In many hospitals, when a woman is in labor, all she is allowed to eat are a few ice chips. That rule may need updating, according to a new study that finds women who were allowed to eat before delivery had a slightly shorter labor than those who were restricted to ice chips or sips of water - although the study can't prove that eating caused deliveries to happen sooner.
The practice of limiting food during labor goes back a study in the 1940s in which women who delivered under general anesthesia were at risk of inhaling their stomach contents and choking in it, writes senior author, Dr. Vincenzo Berghella, of Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, and his colleagues in Obstetrics and Gynecology.
“We really don’t know how much if anything people can eat or drink in labor," said Berghella,.
Whether women can have more than water or ice chips as they labor to give birth is a common discussion among healthcare providers, he told Reuters Health.
General anesthesia is not commonly used during delivery these days, but the old guidelines are still in use.
For the new study, the researchers compiled data from randomized controlled trials that compared the labor outcomes of women who were allowed to eat only ice chips or water and those who were allowed to eat or drink a bit more.
For example, one study allowed women to drink a mixture of honey and date syrup. Another study allowed all types of food and drinks. A few others allowed women to drink liquids with carbohydrates.
Overall, the researchers analyzed 10 trials that included 3,982 women in labor. All were only delivering one child - not twins or triplets - and were not at risk for cesarean delivery.
The women with the less restrictive diets were not at increased risk for other complications, including vomiting or choking, during the use of general anesthesia.
And women who were allowed to eat and drink more than the traditional ice chips and water had labors that were shorter, by an average of 16 minutes, compared to women with the more restrictive diets.
Speaking from experience, 16 minutes less of labor pains is a real bonus. How does adding more liquid or food during delivery help reduce the time before delivery? The researchers presented some ideas.
"If we’re well hydrated and have adequate carbohydrate in our body, our muscles work better," said Berghella. A woman's uterus is largely made of muscle.
Another of his studies, which found women who received more fluid than normal delivered faster than other women, reinforces the finding.
Berghella said it's still common practice for women with uncomplicated births to be restricted to water or ice chips during labor.
"The evidence from well-done studies is they can have more than that," he said.
Do women really want to eat much during labor? Probably not, there’s a lot going on in the body as labor progresses. But more liquids and some light carbohydrates during the early part of labor may be welcomed – especially if they shorten the time between labor and when baby enters the world.
Story source: Andrew M. Seaman, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-pregnancy-labor-food-idUSKBN15O2ZR