Getting Your Body Ready for Labour
Once you reach the 7th month of pregnancy, you might want to start preparing your body for childbirth, both mentally and physically. In addition to the excitement of the arrival of your precious newborn, you may wonder if there’s anything else you can do to nourish your body and be fully ready for labor.
Foods and nutrients to prepare for labour
Giving birth is like running a marathon! It takes a lot of hard work and you will need to stock up your energy reserves and some key nutrients as the big day approaches.
No matter how many weeks are left on the countdown, you need to still continue eating a healthy, balanced diet. This is of great importance until the end of your pregnancy. (You might like to also check out my blog: Diet and pregnancy, it's not about "eating for two" )
It’s also important to listen to your body’s needs. In this stage, you will probably feel a little hungrier than the previous weeks, however, with your baby pushing your stomach up to your diaphragm, you may feel fuller quicker and a little out of breath. Try to make clever choices about what you’re eating, and eat small, frequent meals and snacks rather than simply filling yourself up with empty calories.
Iron: Iron deficiency is by far the most common cause of anaemia in pregnancy. You are more likely to become anaemic if your diet lacks iron-rich foods or if it’s low in Vitamin-C-rich foods which help to boost iron absorption. Given the growth going on in your baby and the changes in your body, it is difficult to meet your iron requirements with diet alone.
If your body lacks iron, you’ll end up feeling tired and weak as iron deficiency can affect your aerobic capacity and endurance, which is probably not the best idea for those final days of pregnancy and getting you ready for the marathon of labour. It can also increase your risk of serious complications like preterm delivery, postpartum depression, cesarean section or even giving birth to a baby with anaemia.1, 2, 3
So, you need to keep an eye on your iron levels until the end of pregnancy and fill up your stores by eating iron-rich foods like red meats, bone broths, nuts and legumes, along with Vitamin C rich foods such as citrus fruits and vegetables to aid in absorption. Stay tuned for the next blog, where I’ll talk more about the importance of iron in the post-partum period.
Magnesium: Research suggests that magnesium helps to prevent the uterus from contracting prematurely and also decreases the risk of many complications, including leg cramps and high blood pressure during pregnancy. 4 , 5 Magnesium is widely distributed in foods, especially grains, seafood, and green vegetables.
Omega-3 fatty acids: You need to maintain your intake of healthy fats throughout the whole pregnancy, especially in your third trimester, which is the time of the most rapid neural and retinal development of your baby. Research shows that Omega-3 intake during the last months of gestation boosts an infant's sensory, cognitive, and motor development.6 It can also help to reduce the mother's risk of depression. Check out my blog that goes into a bit more detail about Omega 3.
Carbohydrates: In the last trimester, you still need to eat extra calories (Read my blog to find out how many more calories to eat: Diet and pregnancy, it's not about "eating for two"). As you may know, food is our fuel and you may want to get your energy levels up for the moment of labour. Just like a marathon runner or endurance athlete, carbohydrate loading may benefit your body during labour. In essence, carbohydrate loading in the days or week before labour will help boost muscle and liver glycogen stores. Glycogen is the stored fuel form of carbohydrate. Without eating, our glycogen stores run out quickly. Given you may not feel like eating during labour, but still “running a marathon” so to speak, it may benefit you to load up your body before the race to help you have the energy you need. Fill up your energy stores with healthy low GI carbs such as whole grains, pulses, brown rice and quinoa, but also low fibre alternatives in the days before the labour to get high amounts of carbohydrate in, but also so that you don’t have to worry so much about the effects of fibre on your bowels during labour (see below for me info on fibre!). This could include potatoes, creamed rice, custard, yoghurt, rice, juice. However, please talk to a Dietitian more about carbohydrate loading as there is a bit of a science to doing it right.
Protein: Protein is a vital nutrient during the whole gestation and it continues to be in the last weeks of pregnancy, as it helps strengthen muscles for both you and the baby. Besides, protein helps you to feel satisfied after meals. Great sources of iron are often found in protein foods too.
Fluids: Adequate hydration is very important, especially at the end of your pregnancy and during labour when you are sweating, losing electrolytes and fluid in the final stages of the delivery of the baby. In order to avoid dehydration, try to drink small sips of water or ice frequently. You can also achieve your fluid requirements with fruits, juices, broth or even sports drinks.
Dates: Several studies have concluded that consuming dates during pregnancy will reduce the need for labour-inducing drugs, hence facilitate childbirth. One of these studies was published in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology7, where authors concluded that dates might be beneficial in increasing the chances for having spontaneous labour, aid in uterine contractions and reduce the need for drugs commonly used to stimulate uterine contractions, such as prostaglandins and oxytocin. It won’t hurt to try at least!
Raspberry leaves: Use of raspberry leaf tea is also a common herbal aid among pregnant women. It is used during pregnancy to strengthen and prepare the uterus, soften or prepare the cervix, induce or ease labor, and to relieve nausea. 8 A review of the existing studies demonstrated a positive trend towards decreasing the length of the first and second stages of labour and the need for medical intervention at birth9 , 10 Raspberry leaf tea is usually taken at the beginning of the third trimester, to prevent premature labour, and is generally considered safe, however, talk to your OB and midwife first before taking it. Like with many herbs, more research is needed on its safety and efficacy.
