Hold the Ice Chips! You Can Eat During Labor

Can you eat during labor? It turns out, yes! Learn why doctors are saying it's not only safe to snack, it's actually beneficial.
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ByAnisa Arsenault
Associate Editor
May 2017
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For most moms, labor is definitely a marathon, not a sprint. And after discovering that the caloric demands of laboring women are literally comparable to those of marathon runners, researchers suggest that a light meal during labor would be beneficial.

Sure, eating might not be top priority as you battle your way through contractions, but a lack of adequate nutrition comes with consequences. By not eating, women’s bodies will begin to turn to fat as an energy source, upping the level of acidity in mom and baby’s blood. This can potentially reduce contractions, resulting in longer labor and worse newborn health.

Typically, women have been told to avoid eating or drinking during labor because of the aspiration risk—inhaling liquid or food into their lungs, which is linked to pneumonia. But after reviewing hundreds of studies on the topic, researchers concluded this is not a concern for healthy women. Between 2005 and 2013, only one laboring mom was reported to have aspirated in the United States, and she experienced complications from  preeclampsia and obesity.

Thanks to improvements in anesthesia care (think epidurals and spinal blocks as opposed to masks and windpipe tubes), the 2015 study was the first time health professionals felt comfortable allowing light eating to accompany pain management.

“Our findings suggest a change in practice makes sense,” says Christopher Harty, BN, co-author of the study. “Physician anesthesiologists and obstetricians should work together to assess each patient individually. 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.”

So what’s it gonna be? Start placing your delivery room orders.

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