Eating and drinking during labor

By Ann Griswold • Published: April 19th, 2010
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Imagine running a marathon without an energy bar or a sports drink. Now imagine the marathon lasts NOT two hours but TWENTY. Sound like a long time to go without food? Try giving birth.

Many women have compared labor to running a marathon because of the sheer endurance required. First-time moms can labor for twenty hours or longer, but those who deliver in hospitals are usually limited to ice chips regardless of the time. Now, a review published by the Cochrane Collaboration suggests the ban on food and drink is outdated and unnecessary.

Many cultures encourage women to remain hydrated and snack on carbs and high-protein foods during labor. But ever since American women began giving birth in hospitals en masse in the 1940s, obstetricians have discouraged eating and drinking out of fear that women might aspirate their stomach contents if the need for general anesthesia arose. But a recent review of five studies and more than three thousand women found that food and drink actually have no effect on maternal or fetal outcomes. Snacking does not alter the length of labor or affect the health of the baby, nor does it increase the need for a Caesarean section or pain medication.

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists now recommends clear liquids during labor but says snacking is still a no-no. The American College of Nurse Midwives disagrees, arguing that food and drink provide much-needed energy. Expecting a baby? Review the research… and know your choices. Pregnant women now have more options to consider than ever before.