Many hospitals restrict women from eating and drinking during labor, giving women intravenous fluids or ice chips to prevent dehydration instead. A new study examines whether this restriction is medically necessary and concludes that it is not.
A new meta-analysis conducted by researchers in South Africa, Canada and the U.K. analyzed the benefits and harms of restricting eating or taking fluids by mouth during labor. Their article, published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, evaluated five studies involving a total of 3,130 women giving birth. All the studies looked at women in active labor who had a low risk of needing a general anesthetic.
The review revealed no significant difference in Apgar scores or rates of Cesarean sections and vaginal births for women who ate and drank during labor versus women who didn't. "Since the evidence shows no benefits or harms, there is no justification for the restriction of fluids and food in labour for women at low risk of complications," the authors concluded. Because no studies looked specifically at women with an increased risk of complications, the authors added, there is no evidence to support restricting food and drink among those women either. "Given these findings, women should be free to eat and drink in labour, or not, as they wish," they wrote.
The authors noted that in some cultures, laboring mothers are encouraged to eat and drink during labor for nourishment and comfort and to help meet the physical demands of labor. However, they wrote, many hospitals today restrict food and drink based on research from the 1940s indicating that women who had taken nourishment by mouth were at a higher risk of aspirating stomach contents into the lungs while under general anesthesia. The authors noted that obstetrical anesthesia has changed considerably since that time and that "poor nutritional balance may be associated with longer and more painful labours."
Are you preparing for labor and delivery? You may want to consider talking to your doctor or midwife to review your options for keeping your energy up during labor and write your wishes in a birth plan.