Screw The Ice Chips, Eating During Labor May Actually Be Beneficial

by Megan Zander
Image via Shutterstock/Syda Productions

New review of research finds healthy women with low risk pregnancies may benefit from eating while in labor

If you’ve ever given birth in the hospital, then you’re probably all too familiar with the sensation of crunching ice chips in your mouth when all you want is actual food. For decades women have been cautioned against eating while in labor for fear that they could inhale liquid or food into their lungs or have complications in the event that they needed general anesthesia. But a new review of research has found that risk is very minimal for healthy moms with uncomplicated labors. In fact, it’s possible eating while in labor may be beneficial by actually make delivery go a little faster.

Dr. Vincenzo Berghella, of Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia and his team reviewed 10 different studies that covered 3,982 women in labor. All of the women had singleton pregnancies and were not at risk for a c-section.

They looked at the labors of the women who were allowed to eat food while in labor compared to the labors of those who were only allowed to eat ice chips. The foods women were allowed to consume varied. In one study, women drank liquids with carbohydrates. In another they were given a date and honey syrup to drink. Another allowed them to eat and drink whatever they wanted.

They found two pretty awesome things: being allowed to eat during labor didn’t increase the women’s risk for complications, like choking or vomiting, during general anesthesia. Plus, the women who were allowed to eat during labor had, on average, labors that were 16 minutes shorter than the women who were only allowed ice chips. And 16 minutes when you’re dealing with contractions feels like a lot longer.

Obviously, this doesn’t prove that eating during labor will make you deliver faster, but it’s certainly something worth trying — especially if there’s no risk of harm to the laboring mom. Berghella told Fox News eating and drinking during labor makes sense since giving birth is such a physically draining experience. “If we’re well hydrated and have adequate carbohydrate in our body, our muscles work better,” he said.

Berghella’s findings seem to be the latest in a slowly moving change of policy in doctors towards what women are allowed to eat and drink while in labor. As Scary Mommy’s own Wendy Wisner has pointed out, in 2015 the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) released a statement explaining how thanks to advances in anesthesia care, the risk of aspiration in healthy patients is extremely low. “In the United States, there was only one case of aspiration associated with labor and delivery between 2005 and 2013, involving a complicated case of a woman who was obese and had pre-eclampsia,” said the statement.

The ASA gave additional benefits to letting healthy moms with low risk pregnancies eat while in labor. “Without adequate nutrition, women’s bodies will begin to use fat as an energy source, increasing acidity of the blood in the mother and infant, potentially reducing uterine contractions and leading to longer labor and lower health scores in newborns,” they explain. “Additionally, the studies suggest that fasting can cause emotional stress, potentially moving blood away from the uterus and placenta, lengthening labor and contributing to distress of the fetus.”

Sadly, don’t expect your OB to write you a script for filet mignon. Light foods, like juice, soup and fruit and toast are what the ASA recommends laboring moms with an appetite nosh on. Still, anything better than ice chips.