Nutrition buffs know all the ways protein helps the body: it keeps you full, fuels exercise, builds muscle, and more. And what’s harder work for the body than giving birth? You may be hunting for some high-protein foods to eat during labor, and there are a number of them you can eat when labor begins and throughout your birth experience. Don’t forget to pack your snacks!
Evidencebasebirth.com reports that around 80% of women are listed as “NPO” patients while in labor, meaning they shouldn’t be given food by mouth. This policy has been around since the 1940s when anesthesia and heavy pain medication during labor could lead to aspiration — when you go under and you regurgitate a some of your stomach contents and they wind up in your lungs. So, yeah, totally unpleasant and something to avoid. But now that anesthesia is much safer than it was in the '40s, and isn’t used in most C-sections, studies have found that eating during labor is safe for low-risk women, per What To Expect.
Ilyse Schapiro, MS, RDN, a dietitian in private practice in New York and Connecticut, told Romper in an interview that it varies.
“It depends. If you’re in labor, and not in the hospital yet, you can definitely eat. I would keep it light, but you definitely will need some fuel to give birth,” she says. “The restrictions are really for high-risk women with pregnancy complications.”
If you’d like to be able to eat during labor, bring it up with your obstetrician or midwife ahead of time to get their take. Not only can they tell you whether it’s safe for you to snack during labor, but they can let you know if the place you’re laboring has mini fridges to store some easy-to-eat foods from home. Whether you're cleared to eat during labor, or you want to eat something before heading to the hospital or birth center, there are some foods better suited than others to a laboring mama’s needs.
“I would suggest liquids for hydration, because this is a marathon not a sprint for most,” Anita Mirchandani, MS, registered dietician, told Romper in an interview. “I would suggest focusing on small, frequent bites of crackers, pretzels, or anything dry and that would go down easily since many experience nausea or vomiting.”
“I wouldn’t have a heavy meal like steak, burgers, et cetera,” says Schapiro. “Some good choices are toast with jam, maybe with a little bit of nut butter, plain pasta, applesauce, Jell-O, or any clear liquids or broth. If you can easily tolerate eggs or Greek yogurt, that should be OK, too.”
Nut butters, eggs, and Greek yogurt are all high in protein, which can help you stay full for longer (helpful since labor isn’t known for being brief). Is protein something dietitians recommend that women eat during the birth process? It may not be for everyone.
“I would say that anything, prior to when you feel early contractions that are timed and consistent, is fair game,” says Mirchandani. “But once real labor kicks in, I would not recommend it, just because the digestion of protein takes longer and the process gets hindered with how the body is adapting to labor.”
“It’s best to stick to carbs; they are more easily digested and less likely to cause stomach upset. You do need a little bit of protein for strength,” Schapiro says.
When it comes to eating during labor, both dietitians agree your body will tell you whether it’s ready for food or ready to hurl. While whether or not you end up eating is up to you, your body, and your provider, here are some dietitian-recommended, protein-heavy snacks to bring along for fuel if you choose. Each is also loaded with healthy fats or carbs to ensure it goes down easily and keeps your body going.
1. String Cheese
Schapiro says “it’s a quick, easy source of protein that isn’t too heavy.”
2. Greek Yogurt With Cereal
“This is a great source of protein, can be easy on the stomach if you can digest dairy, and you can add some cereal to balance it out with carbs,” Schapiro explains.
3. Chickpea Snacks
“Chickpea straws or bites, roasted chickpeas, quinoa puffs, Enlightened Bada Bean snacks — all are small in size and have a savory, salty element, so they fall in line with pretzels and crackers,” says Mirchandani.
4. Protein Bars
Healthline.com recommends protein oats, but premade bars are the easier alternative for women who are already in labor and *not* about to pause and make a bowl of anything.
“They’re a good mix of carbs and protein,” says Schapiro.
5. Apple Or Banana With Nut Butter
“They’re a great mix of carbs, natural sugar, protein and healthy fat to give you long-lasting energy,” explains Schapiro.
6. Trail Mix
Mirchandani says “nuts provide good fat and fuel as well if roasted. The salt could help with the dehydration that may occur during labor. Pumpkin seeds — roasted and slightly salted — also provide healthy fats.”
7. Crackers With Nut Butter Or Nut Butter Sandwich
“It’s easy to digest, and a great mix of carbs, protein, and healthy fats that can keep you full for a few hours,” Schapiro says. Healthline.com notes that peanut butter banana sandwiches provide carbs for immediate energy, and a dose of protein to prevent blood sugar crashing or feeling hungry.
“Two tablespoons is a serving and could be carried along and eaten with some of the aforementioned dry snacks,” adds Mirchandani.