Labor without comfort food
April 7, 2011 8:56 PM   Subscribe

How can I get through labor without using food for comfort?

I am pregnant and due in around 6 weeks. I was thinking today about going through labor, and it suddenly occured to me that my normal way of comforting myself, when I am in pain or feeling sick, is to use food. Except, that isn't going to work in this situation. I've been to the birthing class and on the hospital tour, so I know that I won't be allowed to eat and I understand why. I'm wondering now if I will struggle more with labor if I am not able to comfort myself in a familiar way. I imagine that I will use focused breathing, and some other physical techniques (pdf). I guess what I'm wondering is, if you similarly use food as a comfort, and have been through labor, what alternative methods of self-comforting worked best for you?
posted by vignettist to Health & Fitness (36 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I was not even remotely hungry when I was in labor, and I was in labor for 2 DAYS the first time. Afterward, now that's a different story. I was demanding food before the placenta was delivered. Shoot for natural childbirth if you want to be able to eat ASAP when it's over.

Focused breathing, back rubs, and music were comforting for me. I also sucked on a lot of ice chips, and early on I had some warm chicken broth. You'll be fine without food. You won't even want it - really.
posted by SamanthaK at 9:06 PM on April 7, 2011

I'm a big food person, and have had three unmedicated childbirths. Now, my labors were very, very quick, so YMMV...but I cannot imagine having any interest in eating once things really got going. I ate shortly before labor really kicked in in two out of my three pregnancies, and I was STARVING as soon as the babies were born..but during? No interest at all. Labor pains felt like a combination of horrible menstrual cramps and horrible, horrible, intestinal illness'd be like wanting to eat when you're stuck on the toilet with diarrhea :/. Sorry for the unpleasant image, but that's the closest comparison I can come up with.
posted by purenitrous at 9:07 PM on April 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

I was in labor for 48 hours (!) and though I'm a VERY food-focused person, I actually wasn't hungry at all. I think labor is different than the usual pain or "feeling sick" that might usually lead me to turn towards food. Labor is a little overwhelming -- it doesn't really leave your mind free to concentrate on other things.

Things that comforted me: showers (repeatedly), walking, just being focused on my husband. If you have a husband/partner/whatever, it's really their job to help you get through this, so let him/her know that you'll be relying on them.
posted by BlahLaLa at 9:09 PM on April 7, 2011

How about a soft fuzzy thing (or whatever texture you enjoy)? I have not been in labor, but I know about comforting yourself with food. I have several favorite blankets, too.
posted by cabingirl at 9:10 PM on April 7, 2011

I agree with what others have said about not wanting food once your labor really gets going, but if it puts your mind at ease, you might want to inquire about what they will let you eat and drink during labor. I could have juice, jello, and lollipops. For the last few hours of labor, I found ice chips very soothing.
posted by rebeccabeagle at 9:17 PM on April 7, 2011

Well, I was allowed to have juice, and it was really all I wanted. I definitely use food for comfort, but I just wasn't interested when I was in labour. After though, I was starving, and the tapioca pudding they gave me tasted like the best food ever!
What worked for me was to have my husband put counter pressure on my back (I had back labour), hanging out in the shower for about two hours (it was at the hospital so there was endless hot water) and concentrating on doing deep breaths when transition hit and my body had an overwhelming urge to push even though I wasn't dialated.
My labour and delivery was a natural, hospital one, no pain meds, and it was only 15 hours from first twinge until delivery so I was very lucky. If it had been longer or I'd had the meds maybe I wouldn't been hungry, it definitely is hard work. But really, just go for the juice (or milk) to keep your blood sugar up, and drink water too, all that breathing and panting can make you thirsty.
posted by meringue at 9:17 PM on April 7, 2011

I made them give me a turkey sandwich. They will if you insist. Plus, you may end up comforting yourself with an epidural! Or not. I have two kids, one induced where I was thankful to have drugs, one speedy enough that I didn't need any help. You will do great no matter what you decide -- focus on the outcome, because you really don't get that much control over the process. You might have a granola bar in your bag, just for comfort. I know for me, just having food available if I want it can sometimes be enough to relieve my anxiety. Good luck!
posted by Malla at 9:23 PM on April 7, 2011

