Snacks for your Hospital Bag & What to Know about Eating during Labor

Last Updated: February 8, 2024
Liesel Teen, RN-BSN

By Liesel Teen

BSN, RN, Practicing Labor and Delivery Nurse

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Working on getting prepped for birth and wondering what to pack when it comes to snacks for your hospital bag? Got a question related to eating during labor?

You are in the right place!

In this article, you will learn all about eating and drinking policies during labor, when you definitely can’t eat during birth, and the best snacks for labor so that you will be totally prepared!

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Eating during labor

When it comes to preparing for birth, a question that comes up a lot is about eating during labor. It’s one of those things that is a lot less black and white than you’d think.

Different birthplaces and even providers may have different guidance on this and really it should be determined on an individual basis.

We know there are benefits to eating and drinking during labor (when it’s safe and desired by the birthing mama), and blanket policies of no eating are quickly becoming outdated.

Can you eat during labor?

The quick answer is that it’s up to your provider and birthplace! But generally, if you are laboring on your own, and you are considered low-risk, most providers allow you to eat light meals/snacks.

One thing that I do recommend is that if you are laboring at home, eat! Labor can be intense, long, and exhausting, and food is the fuel that can keep you going. Don’t think you need to stop eating once your labor starts!

Why can’t you eat during labor?

These so called “blanket policies” of not eating during labor are rooted in the times when the use of general anesthesia during birth was far more common. We’re talking about way back in the 30s and 40s. These guidelines made good sense for those times because of the risk of food aspiration into the lungs if GA is necessary.

But today, the use of general anesthesia during birth is far less common, and only used in very emergent C-section situations (sometimes referred to as a stat C-section).

However, there are still some scenarios where you most likely can’t eat during labor. These include:

  • Being high-risk
  • Having an epidural
  • Medical induction
  • Planned C-section

In these cases, your provider will almost certainly not let you have solid food, but often will allow ice chips and water. Sometimes a clear liquid diet is permitted.

Why? Well, it’s really still based on those mid-20th century recommendations to prevent food or liquid being inhaled into the lungs if general anesthesia is needed.

The reality is that while general anesthesia use is quite uncommon – the scenarios listed above may put you at an increased risk for an emergent C-section, and it’s considered best practice to not eat or drink other than ice chips and water, just in case.

Hospital policies around eating during labor

If you are concerned about being able to eat or not eat during labor, have this conversation with your provider at your next appointment. They will let you know the restrictions, and if they would be comfortable with food consumption during labor or not.

Questions to ask your provider about eating during labor

  • What is the official policy on eating and drinking during labor at my birthplace?
  • What is your personal stance on eating and drinking during labor?
  • What is your advice for me on eating and drinking while laboring at home?
  • Is there a point during labor when my access to eating and drinking would change?
  • If eating and drinking in labor is permitted at my birthplace, do you have snacks available for birthing mamas?

Labor snacks

Okay, now that we covered the ins and outs of when eating during labor is appropriate, or not advised, let’s talk about labor snacks!

What snacks are allowed during labor?

So there are really no hard and fast rules here, but there are certainly some foods that are better than others. And the truth is, you’re probably not going to want something some super heavy, greasy, or filling anyway.

When it comes to labor snacks, think light foods or drinks that will give you a boost of energy and/or have pretty good staying power. Labor can be a marathon after all, and it’s important that you have the right nutrients to sustain yourself!

What to eat in early labor?

Often, once active labor kicks in you won’t want to eat. If you want to try to fuel up during your early labor at home, things like trail mix, nut butters, light soup, smoothies, and fruit can be good options because they’re a bit easier to stomach but still pack a good punch of nutrients that will give you energy.

Focusing on any protein consumption you can handle during early will definitely help you sustain your energy and strength!

What to eat during active labor

Because it’s usually harder for mamas to eat during active labor, I recommend focusing on drinks that contain electrolytes and/or sugars like Gatorade and coconut water.

Honey sticks, apple sauce pouches, popsicles, Jell-o, or hard candies are other great options when you can’t stomach much but could use a quick boost!

What snacks to bring to the hospital for labor?

Assuming that you’re cleared for eating during labor, let’s talk specifics on what snacks to bring to the hospital for labor. Packing snacks in your hospital bag is a must.

Even if you don’t eat them during labor, your support people might – and I can guarantee that you are going to be ready to eat during the rest of your hospital stay after baby arrives!

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10 Snacks for your hospital bag according to an L&D nurse

1. Honey sticks

This is definitely my favorite labor snack and the one I think everyone should pack! Honey sticks give you a nice boost of energy and are a natural source of sugar.

