preparing nutritionally for childbirth

For all the moms out there who have gone through natural childbirth, I am sure they will agree that it can be described as one of the most tiring and energetic experiences of a woman’s life.  I am sure we all dream of having one of those miraculous quick deliveries where your water breaks, you have a few quick contractions, you sneeze and pop…the baby is here! Reality is that this is often not the case with labour taking many hours to even days, pushing your body to its limits.  It is therefore no surprise that childbirth is often said to be like running a marathon.  Training for a marathon requires physical and mental preparation, eating a healthy balanced diet, keeping hydrated, exercising regularly and ensuring sufficient sleep. Pregnancy is quite similar and the same preparation principles apply. For first time moms, a difference is that you can’t practice labour until you actually in labour.  Experiencing a birth via caesarean section might not take as long as a natural birth, your body still endures a great deal of stress and the procedure involves abdominal surgery.  The role of nutrition in the recovery process is equally as important. It is therefore highly recommended for C-section moms to pay special attention to their diet pre and post operation to ensure a well recovery.

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Can I Prepare Nutritionally for Birth?

There is no doubt that healthy eating is exceptionally important during pregnancy to ensure that baby receives the best nutrition to grow and develop and to maintain the health of the mom. It is however often forgotten that good nutrition is equally as important to prepare mom for the high endurance labour and recovery afterwards. Remember your body will function at its best when it is receiving the nutrients that it needs.  As pregnancy approaches the third trimester, and as you near the 40 week mark, tummy space is limited, heartburn and constipation are usually in full swing and a good night’s sleep is often a distant memory.  These can all hinder your nutritional intake during this time but despite these discomforts, it is still important to maintain a healthy intake to keep those energy levels up. Keep in mind that you are preparing for a “marathon” and diet is a key component of getting your body ready and working at its best.

The key throughout your pregnancy is balance – to eat a variety of foods from all food groups and to keep your diet natural, with lots of fresh foods and home cooking.  Try to avoid processed, high fat (fast foods) that offer little nutritional value.

So what important nutrients should you remember to include?

Iron is an important nutrient throughout pregnancy and as you approach delivery as blood loss is expected for both natural delivery and caesarean section.  To keep those iron levels up, incorporate red meat (if not vegetarian) and dark green leafy vegetables, beans or lentils into your weekly lunches or dinners.  Keep bags of nuts in your handbag or car for quick snacks. Your body will endure quite a bit of strain during delivery and protein foods will help this process as well as recovery afterwards, especially post C-section. Aim to include protein rich foods at each meal.  Eggs can be boiled ahead of time and kept in the fridge for a meal or snack. Keep fresh cooked chicken breast strips or beef strips in your fridge for ease.  Don’t forget about dairy products, including milk, cheese and yoghurts, which are good sources of calcium as well. Remember to include lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, always ensuring a colourful selection.  Keep fruits on hand for an unexpected delivery, which can be eaten on the go for a quick energy boost.  Healthy fats such as olive oil, nuts, avocados and salmon will promote the development of your baby’s eyes and brain and should be eaten regularly.  Remember that tummy space will be limited so aim for small frequent meals to maximise your intake over the day. Try to avoid larger, fatty meals which can leave you feeling sluggish and tired and may exacerbate any heartburn.  Although tiredness is definitely be prevalent during the final few weeks, try keep active and in accordance with your doctor’s advice.

shutterstock_366185144What about Fluids?

As you near the end of your pregnancy, there will be a lot of pressure on your bladder which will probably make your trips to the bathroom an every 5 minute occasion. Despite this, keeping hydrated is vitally important especially during the summer months. Space your fluid intake out throughout the day and ensure you don’t go long periods without a glass of water. Keep a bottle of fresh water in your bag for quick sips during the day.  Avoid caffeinated, high sugar or fizzy drinks.

labourWhat About Eating and Drinking Whilst in Labour?

Should you be eating and drinking whilst in labour? There are varying guidelines regarding this and it is recommended to speak to your gynae when you discuss your birth plan.  It has however been documented that women who are allowed to eat and drink during labour have a shorter labour, they are less likely to need oxytocin to speed up labour, require fewer pain medications and may have babies with higher Apgar scores when born verse women who fast during labour.

You may be allowed light snacks and clear fluids during early labour whilst other doctors may allow you to drink clear fluids but avoid snacks. Some doctors may advise you to avoid both fluids and food, usually as a precaution in case anaesthesia is required if unexpected complications develop. Your doctor be able to adequately advise you.  If you are planning to pack some snacks and drinks into your hospital bag, what are some good options?

  • Keep all fluids and snacks nutritious to give your body the fuel it needs.
  • Keep snacks small and easy to eat.  Water, diluted fruit juices, jelly and home made clear broths are usually on the preferred list.
  • Avoid caffeine and fizzy drinks.
  • Remember to pack some straws to make drinking easier.
  • Easy-to-eat snacks such as cooked fruit,  trail mix or nuts will help to keep your energy levels up.
  • Labour can affect your appetite and make you feel nausea so try avoid a large meal when contractions start and focus on small frequent snacks if permitted.

For moms having an elective caesarean section, you will usually be advised to not eat or drink from midnight the night before your surgery.  Your doctor will however advise you prior to the surgery.

As you approach your due date, enjoy every minute! Although delivery can be compared to a marathon, what a beautiful marathon it is. You have been preparing for the past 9 months for this special day.  It is a magical, emotional and overwhelming experience and the most amazing part is as you cross the finish line, you get to meet your adorable baby.