Slow-going, early labor, can make the no-food requirement at the hospital even more difficult. Waiting around in anticipation for your baby to make an appearance is difficult enough without your stomach growling, not to mention your labor could stretch out to multiple days.
What is the real reason behind forcing women to dine on ice chips and clear broth for 12-48 hours?
The risk is aspiration: inhaling or choking on food or liquids. Women who are in labor may vomit due to pain, while they’re unconscious, or due to anesthesia if they undergo an emergency cesarean, which is why doctors have advised women not to eat.
Women in labor and delivery can celebrate, though, because the American Society of Anesthesiologists has come out with a new study stating that most healthy women would benefit from eating a light meal during labor.
“Women traditionally have been told 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,” reads the study. “But advances in anesthesia care means most healthy women are highly unlikely to have this problem today and 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.”
A change in policy doesn’t negate the risks, however, and both pros and cons exist for eating during labor.
Pro: Increased Energy
If there is one time in your life you need as much energy as you can muster, it’s when you’re delivering your baby, but you probably won’t want to eat once the going gets tough. That’s why taking in high-energy snacks in the early stages is important.
“During early labor, load your system with complex carbohydrates (grains and pasta) that are stomach-friendly and that will provide a slow, steady release of energy over the hours of hard work to follow,” says Dr. Sears. “In later labor, nibble on or drink simple carbohydrates that leave the stomach quickly and provide quick bursts of energy: fruits, juices, honey. Some mothers nibble on energy bars during labor.”
An exhausted mother-to-be can have negative effects on the baby, providing support that eating before active labor is a smart move.
Con: Nausea and Vomiting
A lower-level risk — one that doesn’t result in a medical emergency — is the discomfort of nausea and vomiting. Pregnant women digest food slower than women who aren’t pregnant, so food sits in their stomach, and can come up along with pain. Electing for an epidural can also result in vomiting due to decreased blood pressure.
Because of these risks, any eating prior to heading to the hospital should be pregnancy-friendly foods you enjoyed throughout your nine months.
“Bring along foods and drinks that were proven favorites during your early, nauseous months of pregnancy,” says Dr. Sears. “Foods you tolerated then are the ones you are most likely to be able to digest now. Avoid fatty and fried foods, gassy foods and carbonated beverages–there is enough work going on inside you without making the intestines labor, too.”
Pro: Comfort While Waiting
Especially if it’s your first baby, your patience in early labor won’t be at its highest. Not only is your anticipation through the roof, first babies aren’t known for coming fast. This excitement correlates with checking in at the hospital as soon as you can, meaning there will be a lot of waiting around.
It’s these cases — one in which a woman will be waiting around in a hospital room with a growling stomach — that would benefit the most from this change in policy.
“Anesthesiologists and obstetricians should work together to assess each patient individually,” said study co-author Christopher Harty.
“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.”
Con: Serious Medical Risks
As silly as fasting during pregnancy seems to many laboring women, the truth is that risks exist if a labor turns serious.
“Traditionally, women are advised not to eat during labor because of the potential for an emergency cesarean section,” says Jason James, MD, medical director at Miami’s FemCare Ob-Gyn to Yahoo Health. “In some cases, either due to the seriousness of the emergency or due to difficulty performing a spinal or epidural adequately, some patients need to be intubated and have general anesthesia.”
That is the No. 1 concern that led to the fasting rule in the first place, but this new study will offer some grey areas for doctors and patients.
Instead of a strict “no,” a woman’s health history, risk of needing a c-section, and stage of labor will all factor in to eating before baby or waiting to chow down after delivery.