Women traditionally are asked to avoid eating or drinking during labor due to concerns they may aspirate, or inhale liquid or food into their lungs, which can cause pneumonia. However, due to advances in anesthesia care most healthy women are highly unlikely to have this problem today. A new study has suggested that instead of fasting, eating a light meal during labor would benefit most healthy women.
When researchers reviewed the literature of hundreds of studies on the topic, they determined that withholding food and liquids may be unnecessary for many women in labor.
Co-author of the study Christopher Harty from Memorial University, St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada, said, "Our findings suggest a change in practice makes sense. Physician anesthesiologists and obstetricians should work together to assess each patient individually. Those they determine are at low risk for aspiration can likely eat a light meal during labor. This gives expectant mothers more choices in their birthing experience and prevents them from being calorie-deficient, helping to provide energy during labor."
The research team analyzed 385 studies published in 1990 or later that focused on women who gave birth in hospital. They found that aspiration today is almost nonexistent. Harty said, "The research suggests that the energy and caloric demands of laboring women are similar to those of marathon runners. Without adequate nutrition, women's bodies will begin to use fat as an energy source, increasing acidity of the blood in the mother and infant, potentially reducing uterine contractions and leading to longer labor and lower health scores in newborns."
Additionally, the research team found that fasting can cause emotional stress, potentially moving blood away from the uterus and placenta, lengthening labor and contributing to distress of the fetus.
The study findings were presented at ANESTHESIOLOGY 2015 annual meeting at San Diego, US.