Eating during labour may be beneficial, study finds

Put down the ice chips: eating in labour may actually be beneficial.
Put down the ice chips: eating in labour may actually be beneficial.  Photo: Getty Images

A new study has demonstrated that eating during labour - rather than chowing down on ice chips - may actually be beneficial and lead to shorter deliveries. 

According to the American Society of Anesthesiologists, woman have traditionally been told to avoid eating or drinking during labour, "due to concerns they may aspirate, or inhale liquid or food into their lungs, which can cause pneumonia." Given advances in anaesthesia care, and the fact that most healthy women will not experience this problem, is this recommendation outdated?

That's a question a team of researchers, led by Dr. Vincenzo Berghella, of Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, sought to explore in a review of the available evidence. The team examined ten studies involving 3,982 women who had low-risk singleton pregnancies. In some of the studies women drank carbohydrate drinks as their "food intake," one study allowed women a "honey date syrup", and another study allowed unrestricted food intake. 

Researchers then compared labour outcomes of women who consumed food and drinks, with those who were restricted to ice chips, water, or sips of water until delivery. 

The findings, which were published in the journal Obstetrics and Gynaecology demonstrated that women who were allowed to eat had labours 16 mins shorter than those whose food intake was restricted.

"If we're well hydrated and have adequate carbohydrate in our body, our muscles work better," said Berghella of the findings. 

It's important to note, however, that the results don't prove that eating made the deliveries faster.

"We really don't know how much if anything people can eat or drink in labour,"  Berghella told Reuters health. 

Women may, however, benefit from more than just water or the traditional ice chips.


"The evidence from well-done studies is they can have more than that," Berghella said.

Last year, a study from the US also found that for healthy women, eating a light meal during labour is a good idea. "This [will] give expectant mothers more choices in their birthing experience and prevents them from being calorie deficient, helping provide energy during labour," the researchers noted, after identifying that the energy and caloric demands of labouring women are similar to those of marathon runners.

"A light meal could include fruit, light soups, toast, light sandwiches (no large slices of meat), juice and water," they explained.

"Most women lose their appetites during very active labour, but can continue to drink fluids such as water and clear juices."