Disclaimer: the ideas presented here for eating during labor apply to mothers having natural, un-medicated births.
I am a doula, which means that I get to support women through labor and postpartum. It also means that I get to see how different food makes the mother feel. Some women ask: am I allowed to eat during labor? The answer is yes! If you feel like eating, eat! Labor is more of an athletic feat than a hospital procedure, and you’ll need the energy and fluids.
First, a bit about my own health-conscious background since this no doubt is what made me so aware of what laboring women were being fed. I became vegetarian at the age of six (on my own accord) and have been vegan for the past year. I avoid processed sugar, junk food, and GMO’s whenever possible; therefore, my diet looks like a pretty healthy plant-based one.
When I was doing my doula training, I worked in public hospitals and saw how women would be given grey looking food (I assume it was nuked) and cups of black tea with white sugar and milk. I soon began noticing that after drinking that tea women would experience their contractions as sharper and it seemed that the dairy, sugar and caffeine just gave the pain an edge it didn’t have before. In an attempt to make an intervention, I started carrying rooibos tea with me, and when teatime came, I asked the women if I could give them plain rooibos instead. They all agreed. It must have been quite comical to watch me running around the labor ward switching out everyone’s teas! I also saw how tired the women got during labor without the necessary sustenance, and to that end, I started carrying dates with me as well, which usually gave them the boost they needed.
Research shows us that dairy, refined sugar, and caffeine are all inflammatory substances that have a profound effect on our hormones as women, and this is especially important to know during labor and postpartum–a time when your hormones are already striking a complex and delicate balance, which is why labor and postpartum nutrition is so important.
When thinking about how we take care of women during this time, traditional wisdom can be very useful. Many traditional cultures around the world recognize that postpartum is a time for the mother to lie in bed with her baby and insists on having family members prepare her food for anywhere between 22 days to 42 days. Modern functional nutritionists are another helpful resource to determine what foods are best for the mother, my favorites being Alisa Vitti and Julie Daniluk, both whom have books that should be on every lady’s shelf. Lastly, The Mommy Plan by Valerie Lynn is a book every mother needs to have to prepare for her postpartum period.
I’ve come up with two plant-based sample menus for during labor and directly after birth, which ideally will be made for the mother by a family member or friend.
Menu for during labor:
(Aim: Provide sustained energy and soothing calm. Drink a lot, and eat small amounts often.)
Herbal Tea (rooibos, honeybush, ginger blend, or any other mild, non-caffeinated herbal blend)
Raw Coconut Water (check that there is no fructose added)
Power Balls with dates, cacao, walnuts, and coconut oil, rolled in hemp seeds
Pumpkin Smoothie with pumpkin puree, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, banana, and cashew milk (serve at room temperature)
Chia Pudding with almond milk, spoonful of almond butter, and cinnamon
Comforting Soup packed with veggies and served with a slice of gluten-free toast
Menu for after birth:
(Aim: Establish good gut bacteria, replenish lost iron, and be gentle on the digestive system. Again, drink a lot, and eat small amounts often.)
Herbal Tea (rooibos, honeybush, ginger blend, or any other breastfeeding friendly, herbal, non-caffeinated blend)
Unpasteurized Miso Soup
Two or Three Tempeh Strips (no artificial flavoring)
Red Smoothie with beetroot, blackberries, blueberries, banana, and coconut water (serve at room temperature)
Warm Teff Porridge made by stirring teff flour into unsweetened almond milk on the stove and topping with date syrup and baked banana slices
A nibble of Raw Dark Chocolate
*Check with your midwife before making any dietary or lifestyle changes during pregnancy, birth, or postpartum. Additionally, if you are having a medicated labor, check with your doctors before eating or drinking anything.
Are you a plant-based mom–or do you know a plant-based mom–who has used food to heal herself during and after labor?
More in vegan pregnancy: Best Resources for Your Vegan Pregnancy
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Photo credit: Nigiro Tea Merchants, Montana Jade Hall