A light, labor lunch

By Morgan Sherburne • Published: March 10th, 2016
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

What event is long, physically demanding, and calorically similar to running a marathon — except doctors have prohibited patients going through this from eating or drinking anything at all?

The answer is labor, and now, physicians may be changing their tune.

Doctors have long told women to not eat or drink during labor. Their concern was that women could aspirate food or water if they have to go under anesthesia, which could cause pneumonia. It’s called Mendelson’s syndrome after a doctor who diagnosed the condition in the 1940s, when deaths from the condition numbered 1.5 out of 1,000 women.

But advances in the way anesthesia is used, such as delivering it through epidurals in the spine and spinal blocks rather than placing a mask over the patient’s nose and mouth, makes aspiration unlikely, according to the researchers.

In fact, the researchers pointed out that there was only one death reported in the United Kingdom from aspiration between 2000 and 2005.

The researchers’ work also reviewed 385 studies published between 1990 and now suggests a new approach. Because women in labor expend as much energy and calories as marathon runners, their bodies dip into fat as an energy source. This could slow the labor process by raising acidity in the blood, potentially reducing contractions. A longer labor may lead to a less healthy baby.

Plus, have obstetricians even heard of that buzzword “hangry”? Asking a person undergoing the most demanding physical ordeal of her life while also depriving her of nutrients may not add up to a positive experience for the mother.

The new findings jibe with a 2010 study that observed the same thing: Women who are at low risk for aspiration — women who don’t have to undergo emergency Cesarean sections — may just be able to have a sandwich.