I guess you need to be more specific about "in labor." In the early stages of labor, which can last for a long, long, time, I don't think it's a big deal to eat or drink. But yeah, once you're in into transition and active labor, you really aren't going to have any interest in eating. My labar was kind of messed up and since I had to be induced and it took 3 days to get to any real productive labor, of course I ate. And even when the contractions were getting harder and more frequent, I still ate a little bit and my nurses let me do as I pleased. But when you get to the "oh my god, I think I'm going to die this hurts so bad" stage, you really won't care about food. So ask your hospital staff to confirm at what point they don't want you to eat.

And I know plenty of people that brought in their own snacks just to have them around for security. Just knowing that you *could* have a snack if you got desperate may be comfort eough. You probably won't want to eat any of the snacks while you're in labor but whoever is with you all that time will probably appreciate a granola bar or some nuts. And then post-partum, if you end up having to stick around the hospital for any length of time, you'll be even more glad you brought snacks for those times in between meal service when you're starving.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 9:26 PM on April 7, 2011

Your best bet is waiting as long as possible before going to the hospital. Seriously. If you want to eat, then you should be at home, particularly if you want fewer medical interventions (the longer you labor at home, the less likely you are to need labor augmentation or a c-section, plus, no one sticks their fingers in your vag repeatedly when you are at home... Unless you want them to, of course).

Have you considered hiring a doula? A doula can assist you with staying comfortable and help you navigate your way through this whole labor business. I can not recommend a doula more highly for staying comfortable, and they are most certainly not just for crunchy home-birthers. I don't have time to go on, but me mail me if you would like more info on how to find a good doula.
posted by LyndsayMW at 9:30 PM on April 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

Nobody ever told me I couldn't eat, although I'm not sure I did.

Man, I had some apple juice about 6 hours into labor with my older daughter, and it was soooo good. Best apple juice I'd ever had, and it was just crappy juice from a bottle in the grocery store.
posted by leahwrenn at 9:42 PM on April 7, 2011

I was in labour 4 weeks ago today and I can tell you that you will not feel like eating. Its not a type of pain that demands food. It is, as mentioned above, more like constipation or diarrhea - not something that makes you want to eat. In the early stages sure, but once the contractions are too intense to talk through you will not be interested in snacks. Afterwards is a whole different story. I drank 5L of water while the baby was being weighed. I have never felt such thirst in my life!!
posted by saradarlin at 9:44 PM on April 7, 2011

Yes, I just went through this, too. I ate before getting to the point of needing to go to the hospital, per my midwife's instructions. She wanted me to keep my strength up. But I didn't want the food, I just made myself eat a little something. Being in labor focuses your concentration like nothing else. I think it's refreshing that this is your concern. You sound confident and ready to go. Best wishes.
posted by Knowyournuts at 10:01 PM on April 7, 2011

Would food-like scents help? Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab and a lot of the other online perfume vendors have "foody" scents.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 10:01 PM on April 7, 2011

It really depends on what you consider "labor." With my second child, I was eating a pulled pork sandwich two hours before he was born, in between contractions that were five minutes apart. . . but that wasn't LABOR labor. Once real LABOR labor starts, yes, food will not be on your mind. And frankly, if you want to eat, I think you should eat; c-sections that require crash general anaesthesia are really, really, really rare, and it's (imho) silly to avoid eating on the remote chance of that possibility. The hospital where I delivered my first child maintains a whole room full of snacks for laboring mothers, even.
posted by KathrynT at 11:27 PM on April 7, 2011

When I had my daughter, I was in labor for 45 hours. As everyone else has said, you probably won't want anything to eat. Maybe some of those electrolite gel packets that people use for marathons might be good though? I think they're called gu but can't link because I'm on my phone. Good luck and here's to a short labor and healthy baby!
posted by Space Kitty at 12:41 AM on April 8, 2011

how about gum? or sucking on a hard candy?
posted by buka at 2:45 AM on April 8, 2011

I've been to the birthing class and on the hospital tour, so I know that I won't be allowed to eat and I understand why.

Really? I don't.