Prepare your bowels for labour
We all know that pregnancy can cause some constipation due to the rising levels of progesterone which can result in a reduction in gastric motility and an increase in gastric transit time of the stools through the bowels. Iron supplements are also a common cause of constipation too. However, as the big date approaches, you may want to start “cleaning out your system” before heading into labour. This is because many pregnant mothers can experience bowel movements while they are giving birth, without having much control over it. If you want to try to limit this from happening, you might like to start preparing your bowels weeks before by trying to:
· Increase your dietary fibre and fluid intake, as well as a modest amount of daily exercise (yoga, pilates, walking). The best choice to drink is water, but prune juice can also help a lot in this stage.
· Taking a stool softener a few days before delivery can also help you to clean your intestine prior to child birth, and it is also considered safe to do so.
So what do you pack in your hospital bag for keeping nutritionally strong?
When packing your hospital bag, make sure you take low fibre, carbohydrate rich snacks to support your glucose levels and give you plenty of energy for labour without weighing you down. This means that you don´t want to pack a big bag of chips, or eat a steak! Instead take with you fresh fruit, muesli bars, yoghurt, electrolyte drink, coconut water or fruit juices. Soups and bone broth are great too and easy on the digestion!
Also remember to ask your doctor or OB if it’s safe for you to eat during labour and what they allow you to take once you’re in the hospital. You might also want to check the hospital’s policies regarding this issue.
After the delivery, you will probably feel famished, so stock up on carbohydrate, protein and iron rich foods to help your glycogen stores and muscles to recover and to restock on iron and other nutrients you have lost.
Stock up on healthy frozen meals from friends/relatives and ones you’ve made yourself for the post delivery period. Pack them with good quality proteins, whole grains and antioxidants for healing and getting your milk supply going.
Keep taking your prenatal supplement, especially iron, iodine, selenium and Vitamin D which we’ll discuss more in the next blog: Postpartum Nutrition: Taking care of you after labour.
You might also want to start trying lactation teas or cookies with galactagogues a couple of weeks prior to delivery to help get your breastmilk supply going too. I talk about the pro’s and con’s of galactagogues in here. If you want to trial these types of nursing products, contact me as I am a stockist of Totally Devoted’s delicious Lactation Teas and Feeding Cookies – wheat/dairy/egg free and free of refined sugars and preservatives. Perfect for those with allergies and intolerances.
In summary, labour is the ultimate marathon that your body is designed to win. How well your body crosses the finish line and recovers in the weeks ahead, is affected by how well you are physically and mentally prepared. Let me help you take control of this race, so that you feel even more empowered to be as healthy and strong as you can be. Contact me today!
1. Cold, F., Health, E., Disease, H., Disease, L., Management, P., & Conditions, S. et al. (2018). Anemia in Pregnancy: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/baby/guide/anemia-in-pregnancy#2
2. Pregnancy, H., Pregnancy, H., & Staff, B. (2018). Iron-deficiency anemia in pregnancy | BabyCenter. Retrieved from https://www.babycenter.com/0_iron-deficiency-anemia-in-pregnancy_10414720.bc
3. Drukker L, Hants Y, Farkash R, Ruchlemer R, Samueloff A, Grisar Granovsky S. Iron deficiency anemia at admission for labour and delivery is associated with an increased risk for Cesarean section and adverse maternal and neonatal outcomes. Transfusion. 2015 Dec;55(12):2799-806.
4. Weight, N., Well, E., & Staff, B. (2018). Magnesium in your pregnancy diet | BabyCenter. Retrieved from https://www.babycenter.com/0_magnesium-in-your-pregnancy-diet_659.bc
5. Zarean, E., & Tarjan, A. (2017). Effect of Magnesium Supplement on Pregnancy Outcomes: A Randomized Control Trial. Advanced Biomedical Research, 6, 109. http://doi.org/10.4103/2277-9175.213879
6. Université Laval. (2008, April 11). Omega-3 Intake During Last Months Of Pregnancy Boosts An Infant's Cognitive And Motor Development. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 6, 2018 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/04/080409110029.htm
7. Razali N, Mohd Nahwari SH, Sulaiman S, Hassan J. Date fruit consumption at term: Effect on length of gestation, labour and delivery. J Obstet Gynaecol. 2017 Jul;37(5):595-600. doi: 10.1080/01443615.2017.1283304.
8. Holst L, Haavik S, Nordeng H. Raspberry leaf--should it be recommended to pregnant women? Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2009 Nov;15(4):204-8. doi: 10.1016/j.ctcp.2009.05.003.
9. Simpson, M. (2001). Raspberry leaf in pregnancy: Its safety and efficacy in labour. Journal Of Midwifery & Women's Health, 46(2), 51-59. doi: 10.1016/s1526-9523(01)00095-2
10. Red raspberry leaf - an overview | ScienceDirect Topics. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/red-raspberry-leaf
11. Eating a light meal during labour - American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA). (2018). Retrieved from https://www.asahq.org/about-asa/newsroom/news-releases/2015/10/eating-a-light-meal-during-labor
12. Sharts-Hopko NC. Oral intake during labour: a review of the evidence. MCN Am J Matern Child Nurs. 2010 Jul-Aug;35(4):197-203; quiz 204-5. doi: 10.1097/NMC.0b013e3181db48f5. Review.