Fuel for Labor: Eating During Childbirth Revisited

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Late last year the American Society of Anesthesiologist (ASA) issued a press release titled, "Most healthy women would benefit from light meal during labor." This was a pretty bold statement, considering fasting during labor has long been the norm. After receiving quite a few comments of concern from members, ASA attempted to clear up the controversy the release stirred up. They stated the release was simply an acknowledgment of research reviewed by a colleague, NOT a change in their position or guidelines.

The no food during labor policy many hospitals follow was birthed out the desire to prevent women from aspirating (fancy for choking on stomach contents if they made their way into their lungs.) Changes to how anesthesia is administered have made this less of a concern for healthy women with a low risk labor and delivery. However, the no food rule continues to reign in many labor and delivery wards.

I am of the opinion that for low risk women, eating during labor is fine as long as the labor team agrees. I would go so far as to say it's more than fine, it's a good idea. Listen, labor is extremely taxing. A woman can use the same amount of energy it takes to run a marathon giving birth. And no one would expect someone to run a marathon without proper fuel, would they?

How much should you eat during labor?

If your team agrees, by all means enjoy your meal. But remember, this isn't the time for the meal of the century. Think light and small. Just as you wouldn't eat a huge meal before exercise, you wouldn't want to eat a large meal during labor. You want something that won't overtax your digestive system.

What should you eat while giving birth?

Similar to the answer above, think light and small. The food eaten during labor should be something that is easily digested and that will leave your stomach relatively quickly. That means staying away from too much fiber, fat, or protein. Just like you would choose something higher in carbs and lighter in the fiber, fat, and protein departments before exercise, you should choose the same for a pre/during labor snack or meal.

Since neither the The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologist's nor ASA have changed their practice guidelines, at least to my knowledge, the best thing to do is arm yourself with information and have a discussion with your healthcare team. Together, reach a decision that everyone is comfortable with.

I have included links below to abstracts and opinion statements that discuss eating and drinking during labor for your reading pleasure.

Oral intake during labor: a review of the evidence.

The effect of unrestricted oral carbohydrate intake on labor progress.

Effect of oral carbohydrate intake on labor progress: randomized controlled trial.

Low-risk mothers. Oral intake and emesis in labor.

Oral intake policies on labor and delivery: a national survey.

Eating and drinking in labor: should it be allowed?

Eating and drinking in labor. A literature review.

Natural eating behavior in latent labor and its effect on outcomes in active labor.

Eating and drinking in labor: the influence of caregiver advice on women's behavior.

Eating in labor.

ACOG Committee Opinion: Oral Intake During Labor

What are your thoughts: should women eat during labor or should they avoid food? If you have given birth before, did you eat or not? How was your experience?