Nourishing Foods for Labor and Childbirth (+ a recipe for Groaning Cake)

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Giving birth is hard work.

It's good work – joyful, holy work even – but really, it's sweaty, grunty, focused, git-‘er-done kind of work.

And like any good work, it takes energy. Food is our fuel and – yes, while there is that time when you're about 8-9 centimetres dilated that you might possibly want to purge pretty much everything – it will serve you well to eat well early on in labor and to have a few easy items on hand in case labor goes long.


Early Labor: Eat & Drink While You Can

When labor starts, usually you've got a few hours before you no longer feel like eating, so use the opportunity to eat deeply nourishing foods that will fuel you for several hours. If you crave a certain food, eat it, as that's your body's way of telling you what it needs.

Here are a few ideas for foods to nibble at will through the first stage of labor. (Please share any others you love in the comments!)

Groaning Cake – Groaning Cake was typically made for after the baby arrived, both to give the mother strength in her recovery and to serve to visitors who came to visit the mother “in confinement.” I've tweaked the recipe fairly considerably to pack in as much nourishment as possible, to provide lasting energy during labor, and to make it easily portable.  See our recipe at the end of this article.

Liver PΓ’tΓ© – PΓ’tΓ© has gotten a bad rap through the years, but when it's properly prepared, it's smooth and silky and addictively delicious. It's also rich with healthy fats and proteins that will give long, lasting energy and replenish the body with needed vitamins and minerals. The fats allow the food to be supplied to the body slowly (as opposed to the quick spike of sugar followed by an energy crash) and it is notably rich in iron, which is especially important during childbirth both to fight fatigue and to replenish iron stores due to blood loss. Try our delicious pΓ’tΓ© recipes – our favorite for this occasion is Beef Liver PΓ’tΓ© with Red Wine and Herbs.

Nuts and Dried Fruits – These are easy to transport and provide both sugars and proteins for needed energy. Stock up on the kinds you like or find a trail mix without any additives.

Hamentaschen – These Jewish cookies made for the celebratory spring holiday, Purim, are perfect labor food. They're bite-size, easily portable, scrumptious, and they're basically like a dried-fruit-and-citrus energy bar in cookie form. See our popular hamentaschen recipe here.


Easy Foods as Labor Progresses

As labor progresses, you likely won't be as hungry, but there may come times – especially if labor progresses slowly – when you will want sustenance of some sort. This may be to give you a quick pick-me-up, to help combat nausea, or to quench deep thirst. I find it easiest to have liquid food at this stage, so you'll notice bone broth and miso soup top my list.

Beef Stock – A well-gelled beef stock will ease digestive troubles and may even help ease nausea due to its gelatin content. It is one of the most nourishing foods to have on hand at any time for any occasion, childbirth being no exception. Due to its deeply nourishing nature, it will provide good energy, mental focus, and help prepare the body for post-partum healing.

If you need the stock to be portable, make portable soup. First, chill the stock for several hours after you have removed the bones. Remove the solid layer of fat on the top, then return the stock to a large saucepan, bring to a simmer, and reduce it to about one-tenth of its original volume. Pour the thick stock into a flexible container,  sprinkle liberally with sea salt, and leave to harden. Once it has solidified, slice it into 1-inch cubes, and carry those along. (They can stay at room temperature, so no worries about just tossing them in your hospital bag.)

To prepare, place one cube in a mug of boiling water and stir until dissolved.

Miso Soup – Miso is a traditionally fermented soybean paste that is very high in protein. Its flavor is salty and savory and because it's often packed in tubes or resealable pouches, it's very easy to pack in a bag and just stir into a mug of very hot water to make a broth.

I typically avoid soy products completely, but childbirth is one of the exceptions I make expressly for the ease of making a quick, protein-rich broth that I can sip as I desire. It is absolutely essential to use certified organic, traditionally prepared miso, however, so take your time to find good miso. (This brand is the one I use.)

If you'd like more vitamins or a bit of texture in your broth, bring along snack-size sheets of sushi-grade seaweed to crumble in (such as these organic ones).

Honey Sticks – If you feel your energy lagging after several hours of labor and need a pick-me-up, snip open a honey stick and suck the honey out – you'll feel revived quickly. Choose raw honey if possible, as it will also provide immunostimulants, which are important as baby and mother are sharing their first moments together at the breast, but if you can't find raw, don't sweat it – the real point is the shot of sugar to get you going. (Can't find honey sticks at your local natural health store? Find them here.)

