There's no reason you shouldn't be able to eat and be in labour at the same time.
"Women should be free to eat and drink
in labour, or not, as they wish," the authors of the review wrote in the Cochrane Library, a publication of the Cochrane Collaboration, an international organization that evaluates medical research.
Dr. Jennifer Milosavljevic, a specialist in obstetrics and gynaecology at Henry Ford Health System, Detroit, who was not involved in the Cochrane Review, agrees that pregnant women should be allowed to eat and/or drink during labour.
"In my experience," she told Reuters Health in an email, "most pregnant patients at Henry Ford are placed on a clear liquid diet during labour which includes water, apple juice, cranberry juice
, broth, and jello. If a patient is brought in for a prolonged induction of labour, she will typically be permitted to eat a regular diet and order anything off the menu in between different induction modalities."
Milosavlievic has "not seen any adverse outcomes by allowing women the option of liquids and/or a regular diet in labour."
Standard hospital policy for many decades has been to allow only tiny sips of water or ice chips for pregnant women in labour if they were thirsty. Why? It was feared, and some studies in the 1940s showed, that if a woman needed to undergo general anaesthesia for a caesarean delivery, she might inhale regurgitated liquids or food particles that could lead to pneumonia and other lung damage.
But anaesthesia practices have changed and improved since the 1940s, with more use of regional anaesthesia and safer general anaesthesia.
And recently, attitudes on food and drink during labour have begun to relax. Last September, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (ACOG) released a "Committee Opinion" advising doctors that women with a normal, uncomplicated labour may drink modest amounts of clear liquids such as water, fruit juice without pulp, carbonated beverages, clear tea, black coffee, and sports drinks. They fell short of saying food was okay, however, advising that women should avoid fluids with solid particles, such as soup.
"As for the continued restriction on food, the reality is that eating is the last thing most women are going to want to do since nausea and vomiting during labour is quite common," Dr. William H. Barth, Jr., chair of ACOGs Committee on Obstetric Practice, noted in a written statement at the time.
But based on the evidence, Mandisa Singata of the East London Hospital Complex in East London, South Africa, an author on the new Cochrane Review, says "women should be able to make their own decisions about whether they want to eat or drink during labour, or not."
Singata and colleagues systematically reviewed five studies involving more than 3100 pregnant that looked at the evidence for restricting food and drink in women who were considered unlikely to need anaesthesia. One study looked at complete restriction versus giving women the freedom to eat and drink at will; two studies looked at water only versus giving women specific fluids and foods and two studies looked at water only versus giving women carbohydrate drinks.
The evidence showed no benefits or harms of restricting foods and fluids during labour in women at low risk of needing anaesthesia.
Singata and colleagues acknowledge that many women may not feel like eating or drinking during labour. However, research has shown that some women find the food and drink restriction unpleasant. Poor nutritional balance may be also associated with longer and more painful labours. Drinking clear liquids in limited quantities has been found to bring comfort to women in labour and does not increase labour complications.
The researchers emphasize that they did not find any studies that assessed the risks of eating and drinking for women with a higher risk of needing anaesthesia and so further research is need before specific recommendations can be made for this group. Did you choose to fast or tuck in during labour?