, even when hydration is allowed, Klein adds.

Klein’s advice is to make sure you check in with your health provider before your due date so that you can fully understand your facility’s guidelines when it comes to eating and drinking during labor.

“Pregnant people should discuss whether or not eating will be restricted, and if so, when does restricted eating take effect...with and without epidural,” she says.

Dr. Gelfand adds that some healthcare providers will restrict what you can eat based not only on the rules of the particular facility, but on a particular medical condition you have. This is yet another reason why you should discuss this topic with your healthcare provider prior to your labor, so that you can prepare.

What Are the Best Foods and Drinks to Consume During Labor?

Virtually all hospitals and birthing centers allow liquids during labor, and many will also allow solids during early labor. Here’s what experts recommend you consume during the different stages of labor.

What to Eat in Early Labor

Early labor is a good time to get some light snacking in. Experts agree that you shouldn’t eat anything too heavy during this time, and you should choose foods that are easy to digest. As Dr. Gelfand notes, laboring people are prone to vomiting during active labor, so it’s good to eat foods during early labor that you can digest quickly.

He suggests items like cereal, which is light enough to not cause nausea, but filling enough to quell your hunger. Multigrain bread is another good choice, because it’s high in fiber and carbohydrates, giving you the fuel you need to get through labor. Fruit is also a delicious and quick source of energy and can be a good choice for when you are feeling queasy, says Dr. Gelfand.

Klein shared a few snacks or light meals she recommends to birthing people during early labor. Here are her top picks. (Hint: consider packing a few of the more portable ones in your hospital bag.)

  • Eggs
  • Toast
  • Fruit
  • Granola
  • Nuts
  • Peanut butter
  • Yogurt
  • Cottage cheese
  • Cheese sticks
  • Pasta
  • Light sandwiches
  • Favorite light snacks brought from home

If You Are Restricted to Liquids Only

Some facilities still are very strict about eating solid foods, and may not allow you to eat once you check in. Birthing folks with a scheduled medical induction are usually not permitted to eat once they arrive at the hospital, Klein notes. If you know you won’t be eating at the hospital, Klein recommends you consider eating at home, before you arrive at the birthing facility.

“A light liquid meal or light breakfast of toast, jam, soup, or eggs can be eaten prior to arriving at the hospital,” says Klein. “However, eating heavy solid foods and meat are not recommended,” she says.

If you are restricted to “liquids only,” you will usually have some choices beyond the classic ice chips. Klein recommends water with added electrolytes, clear soups and broths, ice pops, Jell-O, yogurt, honey, and pureed applesauce. All of these are both hydrating and nourishing, she says.

“These liquids would be a good choice for a laboring person who is restricted from eating solids,” she says. “These all will help keep them and their baby well-hydrated and potentially improve the baby’s reactivity and mother’s strength.”

What to Eat During Active Labor

During active labor, many birthing people find themselves not wanting to eat much at all. Nausea and vomiting are very common during this time, as Dr. Gelfand notes. Still, Klein says that the act of giving birth takes a lot of energy, and it’s good to have some options on hand, should you want to fuel yourself with food or drink.

As contractions become more frequent and intense during active labor, snacking in between contractions is an option to keep up your energy so you can make it to the finish line, says Klein. “Taking sips of fluid or spoonfuls of honey in between contractions is a great way to stay well-hydrated and for the uterine muscle to remain strong,” Klein suggests.

Other foods that Klein says birthing parents might want to have around for active labor include:

  • Fluids with electrolytes
  • Soups and broths
  • Coconut water
  • Water with electrolyte mix-ins
  • Honey/honey sticks
  • Squeeze pureed fruits and veggies
  • Jell-O
  • Ice pops
  • Ice chips

Which Foods and Drinks Are Generally Advised Against?

Regardless of the phase of labor you are in and rules of your facility, Dr. Gelfand says there are certain foods you should stay away from during labor altogether.

“Heavy foods, spicy foods, and greasy foods should be avoided,” he says. The reason for this is that they have the potential to increase your nausea, and you might throw them up before they’ve done anything to satisfy your hunger. “You might end up hating curry your entire life if you end up throwing it up during your labor,” he says.

A Word From Verywell

The rules of what to eat and drink during labor, and when these rules need to be followed, can get confusing! This is especially true because they vary considerably from one facility to the next. That’s why it’s best to discuss your options beforehand with your healthcare provider. That way, you can plan ahead, and stock up on snacks and drinks that are allowed.

Happy birthing—and don’t forget to think about what you’ll want to eat once your baby arrives. Many people end up feeling ravenous after giving birth!

3 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Approaches to Limit Intervention During Labor and Birth.

  2. American Society of Anesthesiologists. Most healthy women would benefit from light meal during labor.

  3. Phelps K, Deavers J, Seehusen DA, et al. PURLs: Let low-risk moms eat during labor? Journal of Family Practice. 2018;67(6):379–380. PMID: 29879238

By Wendy Wisner
Wendy Wisner is a lactation consultant and writer covering maternal/child health, parenting, general health and wellness, and mental health. She has worked with breastfeeding parents for over a decade, and is a mom to two boys.