This is antiquated and old. There is no sound reason why a laboring woman can't eat during labor. I ate in labor. At the hospital. With food provided by the hospital. And I don't just mean ice chips and popsicles. I had tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich sent up by the cafeteria, which my nurses told me to call since I said I was hungry! They handed me a menu complete with the telephone number!

This is bad hospital policy, and many hospitals are doing away with it because again, there is no reason not to eat in labor if you want and/or need to. I would, honestly, question this with your doctor or midwife because it's just so old and out of date, and I'm always amazed when I hear that this is still an active part of hospital regulations or policy or protocol or what have you.

That said, bring your own food. Odds are the nurses aren't going to be watching you 24/7 and if you want to eat, then eat. I also agree that there will be a point where you can't focus on anything else and you will have no interest in eating.

And you know to stay hydrated, right? Popsicles, water, ice chips, frozen fruit bars. Whatever gets fluid in you will be important, too.
posted by zizzle at 3:13 AM on April 8, 2011 [11 favorites]

I was in labor for 47 hours and at no time did I want FOOD. The "no drinks" was way, WAY harder to get through. Also, until you go *into* the hospital, you can eat whatever you want... provided you don't mind seeing it again later. (Vomiting during labor - especially during transition - is incredibly common.)

So, if you stay home as long as possible - which is just generally advisable - you can eat whatever you like.

Also, hard candy is allowed to suck on in the hospital, so you can bring that. It's something my doula actually recommended, though it didn't appeal to me personally. On that note: I would highly recommend getting a doula, or at least consulting with one, as s/he probably has experience with *exactly* this phenomenon and can tell you what worked for other women she's worked with.

(And yeah, the thirst. After my son was born, I drank an entire ocean's worth of cranberry juice. I wasn't hungry for a long while after - which could be a side effect of some of the drugs, but oh, the thirst.)
posted by sonika at 5:05 AM on April 8, 2011

I had a baby four months ago. I was in labor for 33 hours, and really hard labor for about 22-23. Once I got to the point where I knew that I was definitely in labor and it wasn't going to fizzle out, I forced myself to eat a peanut butter sandwich for energy, but it wasn't really something I was all that interested in. Once hard labor set in, I had ZERO interest in eating. It just wasn't even in the cards (and I too am a big comfort eater). However, it did make me feel better to have secret snacks available in the hospital room just in case. But really, I don't think it'll be an issue--very very few women want to eat anything during hard labor.

As for comfort techniques, it helped to have plenty of water available, because my mouth got super dry. Vocalizing also helps--they say you are supposed to stick to low tones to help you relax, but I found the most comfort in screaming it out when it got bad, honestly. My doula kept warning me that I was getting too high-pitched, and that just served to stress me out. I say make whatever sounds you need to make to get you through each contraction.
posted by feathermeat at 5:12 AM on April 8, 2011

Agreeing with above, if you tell them you need food, they will give it to you. I thought I would want food, and I clarified with everyone that I could get it. That said, I drank a bit of juice, and then kept throwing it all up and that was the end of food I wanted.
posted by katers890 at 5:17 AM on April 8, 2011

Shoot for natural childbirth if you want to be able to eat ASAP when it's over.

I don't think these have anything to do with one another. I was eating a full-course chicken dinner within an hour of delivering, courtesy of my sister, and I had the works (pitocin, epidural). I felt great! And very thirsty -- they should have special post-partum-size cups for the juice!.
posted by palliser at 5:32 AM on April 8, 2011

I was encouraged to bring labour snacks in my birthing kit. Which for me included fruit salad, which didn't get eaten because I birthed quickly and unexpectedly silently (as in repeated 'you aren't in labour' up until the first cervix check which was met with 'uh, the baby's crowning, call the ob.!). But I was halfway through dinner when my ob. put the gel on for the induction and he was recommending I eat to keep the energy up. So it isn't actually a blanket recommendation or one entirely supported by evidence.