Ginger Tea – If you suffer from nausea during labor as I do, you may find ginger tea a welcome remedy. You may even want to bring a raw, peeled ginger root with you to gnaw on – it's an overwhelming taste and sensation, but it tends to soothe the stomach and (anecdotally) stimulate labor. (And if you want to discuss nausea cures, one friend recently told me she swears by a washcloth dipped in ice water placed on the back of the neck. She says it works every time.) You can make ginger tea by pouring boiling water over freshly cut ginger root or find ginger tea bags here (there are several organic brands available).

Concentrated Raspberry Leaf Tea Ice Cubes – Raspberry leaf tea is wonderful for uterine care throughout pregnancy, and during labor it is especially so. The flavor is very refreshing and it can stimulate a tired uterus by assisting in reviving strong, productive contractions.

To make the tea, find raspberry leaves in bulk (don't bother with the premade tea bags – we're going for something much stronger). (You can find organic loose-leaf raspberry leaves at your local natural food store, at Amazon, or at Mountain Rose Herbs.) Place 2 cups of dried leaves and 2 quarts of water in a saucepan, bring to a boil, and simmer gently for about 30 minutes or until it has reduced nearly by half. Strain out the leaves, stir in 1/2 cup raw honey, then pour into ice cube trays. Make the cubes quite small, as you will be eating these as ice chips.

Store the frozen ice chips in a resealable bag. If you labor at a hospital, place the bag in whatever freezer is set aside for patient use in the obstetrical ward and ask for them right when you want them.

Dark Chocolate  – It may sound strange to have chocolate on a labor list, but if you find your energy flagging, a small piece or two of dark chocolate may be just the thing you're looking for. The small amount of sugar will give you an energy boost, the very small amounts of caffeine and theobromine serve as vasodilators, and the flavinoids will relax those same blood vessels and smooth muscles. These benefits will only come from dark chocolate, so the darker the better. (Theo is my absolute favorite! Swoon…)

Also, if chocolate is a comfort food for you, it may also help you to relax mentally. I always feel like my mind is reeling during labor and the moments when I actually relax and am able to  focus become the most satisfying, productive, joyful parts of the birth, so anything that will help you relax mentally is a wonderful tool.


Groaning Cake or Muffins: Long-lasting energy whenever you need it!


A Recipe: Groaning Cake

very loosely adapted from the novel The Birth House by Ami McKay

makes 1 bundt cake, 24 muffins, 2 9×5 loaves, or 4-5 dozen mini muffins

3 cups whole wheat or spelt flour, preferably sprouted
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/2 cups peeled, grated apple (about 1 very large apple)
1/2 cup very finely chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)
1 large carrot, finely grated (optional)
1/4 cup finely chopped dates or raisins (optional)
4 eggs
1 cup pumpkin puree (or any other squash) – see how to make pumpkin puree
3/4 cup coconut oil, melted and cooled but still liquid
zest from 2 large oranges
1/4 cup blackstrap molasses
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup sucanat OR honey

Preheat oven to 350Β° and grease a bundt pan, muffin tins, or 2 9×5 loaf pans.

Sift the dry ingredients together in a large bowl, then stir in the grated apple. Stir in the nuts, carrots, and dates if using.

In a separate bowl, lightly beat the eggs, then stir in the squash, coconut oil, orange zest, molasses, almond extract, and sucanat. Whisk until smooth.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix well. The batter should be quite stiff. If it's so stiff it's unable to mixed, however, stir in a bit of orange juice or milk. Scrape into your prepared pan and bake until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Approximate Baking Times

  • 15-18 minutes for mini-muffins
  • 22-26 minutes for muffins
  • 40-45 minutes for loaves
  • 1 hour 10 minutes – 1 hour 20 minutes for a bundt cake

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  1. I made this tonight and it is very good but I only used one orange for rind and find the orange flavor a bit overwhelming. The recipe ing list has rind from two oranges listed but the directions say to add in orange juice after the coconut oil. Was it supposed to be juice instead of rind? Included everything but the carrot since I didn’t have one. Dates were a nice sweet touch and the pecans smelled great baking! Made some for me (due in 5 mo) and my sister (due in 3 mo) to freeze for later or have a healthy quick snack until the big day. Again, very good but wanted to make sure there’s supposed to be this much rind.


      1. Allie, yes, you are correct about the rind – I do indeed call for the zest of two large oranges (about 3-4 tablespoons total). I remember specifically adding an extra orange into the recipe because the orange taste wasn’t strong enough for my liking with just one. But maybe the oranges we get where I live are less “orangy” than where you are?? Definitely make it however you like it, because the zest in this recipe is merely for taste. πŸ™‚

        And thanks for catching the error in the recipe – in the ingredients I call for “zest” but in the directions I say to add in the “orange juice.” I’ll go fix that now. πŸ™‚

        Have a great third trimester!

