Can you eat before scheduled induction?

Induction of labor is the process of starting labor through medical intervention rather than waiting for it to begin naturally. There are a few different methods doctors use to induce labor, from medication to mechanical devices. Before presenting for your scheduled induction, you may be wondering if you can eat or if you have to follow the same food restrictions as for a scheduled c-section.

Quick Answer: Can You Eat Before Labor Induction?

In most cases, you are allowed to eat a light meal before being admitted for induction of labor. However, policies can vary between hospitals, so it’s best to follow the specific instructions from your doctor and the hospital where you will deliver. Often, you may eat up until active labor begins.

What is Labor Induction?

Labor induction is when labor is started artificially, rather than waiting for it to begin naturally. Reasons your doctor may recommend induction include:

  • You are past your due date. Doctors typically induce labor after 41 weeks of pregnancy.
  • Your water breaks before you go into labor. Inducing contractions reduces the risk of infection.
  • You have a medical condition that makes continuing the pregnancy risky, like preeclampsia or gestational diabetes.
  • Your baby is not growing at a normal rate.
  • There is not enough amniotic fluid.
  • You have an infection in the uterus.
  • Your placenta is not functioning properly.

Some of the methods doctors use to induce labor include:

  • Medications – Such as Pitocin (oxytocin), which stimulates contractions.
  • Breaking your water – Manually rupturing the amniotic sac during an exam.
  • Balloon catheters – A catheter with a balloon on the end that puts pressure on the cervix.
  • Foley catheter – Inserting a catheter through the cervix to release prostaglandins.
  • Stripping membranes – Separating the amniotic sac from the uterus wall.
  • Injecting prostaglandins – Hormones that soften and thin the cervix.

Eating Before Induction of Labor

Many women wonder if they can eat before being induced. After all, you need to have an empty stomach before a c-section or other surgery requiring anesthesia. However, most of the time, you are allowed to eat a light meal prior to induction.

This is because induction does not necessarily require anesthesia or surgery right away. You will likely be able to eat in early labor while your cervix is effacing and dilating. However, once you are in active labor and it is anticipated you may need an epidural or c-section, you will have to stop eating solids.

During early labor before anesthesia is administered, you can generally eat light, easily digestible foods like:

  • Toast with jam, honey, or nut butter
  • Oatmeal or cereal
  • Soup or broth
  • Fruit juice
  • Popsicles
  • Jell-O
  • Yogurt

Stay hydrated by drinking clear liquids as well, like water, ginger ale, or apple juice. Do not eat heavy, fatty, or spicy foods right before induction as they take longer to digest.

Why Can’t You Eat During Active Labor?

Once you are in active labor and it is time to administer anesthesia such as an epidural, you will no longer be allowed to consume any solids and may have limited liquids. This is important to prevent complications like:

  • Choking – when anesthesia makes swallowing difficult
  • Aspiration – food or liquid entering the lungs
  • Nausea and vomiting – which can be dangerous if stomach contents are inhaled
  • Issues placing breathing tube for general anesthesia if needed for emergency c-section

Because pregnancy and childbirth already increase the risk of complications from anesthesia, having an empty stomach helps reduce that risk further. This is the main reason for nil per os (NPO) or “nothing by mouth” guidelines once you are in active labor or it is anticipated anesthesia may be needed.

Hospital Policies on Eating Before Induction

While most hospitals allow a light meal early on, their specific guidelines on eating and drinking during induction of labor may vary slightly. Be sure to follow the recommendations from both your individual doctor and the hospital where you will deliver.

Some things that may differ between hospitals include:

  • What time to stop eating solids before coming in for induction
  • Whether you can have an IV infusion with sugars and nutrients
  • If you are allowed limited clear liquids in early labor
  • When they recommend discontinuing any oral intake

For example, one hospital may let you have clear liquids until you are 4 cm dilated while another restricts everything but ice chips after active labor begins. Follow your care team’s advice closely.

Tips for Eating Before Induction

Here are some tips to keep in mind regarding eating before labor is induced:

  • Have a light meal of easy to digest foods no more than 8 hours before your scheduled induction.
  • Stick to bland carbs, protein, dairy, fruits, and clear broths.
  • Avoid spicy, greasy, and heavy foods which take longer to digest.
  • Stay hydrated with water, juice, ice chips, and other clear fluids.
  • Don’t eat at all after midnight if induction is scheduled in the morning.
  • Stop eating solids once you are in active labor or your doctor anticipates anesthesia may be needed.
  • Ask your hospital about specific policies on eating and drinking during the process.

Risks Related to Eating Before Labor Induction

While allowed in most cases, eating before induction does carry some risks which is why your doctor may restrict it if concerns arise. Risks may include:

  • Aspiration – Food or liquid entering the airway and lungs if anesthesia makes swallowing difficult or causes regurgitation.
  • Infection – From food particles entering sites like the lungs or uterus if vomiting occurs.
  • Nausea and vomiting – Which can cause choking or aspiration issues.
  • Delayed gastric emptying – Food staying in the stomach longer, increasing risks if anesthesia is needed.
  • Difficulty breathing – Food in the stomach can limit the diaphragm’s ability to expand.

While rare, aspiration pneumonia from complications related to eating before induction remains one of the leading causes of maternal mortality. Following your doctor’s instructions carefully helps avoid problems.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why can I eat before being induced but not before a scheduled c-section?

With a planned c-section, you are scheduled to undergo surgery and receive anesthesia right away. Induction may involve a longer early labor period where anesthesia or surgery is not needed immediately, allowing time for light eating. Once induction reaches active labor, eating is restricted for patient safety, just like before a c-section.

What if I accidentally eat within 8 hours of being induced?

Inform your doctor if you eat within the restricted timeframe before induction. They may recommend waiting longer before starting the induction process to allow time for your stomach to empty some. Let your care team know about anything you’ve eaten so they can monitor you closely and take proper precautions.

What if I vomit after eating prior to induction?

Tell your nurse or doctor right away if you vomit after eating before induction, even if it is many hours later. Vomiting can increase your risk of aspiration during labor. Your medical team needs to know about it to keep a close eye on you and your baby’s status.

Can I drink water while being induced?

Most hospitals allow limited intake of clear fluids like water, ice chips, popsicles, or clear broth during early labor while you are not in active labor. However, oral intake is restricted typically once you are 4-5 cm dilated. Check with your doctor about specific guidelines on consuming liquids.

What if I get hungry during a long induction process?

Let your care team know if you are feeling hungry or unwell during a lengthy induction process. Depending on your status, they may allow ice chips, a popsicle, or limited clear liquids to help. But any decisions around eating or drinking during induction will be made by your doctor based on your and your baby’s well-being.


Being induced can be an anxious time as you prepare to meet your baby. Knowing what to expect with eating and drinking guidelines can help ease some stress. While you can generally eat a light meal before being admitted for induction, at a certain point you will need to stop consuming solids and limit intake to clear fluids only. Specific policies vary by hospital, so follow your doctor and care team’s advice closely to have the safest induction experience.

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