Last updated on Feb 22nd, 2021 at 09:52 am

When it comes to preparing for the big day you’ll finally get to meet your baby, you might have your hospital room booked and your nappy bag packed. But, do you know what to eat before, during and after labour? Have you thought about the snacks you might need, how much you’ll need to eat to preserve your energy or what to drink to prevent dehydration?

Professor Lisanne du Plessis, spokesperson for the Association of Dietetics in South Africa (ASDA), registered dietician, lecturer and researcher at Stellenbosch University, offers her suggestions:

When to eat   

Natural birth

According to the Cochrane Review, which includes pooled results from well-conducted research trials, it’s not necessary to restrict foods or fluids if you’ve had a low-risk pregnancy and are planning a natural birth without anaesthesia. Results confirm you’re free to choose if, and how much, you need to eat before and during labour. There’s no hard and fast rule for natural birth.


If you have a C-section planned, your gynaecologist will normally advise that you avoid eating for a few hours before the procedure. “Restricting solid foods for up to 8 hours before your C-section will help to reduce the likelihood of vomiting or lung complications,” says obstetrician and gynaecologist, Robyn Horsager. If you have a planned C-section, you can drink clear liquids like juice and sports drinks to keep you hydrated, she adds. These drinks are also recommended for natural birth.

If you have to go in for an emergency C-section, you might have had breakfast or lunch which could make you feel nauseous or vomit before or during the procedure. It’s always a good idea to let your gynaecologist and anaesthetist know, especially if you need a general anaesthetic.

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ALSO SEE: 10 things no one tells you about C-sections

What to eat after birth

“Whether you have a C-section or natural birth planned, healthy, whole foods are always the best foods to eat during and after labour,” says Lisanne. “Just remember that with a planned C-section you’ll need to restrict foods for a few hours before birth and after birth.

“It’s important to trust your gut regarding food preferences as you’ll instinctively know which foods you can tolerate at this time,” she adds.

Stick to water to quench your thirst, although you can have energy drinks or juice – just stick to low sugar alternatives. Blood sugar spikes aren’t a good idea when you’re in labour.

Lisanne also recommends:

  • Easily digestible carbohydrates such as rice cakes, wholewheat crackers or toast
  • Fresh fruit or veggies such as carrots, bananas, apples and berries
  • Frozen fruit pops – made with 100% pure fruit or vegetable juice
  • If you’re not feeling nauseous, consider protein options such as nuts, seeds, hummus on toast, cheese on crackers, or nut butter on rice cakes
  • If you do opt for processed foods such as energy bars, stick to low-sugar varieties without artificial chemicals, colourants or preservatives.

This is what healthy plate should look like while you’re recuperating from birth and breastfeeding:

Half a plate of veggies and fruits

The other half should consist of:

  • Wholegrains
  • Plant-based protein sources
  • Unsaturated plant oils
  • Modest amounts of animal protein.

During or after labour, Lisanne suggests avoiding the following:

  • Any foods or fluids that can possibly cause nausea, heartburn or gas
  • Fatty or spicy foods
  • Junk food with hidden sugars and trans fats
  • Large meals
  • Fizzy, carbonated drinks.

More about the expert:

Lisanne is an Associate Professor in Community Nutrition in the Division of Human Nutrition, Department of Global Health, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Stellenbosch University. She is dually registered as dietician and nutritionist with the Health Professions Council of South Africa.

Her field of experience is Public Health Nutrition and she has a particular interest and research focus on Maternal, Infant and Young Child Nutrition and Early Childhood Development, with emphasis on policy, leadership and governance issues. Read more about Lisanne du Plessis here.