As it was I was nothing even close to hungry or thirsty afterwards. They made me have a sandwich and a cup of tea, but I think I was knocked around by the sleeping pills/gas too much to really want food.
posted by geek anachronism at 5:47 AM on April 8, 2011

My experiences echo many the ones above. I turn mostly to drinks for comfort, and when I was in labour, both times, food and drink were the farthest things from my mind! The temperature of the room might have an impact on that, though. I remember it was really cold both times I gave birth. *

Notion: I find that chewing ice helped the first time because it gave my mouth something to do, and was somewhat of a distraction when I was between contractions. This might work for you're the type to chew gum, etc.

Good luck!

* After my second delivery, however, I was pretty hungry. Although I don't quite remember it this way, those present said that as soon as my daughter was born and cleaned up, I stood up and said "I want a sandwich".

posted by methroach at 6:30 AM on April 8, 2011

Do not "inquire about what they will let you eat and drink during labor." You're going to a hospital, not a prison. Bring in a cooler of your favourite foods.

I would look around for other red flags of bad policy at the hospital if -- well, what zizzle said. You are not dealing with up-to-date research-backed stuff here.
posted by kmennie at 6:46 AM on April 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

I'll echo the chorus -- you probably won't want to eat. However, you should bring whatever you think might make you most comfortable. Having some uneaten snacks around won't hurt anyone. And if, during labor, you find you want a pint of Ben & Jerry's -- get it! And if the nurse says "no" just nod and smile while you dig in.

I was disappointed that there wasn't a mini-fridge in my room and planned to bring a cooler of snacks. But, I forgot. So there was a bag of GORP and some granola bars that I brought with but I stuck to hospital snacks -- jello, juice, ice-chips, popsicles -- and managed to get through. My partner may have eaten some of our snacks, I don't remember!

Good luck!
posted by amanda at 8:05 AM on April 8, 2011

Congratulations on your upcoming birth and new little one!

I was so very excited about being in labor, I didn't feel hungry. My mind was elsewhere. Then, that excitement actually turned to nausea as the pain intensified. I wouldn't have eaten in that case, anyway.

For me, pregnancy, labor, delivery and having a child have been the most surprising part of my life so far. Nothing has gone to plan and I have learned to adjust, which is a challenge for a Type A like me.
posted by FergieBelle at 8:10 AM on April 8, 2011

Zizzle is right, no reason why food should be withheld from you if you are hungry. I am shocked how these outdated practices seem to persist.

I am a crunchy two-time home-birther myself, and the midwives absolutely encouraged me to eat although I only felt up to it at the start of labour, not once it really got going. Beyond that I sipped on watered-down Recharge, which was perfect.

Best of luck!
posted by Dragonness at 9:59 AM on April 8, 2011

Agreed with everyone else--I'd had an *enormous* brunch around noon on the day I went into labor and that was about all I ate until the baby came (was vaguely uncomfortable all day, water broke at 4pm, went to the hospital at 10pm, had baby at noon the next day). I was either not hungry or queasy most of the time, though I did have some juice and tea along the way.

I'd read up on a lot of active birthing techniques and mostly found rocking and humming to be the thing that felt right at the moment. I also had on a sweatshirt on and gnawed on the sleeve through a couple of the strongest contractions--if you think the sensation of chewing alone would be a comfort you might want some clean towels handy. That sensation was very sudden so it definitely wouldn't have been a "Oh go look in my bag for my chewing rag" moment.
posted by tchemgrrl at 10:15 AM on April 8, 2011

It's been a year since I was in labor but I think I still remember it. :) I was not interested in eating once labor began in earnest so I don't think that will be as much of a problem as you think. To help me feel better during the pain of labor, we brought an iPod and netbook with external speakers to listen to music and then playoff hockey. Focusing on that really helped.

As far as the food issue, the only concern I have is about eating late in labor - I was at the hospital all day and they brought lunch. That night when I had to have an emergency c-section the combo of food and anesthesia made me vomit on the operating table but I was conscious so I was able to let the anesthesiologist know and do so safely. That said, definitely bring light foods to snack on but the nurses will let you know when you shouldn't be eating. Congrats on your baby! It's a hell of a ride but the best one I've ever been on.
posted by bijou243 at 12:35 PM on April 8, 2011

Not OB anything, but isn't the reason food is withheld is in case emergency surgery is necessary?

