You packed your hospital bag, but did you think about your last meal before your babe makes an entrance? Consider these five dietitian-approved meals to put your hanger pains at ease as you go through labor.

pieces of bread with slices of bananas and peanut butter and granolaShare on Pinterest

There are a lot of things first-time parents have to plan for when it comes to childbirth: Delayed cord clamping, pushing techniques, pain management, and skin to skin are a few things to consider.

But why doesn’t anyone warn you about the hanger that some women experience during labor?

While new evidence suggests that there may actually be some benefit to eating during labor for women with low risk pregnancies, most hospitals enforce a protocol that restricts you to water and ice pellets. Sounds, um… not so satisfying.

With that in mind, it’s best to plan ahead for what might fuel your body well during what will likely be the hardest workout of your life.

And yes, it IS a workout. Research has found that the energy and caloric demands of laboring women are similar to those of professional marathon runners. I digress...

Like most things in childbirth, my perfect pre-labor meal plan didn’t run so smoothly, and I ended up making some rash decisions. My unsightly pick? A massive bowl of spicy tom yum noodle soup that I thought might speed my labor along (spoiler alert – I was in active labor for 20 hours and that broth did not feel great coming back up after the big push sesh).

What did I learn? Keep it simple. It’s best to stock your fridge and freezer with foods that give you tons of energy (like carbs), are relatively bland (in case you lose your cookies), easy to digest (so, relatively low in fat), don’t cause bloating, and ultimately, that you find delicious and appetizing. You’ve got a life of putting another human’s needs first, so this one’s for you.

With some of the principals of sports nutrition, digestion, and my own mistakes in mind, here are some simple, accessible meal choices to either throw together last minute when those early contractions hit, or to keep in the freezer so they’re ready for you at the first pelvic ping,

You’re about to become a mom, so you might as well start practicing your PB sammy skills now. No, but seriously, the carbohydrates from the bread and banana will give you some immediate energy, while a thin smear of protein from the nut butter will help prevent blood sugar crashes and hunger spells.

Oatmeal is a fantastic source of carbohydrates for fueling your cardio sesh, but to give it a little more staying power, we suggest whipping some pasteurized egg whites into the mixture as it cooks. Not only do the eggs give the oats a creamy, fluffy consistency, but they also add a solid dose of lean protein to help keep you satiated for a long road ahead. Check out my recipe for how to make this pre- (and post)partum staple.

Sweet potatoes are a favorite in athletic circles, and for good reason. They’re a fantastic source of carbohydrates with lots of potassium and iron, two nutrients that are often depleted during labor and delivery.

Turn yours into a satisfying meal by mixing a little pulled rotisserie chicken breast with a spoonful of salsa and chopped veggies and pack the mixture into a roasted split potato.

If you’re vegetarian and accustomed to eating a lot of beans, legumes, or cheese, then by all means, you can throw those in too, but be mindful of limiting any ingredients with a tendency to cause gas.

Skip the greasy and salty takeout and use up those fridge leftovers before you head to the hospital “hotel.” Rice is a great source of carbohydrates for energy, while the shrimp adds a low-fat protein for prolonged energy. Throw in some leftover or frozen veggies and a light low-sodium sauce for some satisfying laboring fuel.

If and when I prepare for baby #2, this is what I’ll be whipping up pre-birth. Carb load like a marathoner with a big bowl of al dente pasta, but make sure to sauce it up right. Skip the heavy alfredo or cheese sauce that might leave you feeling lethargic, bloated, and tired, and stick to a quick Bolognese made with lean ground beef and store-bought low-sodium tomato sauce.

While these meal ideas are balanced, and well-planned options for those early, more tolerable stages of labor to get you through a solid stretch, you might need a “top up” to get you to the finish line. When things get hot and heavy, be sure to listen to your body (it might not be interested in anything at all) to choose something that is appealing and tolerable to you.

With your healthcare provider’s blessing, some easy-to-digest carbohydrate-based gels, candies, popsicles, or juice might give you the push to well, push. Ultimately, what your body needs in that moment is incredibly unique, so as it moves through the stages of labor, trust that “mother’s intuition.”

Might as well get some practice. You’re going to depend on it for many years to come.


Abbey Sharp is a registered dietitian, TV and radio personality, food blogger, and the founder of Abbey’s Kitchen Inc. She is the author of the Mindful Glow Cookbook, a non-diet cookbook designed to help inspire women to rekindle their relationship with food. She recently launched a parenting Facebook group called the Millennial Mom’s Guide to Mindful Meal Planning.