  2. Thank you for this post, these ideas sound really smart. I was wondering how long you can have the pates in the fridge . I’m just trying to figure out when I would make them seeing as I don’t know when exactly I will go into labor…

    1. Labor keeps us on our toes that way, doesn’t it? πŸ™‚

      The pates stay fresh in the fridge for 5-7 days, so it is a bit difficult to make them ahead. However, I’ve heard (I have not tried myself) that pate freezes well. In that case, I would recommend that when you make a batch, you spoon the mixture into a square or rectangular container, refrigerate until firm, cut into 1/2″ slices, then freeze the slices. That way, if you have to grab them quickly when labor begins, they’ll thaw more readily than a whole hunk of pate.

      Many blessings on your labor and delivery!

  3. Do you mind if I share your lovely recipe with my doula clients on my FB page? I will directly link them here. Thanks!

  4. I think that a healthy diet is the key to an easier pregnancy. I just don’t get woman that let themselves go just because they are pregnant? Think about your baby and you after the pregnancy! do you really think you will have time to get rid of those extra pounds after the birth?

  5. are there any foods that you recommend when in labor? something that is light and quick to eat?

  6. I am due in November…I’m gluten intolerant and have chosen paleoish/primal eating. I’m still relatively new at this. Do you know what I can replace the wheat flour and molasses with?

    1. I am absolutely not knowledgeable in gluten-free baking, so I’ll definitely leave this to those of you who are much more knowledgeable. In fact, I’ll ask this on Facebook tomorrow and post a link to the thread, just in case someone can help us out.

      I did see a gluten-free flour mix at Costco the other day that promises it works well cup-for-cup as a substitute in any recipe. It was called Perfect Flour Blend from Namaste Foods, I think. So, perhaps a gluten-free baking mix?

      Here’s the link to the Facebook discussion:

    2. You can make your own nutritious, allergy-free gluten-free baking mix. Most commercial GF mixes contain little nutrition, dairy, sugar and corn-based ingredients (most likely not organic). We use a superior starch replacement in our mixes, Native Hawaiian TaroPowder.

  7. I just made this recipe and it is so good! Like another commenter, I only used the zest of 1 orange and I also added an entire can of pumpkin because I didn’t want to waste the rest. The muffins turned out moist and delicious. I will be freezing most of them for when i’m in labor (hopefully within the next 2 weeks!) and for postpartum snacks. Thanks for the recipe!

  8. Hi, this article was great! Thank you so much for all the resources! I had a question about the raspberry ice chips. Do you need to let the water cool first before adding the raw honey, or does it matter? I didn’t know if the heat might affect the composition and nutrients of the honey. Thanks!!

    1. In this instance, I wouldn’t worry about it. The honey is to provide the “oomph” of energy more than nutrients, although they certainly help! πŸ™‚ It definitely easier to stir and dissolve honey in hot water, so I tend to add it while it’s still warm.

      I hope that helps. πŸ™‚

  9. I was going to make this next week. I don’t have sprouted grains so was wondering if you had any recommendations on how to soak the whole wheat instead. The recipe doesn’t have much liquid so I was having trouble figuring it out. Thank you!

    1. I don’t know if I can be of much help, only because it’s been a long time since I soaked this recipe….

      If I remember correctly, I mixed the flour with the pumpkin puree, the coconut oil, and a bit of orange juice (3-4 tablespoons, perhaps?) for the soak, then at mixing time, sprinkled the remaining dry ingredients over, stirred, then whisked and added the remaining wet ingredients.

      Again, I’m not totally sure of that, but that’s what seems to come to mind.

      Good luck – and enjoy!

      1. I suffer from hypoglycemia and I get really bad anxiet when this happens. My hospital told me they dont allow eating and drinking but I told them I will have to do whats best for my mind and body. Im really glad I came across this post and I wanted to know if you thought ensure or something like ensure is good to drink during labor?

        1. Yay! I hope your birth experience will be a wonderful, blessed one! πŸ™‚

          As for the Ensure, yes and no. It’s a highly-processed, medical drink designed to nourish people when they can’t keep anything else down or post-surgery, etc, so I would only say YES if it’s the only thing that your body will keep down and if the only kind of food the hospital would make an exception for. Otherwise, homemade gelatin blocks made with your favorite fruit juice and LOTS of gelatin could be good or even homemade nut milks (which are often thicker and creamier than the store-bought varieties) could be decent stand-ins. Personally, when I go into a hypoglycemic crash, I find granola bars or mixed nuts and dried fruit to be the absolute best way to pull myself out, and I would hope that those would be foods the hospital would easily “okay” as exceptions.

          I hope that helps!