I also see that even women who really don’t want to eat during labor can usually stomach these if labor is getting really, really long or exhausting.

Honey sticks can sometimes be tricky to find in-store (even at places like Whole Foods) so you may want to just go ahead and order a pack on Amazon, or try your local farmer’s market!

2. Nut butter Packets

Nut butters, like almond butter, peanut butter, or cashew butter, make for a great labor snack because of the healthy fat, high calories, and protein. The staying power is strong with that combo!

Justin’s Nut Butter Squeeze Packs are so convenient for eating straight, or quickly putting onto bites of banana, but you can certainly just bring a jar of nut butter too!

3. Bananas⁠

Bananas are another go-to labor snack I recommend to mamas because they travel easily, are easy to eat, and contain natural sugars, which give can give you just the boost of energy you need if your labor is long!

They also pair well with nut butters and honey sticks 😉

4. Granola bars⁠

Granola bars are another good one because they travel well – so easy to just toss a few into your labor bag.

True granola bars have dietary fiber and carbs that will give you the energy to keep your stamina up. But you can also opt for granola bars that contain some protein too!

5. Apple sauce⁠ or other fruit pouches

Are you sensing a theme here for easy-to-pack and consume snacks? Apple sauce and other pureed fruit pouches are so, so great for labor!

They’re hydrating, contain natural sugars, and are great for sipping on slowly or sucking down for a quick boost.

Gogo Squeez makes a nice variety pack that I love, but I’m also seeing these Noka Superfood Smoothie Pouches and they are very intriguing!!

6. Coconut Water

I know this isn’t a snack, but coconut water is a perfect drink for during labor, so I wanted to include it on this list. I like it because it’s super hydrating and also contains electrolytes to replenish you when you’re working hard during active labor.

Coconut water also only contains natural sugars (vs added sugar) which is a plus in my book! But truthfully, any electrolyte drink like Gatorade, Vitamin Water, or even Pedialyte works too.

7. Gum

Gum is a good pick because it helps with dry mouth and can distract you during contractions. Strong mint gums can also help with nausea, which some women do experience during labor.

There was actually a 2022 peer reviewed study published in the BMC Pregnancy & Childbirth Journal that looked at anxiety and pain scores during labor 30 minutes after gum was administered and found that they were significantly lower than the control group!

“This study showed that chewing mint gum alone can reduce the pain of first stage of childbirth in addition to anxiety…therefore, we can use the method of distraction…as painless and anti-anxiety methods that are easy to use and effective in childbirth.” (source)

8. Hard Candy

Similarly, hard candy also makes for a great distraction during labor, helps with dry mouth, and may reduce nausea.

9. Pretzels and/or Crackers

Some women report craving something salty or crunchy during labor, and pretzels and crackers are both a great pick for this!

You can eat them with some nut butter for extra staying power, and if you’re feeling a bit nauseous, saltines are great.

10. Trail mix

Just like nut butter, a nut-based trail mix has that perfect blend of healthy fats, calories, and protein. Add in some dried fruit, you’ve got your natural sugar too!

If you can stomach it and it sounds good, trail mix is an excellent pick!

Hospital snacks for dads, partners, and support people

Just like you – your partner or other support people are going to need food to sustain their energy during the marathon of labor! To be honest, the list of snacks I’d recommend for them is very similar to what’s on the list for mama.

Additionally, they may want to consider some more substantial hospital snacks such as:

  • Pita and hummus
  • Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
  • Hardboiled eggs
  • Protein bars
  • And any other snack-y favorites!

What about planned C-Section Moms?

For planned C-sections, eating is not permitted.  Usually, it is recommended to stop 8 hours before your scheduled C-section, but some policies are changing, which may allow you to have sips of clear liquids until 2 hours before your C-section.

Every hospital and provider is different so definitely ask about this! This is super important – your surgery can be delayed or canceled if you do not follow these guidelines. 

And as far as after? Most C-section moms report more nausea and vomiting than from a vaginal delivery. You may only be offered ice chips and clear liquids for the first 6-8 hours after delivery. After that point, we will slowly advance your diet until you are tolerating solid foods.

Now you know all about eating during labor

After reading this article, you should have a clearer understanding of when eating is permitted during labor and the kinds of snacks you should pack in your hospital bag!

Birth Plan
Liesel Teen, RN-BSN

Liesel Teen

BSN, RN, Practicing Labor and Delivery Nurse

As a labor and delivery nurse, I’ve spent countless hours with women who felt anxious — even fearful — about giving birth. I want you to know it doesn’t have to be that way for you!

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