Facebook Pixel

Eat, Drink, Push: The New Rules for Eating While in Labor

Rate This

There's a little-known fact about childbirth that not many parenting books mention: food is not allowed. Neither were drinks, until very recently. To the inexperienced laborer, this may not seem like a big deal, but to a woman who has been eating for two for the last nine months, a 12-hour fast (the average length of labor for first-time moms) can seem like torture.

The reasoning goes something like this: if a laboring woman suddenly requires a C-section to deliver safely, the anesthesia she receives can put her at increased risk for inhaling regurgitated food and then developing what's called a chemical pneumonia (a process known as Mendelson's Syndrome).

It's a risk that has worried obstetricians and anesthesiologists since the early 1900's when "twilight sleep" (the use of morphine and scopolamine to induce sedation and amnesia in laboring women) first became popular.

However, all of this might change soon. On Wednesday, The Cochrane Library released a new meta-analysis on eating and drinking while in labor. Their review included five relevant studies and over 3,000 delivering mothers, all of whom were considered unlikely to need anesthesia, or at "low risk."

Challenging the almost universal protocol to keep a woman "NPO" (nil per os, or nothing through the mouth) during labor, the review cites evidence to show that there is no benefit or harm to allowing low-risk women to eat or drink while in labor. The problem, as most ob/gyn's will confess, is that it's incredibly difficult to predict which women will be at-risk and which will not. In obstetrics, unlike many other fields of medicine, the environment can go from calm and stable to emergent and serious with the drop of a hat.

This is where the research gets a little hazy. The study's authors acknowledge that more data is needed, especially in higher-risk women, before physicians or medical societies make any official recommendations.

For the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), this would mean revising a recent recommendation (August 2009) to allow only clear liquids during labor.

Add a CommentComments

There are no comments yet. Be the first one and get the conversation started!

Enter the characters shown in the image.
By submitting this form, you agree to EmpowHER's terms of service and privacy policy

We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

Epidural, anesthesia

Get Email Updates

Related Topics

Epidural, anesthesia Guide

HERWriter Guide

Have a question? We're here to help. Ask the Community.


Health Newsletter

Receive the latest and greatest in women's health and wellness from EmpowHER - for free!