When approaching their baby's due date, many pregnant women find themselves discussing time-honoured remedies for bringing on labour and fast-tracking the child's journey through the birth canal. Spicy foods and castor oil are popular suggestions for inducing labour, while an infusion of raspberry leaf tea is credited with strengthening and relaxing the uterine muscle in preparation for the impending contractions.
But it's the everyday foods that constitute a balanced diet that have the most impact on a woman's comfort and energy levels throughout the marathon that childbirth can often be. The best preparation for childbirth is nine months of healthy eating, but there are a few things worth paying particular attention to as the due date draws near.
Good hydration throughout pregnancy is vital for mother and baby, but it is particularly important during labour and for lactation after the birth. Nadia Mastersson, spokesperson for Dieticians Australia, says it is important women are well hydrated before labour because once it starts many women find they don't want to eat or drink much. It is important that they do try to have small, regular sips of water during labour, she adds.
"You also need plenty of fluids to ensure you are able to produce breast milk," explains Mastersson. She advises new mums to have a glass of water or milk next to them when they are breastfeeding so they can top up their fluid levels.
Whether your labour is a speedy two hours or a 24-hour test of endurance, the one thing every mum-to-be needs at this time is energy, and the best sources of available energy are foods that are high in carbohydrate. Pregnant women are advised to consume five to six serves of carbohydrate a day.
Sydney Nutrition Scientist Joanna McMillan-Price suggests women incorporate low GI carbohydrates into their diet to promote sustained energy levels. High GI foods can produce glucose spikes that result in energy levels plummeting soon after eating. Low GI foods include cereals based on oats, barley and bran; breads with wholegrains, stone-ground flour and sour dough; pasta, noodles and the Basmati, Doongara and Japanese koshihikari rice varieties. For more information, read our article about how to follow a low-GI diet.
McMillan-Price also recommends women sip energy drinks like Sustagen, Gatorade and protein-revival mixes during and immediately after labour to replace carbohydrate and energy. Mastersson suggests they snack on dry crackers that don't have a lot of flavour or smell, and sipping orange juice or water.
Preventing constipation and haemorrhoids
Constipation can be a problem for many women during pregnancy, and it can be particularly uncomfortable as the baby grows larger. It is more common in pregnancy because the increase in female hormones in the body relaxes the muscles around the bowel, which slows down the woman's intestinal activity. Constipation can cause abdominal pain and discomfort.
Haemorrhoids (swollen veins in the lower rectum) are also common in pregnancy because the growing uterus puts pressure on the veins below the uterus, causing them to swell. If you are constipated and constantly straining when going to the toilet, this can also exacerbate haemorrhoids or increase your chance of developing them. Meanwhile, the strain of childbirth can cause haemorrhoids afterwards.
McMillan-Price suggests women eat plenty of fibre leading up to birth and while they are recovering to prevent constipation and haemorrhoids. Eating high-fibre cereals and breads, plus five serves of vegetables and two serves of fruit a day is recommended. Fibre needs water to process properly so if you do increase your fibre intake, remember to increase your fluid intake. McMillan-Price adds out that bowel movements can loosen immediately prior to and during labour, so don't overdo the bran and prunes once labour starts.
Impacting on labour with diet
While some women profess they went into labour after drinking castor oil or raspberry leaf tea, the fact remains that most babies come out in their own time and at their own pace. And with little hard scientific data to back up the claims, Mastersson says groups like Dieticians Australia won't put their stamp of approval on them. These tonics are generally considered to be safe, however, it is highly recommended that pregnant women consult their doctor before starting on any such regimes.
Sometimes referred to as a "partus preparator", raspberry leaf tea is a popular herb for promoting good reproductive health. As part of a daily diet in the last weeks of pregnancy, one to three cups is credited with toning and strengthening the uterus so that contractions are more effective. It is also high in calcium and vitamin C.
Castor oil and spicy foods have long been touted as being effective in bringing on labour by creating cramps of the intestines which, in turn, can bring on reflexive cramping of the uterine muscle. Be aware, however, that castor oil can cause diarrhoea and painful cramps.
|Staying healthy throughout pregnancy |
A healthy, balanced diet is the key to good pregnancy health. Don't overindulge, but don't deprive yourself and ensure you are getting a good mix of fresh fruit and vegetables, fat, protein and carbohydrate in your diet. Avoid following low-carbohydrate diets while pregnant because studies show that too much protein and not enough carbohydrate puts unborn babies at risk of low birth weight.
Good nutrition during pregnancy is vital to help with the many physical changes that occur in a woman's body, such as:
- Blood volume increases;
- An increase in fluid levels;
- Growth of the baby and placenta;
- An increase in cardiac output;
- Hormonal variations.
|The nutrients that pregnant women should pay particular attention to are: ||Folate Best sources are green leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts and orange juice. It is advised that women take a supplement while trying to conceive and during the first three months of pregnancy to prevent neural tube defects in the baby.|
Iron Women need twice as much iron as normal to support their pregnancy and the growth of their baby. Best sources are lean red meat, poultry and fish. It is recommended they eat one of these every day.
Calcium This is important for bone health for the mother and her baby. Best sources are milk, yoghurt and cheese.
Fluids The blood volume increases during pregnancy so it is vital to keep stay hydrated. Drink at least two litres a day, and choose mainly water.