Pregnant Women, Rejoice: We Can Finally Eat During Labor

pregnant woman eating
iStock.com/Maravic

Hospital births have changed a lot in recent years, from the push to make dads a bigger part of the delivery process to the adoption of "baby friendly" practices, like breastfeeding support and delayed cord clamping. One thing that hasn't changed is doctors' insistence on withholding food from women during labor. Two years ago, I was forced to squelch my hanger during a 22-hour labor with nothing more than flavorless popsicles and sad-looking ice chips. (Sad!) But, hold on to your hospital gowns, because new research suggests snacking in the delivery room might actually be beneficial.

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For years, standard medical practice has been to withhold food from moms in labor, because eating puts women at risk of aspirating food into our lungs if we have complications that require being put under general anesthesia. However! Dr. Vincenzo Berghella of Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia recently reviewed 10 different labor studies to analyze the effects of food restrictions on laboring moms. He and his team reviewed data for 3,982 women, some of whom were allowed to eat during labor, while others were given either honey and date syrup to drink, or were restricted to only plain ice chips.

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After reviewing the data, Dr. Berghella and his team found a few surprising things. First, they noted that there's no correlation between unrestricted eating during labor and an increased risk of complications. Second, they found that women who were allowed to get their grub on actually had labors that were about 16 minutes shorter, on average, than those who weren't allowed to eat.

In other words, it might not be such a bad idea to stick a sack lunch in your hospital bag.

Obviously, there's no guarantee that eating will make you deliver faster, and you definitely shouldn't go against your doctor's orders. But this research is compelling, if only for the simple fact that it might help laboring moms actually have the energy they need to deliver their babies.

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I was in labor for 22 hours with my son (did I mention that?), and let me tell you: I could've used a sandwich or five. Once you've skipped a few meals, you simply don't have the energy to keep gritting your teeth through contractions or trying to walk off the pain. You just want to collapse in your hospital bed and fall asleep until your baby arrives.

Plus, it's ludicrous to expect a woman to somehow find the strength and stamina to push a human being out of her vagina after she's gone several hours without a solid meal. The uterus is a muscle, and as Dr. Berghella explained to Fox News, "If we're well hydrated and have adequate carbohydrates in our body, our muscles work better."

And, as Christopher Harty, BN, coauthor of the study and a medical student at Memorial University in Canada, says in the updated policy statement by the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA), "Research suggests that the energy and caloric demands of laboring women are similar to those of marathon runners."

No surprise there!

So, do these findings mean labor and delivery will include a large pepperoni pizza from now on? Well, don't count on it. According to the ACA, laboring women should snack on things like soup and clear juices, light sandwiches, and fruit.

It's not exactly a Big Mac, but the only thing worse than labor pains is hunger pangs, so we'll take it.

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