Women often ask me if they can eat once they're in labour.
"The books say I shouldn't, but I'm such a hummingbird eater, that I'll keel over if I don't keep eating!"
"Oh, please listen to your body, and it will let you know what you should eat, and when you should eat," I answer.
Think of the fuel that your body needs to do this amazing work! It needs fuel and fluids to function properly. Can you imagine doing a marathon, triathlon, or long-distance bike race without any nourishment? You'd be the one saying, "I bonked so early, it was embarrassing!"
But hospitals are slow to change their policies. Some local hospitals provide lunch trays to women in labour, but others discourage food intake, "in case she needs general anesthetic." A client's husband (an anesthesiologist) recently reminded everyone that he provides general anesthesia to accident victims who've probably just eaten their dinner, and everything is fine. And, he asked, just how many times do labouring women require general anesthetic in labour? Probably not enough to make it necessary to starve all the other women.
I remember being at a midwifery conference 19 long years ago. A young British midwife had dared to study food intake in labour. She found that there were far more complications among women who didn't eat in labour. She also found that most women naturally throw up at around 5-6cm., and that it's better to throw up something than nothing - way less acidic! All the midwives stood and gave her a round of applause, and declared that this would put an end to giving women only ice chips in labour.
But, 19 years later, that paper, and all the subsequent research, hasn't totally filtered down to the community level. And, "don't eat in labour" is still in so many of the childbirth books!
The hundreds of stories that I could tell about eating in labour...
But, here's just four memorable ones...
The British woman who made me sit there while she finished making a full roast beef and yorkshire pudding dinner. When it was ready, she sat down, took a mouthful, took a break to huff and puff, then ate another mouthful, took a break to pant... She kept going until her plate was empty. Then, and only then, were we allowed to take her to the hospital.
The woman who lived on the top floor of an old house behind the Park Theatre. She grabbed a tupperware container full of scones, to eat in the car on the way to the hospital. The container was empty by the time we arrived at the hospital. Her water broke as she walked through the doorway. She was deaf, so she would laughingly ignore anyone who tried to tell her what she could or could not eat.
The woman in Yaletown who asked her husband to cook her "an omelette." Well, he made a 3 egg omelette thick with peppers, mushrooms, onions, and sausages. Unbelievable! She walloped it off! (Sorry, to translate - "walloped it off" means "ate it really fast!")
The Burnaby woman with a black belt in Tae Kwon Do who had her husband run to the market to buy her papayas. She ate two. (Little did she know that her natural urge had led her to eat a fruit which can increase the power of uterine contractions.)
These women all arrived at the hospital late in labour, and had their babies in short order.
Food, glorious food!
- Jacquie Munro, Vancouver Doula, Slow Birth, Slow Planet
Jacquie Munro, founder of the "Slow Birth" movement, is an experienced doula and childbirth educator and is well-known for her individualized, intuitive approach to supporting families in the childbearing year and beyond. Since 1987, she has provided support at over one thousand births, at home and in hospital, and taught thousands of expectant parents. At home, Jacquie lives only a bike ride away from four generations of her family. You can usually find her at the park or beach, playing beside her twin grandsons who call her "Deecy".