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  11. Thanks for the awesome recipe!! I changed it just a little, I’m gluten free so I used ground oats as an equal swap out for the wheat flour. I did 1/4 cup dates, and 1/4 cup dried cranberries, 1/4 walnuts and 1/4 cup almonds to up the protein and crunch, a whole can of organic pumpkin (well cause … pregnancy brain!). I also did coconut sugar instead of sucanant because that’s what I had on hand, and split the difference between that and raw honey. The muffins came out super moist and delicious! The flavor is amazing! And I did use the zest of 2 large oranges, but I find the orange flavor to be pleasant and subtle, not overwhelming at all. Now the hard part will be waiting until labor to devour them πŸ˜› 5 days until my due date, now I REALLY can’t wait!

  12. I need to keep this stuff in mind come this fall when I have my third bouncing boy! The first two I got told ‘too bad’ when I was hungry and all I wanted was a banana. Good to know stuff!

  13. I made the groaning cake recipe this morning and it’s delicious! I didn’t follow the recipe exactly just because of what I had available. I used more carrots, more dates, and no pumpkin/squash. I was a little concerned because the batter wasn’t anything close to stiff, but it turned out fantastic anyway. I should have at least 4 dozen mini muffins plus a mini loaf (still baking right now actually!)

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  15. This is such a helpful post. I was looking for a healthy groaning cake recipe and am so happy I stumbled upon this. So much great info, thank you!

  16. This is such a great post! I am giving birth in a midwife center that encourages you to eat and drink during labor, and wasn’t quite sure what I would want to eat. Saving this for when my baby comes in November!

  17. My due date is very soon and I want to make the groaning cake πŸ™‚ Is there a way to replace the eggs to make it vegan?
    And how strong is the taste of the blackstrap molasses in the cake? because I’m not a fan of the taste…

    1. I haven’t tried it without eggs, but I’m sure whatever substitution you usually make would work just fine. For example, I know some regularly swap out eggs in baked goods for a flax + water mixture – I’ve never tried it, but I would think it would work just fine. Otherwise, you can leave them out or substitute some applesauce or something – it would make it less cakey and more dense, but it would provide the right moisture ratio.

      As for the molasses, the flavor is not strong, but if you don’t like it, just leave it out. πŸ™‚

      Enjoy! And I hope you have an absolutely wonderful labor. πŸ™‚

  18. Thank you so much for this beautiful post! I am planning on making this for the birth of my first child (due date March 3), but I was also interested in making a second one as a thank you gift for my midwives. Have you had any experience freezing and defrosting this cake once it’s baked? I’m a baker and most cakes I make freeze and defrost beautifully without issue. I was just wondering if you have ever frozen and defrosted this recipe and if it makes a difference in terms of nutritional impact, texture, etc. I would love to make ahead and freeze if I can! Thank you for any help you can offer!

    1. Congratulations on your new baby on the way!!!

      Yes, freezing this should be just fine. I’ve done it and it is like most other cakes and defrosts beautifully. It may be just a touch crumblier, if anything, but it’s a fairly moist, dense cake, so it shouldn’t be much of an issue.

      I hope your delivery is a beautiful experience!

  19. Hi!

    Thank you for this list! I am pregnant with my third babe, and I have recently become obsessed with soaking my grains before baking. I would like to make these muffins with a soaked batter. Do you have any idea how much liquid I would use to soak the flour before adding the other ingredients? If not, I’ll just experiment, but I would love to know if you’ve tried this πŸ™‚


    1. Corey,

      Y’know, I DID used to do it that way, but it’s been a few years and I don’t remember my ratios. I’m sorry! I remember it worked well though, so since you’re well experienced and have good instincts about those amounts, I’m sure you’ll figure it out quickly.

      I’m sorry I’m not more help!!!

      Perhaps – have any other readers made these as soaked muffins? If so, please chime in!

      (And by the way, congratulations on your third! SO so so much fun to have three in the house – always a party, my husband always says. πŸ™‚ )

      1. Thanks! I’ll play around with the recipe and let you know what I come up with!

        Side note, so funny that I typo-ed my name, thanks for seeing that it’s actually Corey and not Corwy πŸ™‚

  20. Any idea how many ounces of RRL loose leaves I’d need to equal the 2 cups of loose leaf needed for the recipe! Thanks!!

    1. For the sake of others who read this comment thread, I’m assuming you mean red raspberry leaf tea and I that you’re referring to the concentrated raspberry leaf tea ice cubes?

      In my experience, there are generally about 120-130 grams of dried leaf per 1 cup of leaves, so I would think you would want approximately 250 grams. However, that IS approximate due to the age, quality, and cut of your leaf, and the recipe is certainly one where you could use 150g or 300g if you wanted – it’s merely for the strength of the brew and it’s very very maleable. The “two cups” listed is a general guideline for a concentrated strength of brew.

      I hope that helps!

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