Occasionally, emergency C-sections need to be performed under general anesthesia. Any food in the stomach is likely to be regurgitated and will go right into your lungs. That's bad. That kills people.

I've no idea how often it happens that one has to be put all the way under like this though. Medicine often bases protocol on the one-in-a-thousand (or less frequent) event. Still, I don't think this is just about mom-torture.
posted by nathan v at 8:10 PM on April 9, 2011

nathan v is right about the reason for withholding food, and the fact that yes, hospital policy is more about their potential liability than anything else. However, as mentioned, a c-section under general anaesthesia is extremely rare. It's really up to you if you want to take that risk or not. It's so, so rare, that I personally wouldn't worry about it and did indeed snack during labor at the request of my doula, even though I wasn't particularly motivated by food.
posted by sonika at 12:18 AM on April 10, 2011

Yeah, it's so rare that not eating during labor just in case you need a crash C-section under general anaesthesia is sort of like not eating before you get in the car just in case you get in a bad accident and need surgery. It's just so uncommon, it seems senseless to withhold food during some of the most intense work you're ever going to do in your life on the basis of this one extremely rare possibility.
posted by KathrynT at 12:26 AM on April 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

I did some quick math -- 34% of all births in the US are by C-section. 3.5% of those are done under general anaesthesia. The rate of aspiration in C-section under general anaesthesia is 15 per 10,000. Multiplying all those factors together gives you an incidence of 0.0017%. That's pretty dang low.
posted by KathrynT at 12:36 AM on April 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

One of the reasons the rate of aspiration is so low is because of withholding food.

But if I'm not mistaken, most of those C-sections under general are planned surgeries, rather than emergency. I believe general is more common on the planned surgeries.

I'm not sure why general would be necessary for an emergency C-section, but I've read that it can be. Probably having recently eaten would be a bit of a contraindication to general, but then, it would shift the risk over a bit to C-sections under local+sedation (risk not only of aspiration, but of whatever was a contraindication to local to begin with). Aspiration (and contamination) is still a risk with local+sedation, as demonstrated by bijou's story. Withholding food can be uncomfortable or anxiety inducing for some people, but nobody's going to starve in one day.

If we want to go by an incidence of 17 in a million, well, that's still something like 70 incidences a year in the US of aspiration during C-section under general. It might be a risk people are willing to take, when they're maybe going to have three kids, but not a risk that a hospital wants to take, when they're going to end up with a few thousand births a year.
posted by nathan v at 10:49 AM on April 10, 2011

But if I'm not mistaken, most of those C-sections under general are planned surgeries, rather than emergency. I believe general is more common on the planned surgeries.

You are so completely mistaken it's not even funny. And is in fact, dangerous.

GA is used ONLY IN CRASH EMERGENCY C-SECTIONS! Because it is easier to throw a gas mask over someone's face than it is to get them to sit still for an epidural or a spinal when having contractions. Unless there is some other issue with the mother having a planned c-section --- too much effort to get the spinal in, mother's preference, etc.

Spinals are far and away the preferred anaesthesia for planned c-sections.

Epidurals are mostly used in cases where a woman labored, got an epidural, and then needed a c-section --- the epi is already in place, doesn't make sense to sense to add more drugs.

But it's really appalling to me that you're disseminating such terrible information. Your other points may or may not be valid, but really, you have absolutely no clue about any of this and you're only contributing to myths. Just stop.
posted by zizzle at 7:56 AM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Your other points may or may not be valid, but really, you have absolutely no clue about any of this and you're only contributing to myths. Just stop.

I've always been the first to admit that my knowledge on this subject is very limited :) Zizzle and I are continuing to speak in mail, and if the subject is interesting to anyone, I'm happy to share those mails.

I'm sorry, to the original poster, that nobody has answered your question. I'm unable to do so.

However, I felt it was important to rebut the idea expressed here that there's no reason to withhold food. There is reason. There may be extra reason for you, depending on your pregnancy.

Continuing to discuss it with your doctor is a good idea. Sneaking food in and eating it on the sly is not. If you decide to eat despite a doctor's recommendations, do so openly.

Best of luck.
posted by nathan v at 10:16 AM on April 12, 2011

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