Can I eat during labor?
By Laura E. Stachel
While no one would recommend eating a hearty meal during labor, there is some controversy about eating lightly. Although liquid and food could increase endurance during a long labor, many physicians advise against eating. The reason? It's common for expectant moms to vomit during the course of labor, and there's a fear that some of the contents of the stomach could enter the lungs. This complication—pulmonary aspiration—can be very serious and potentially fatal.

Fortunately, pulmonary aspiration is very rare. This has led to much disagreement among obstetricians, anesthesiologists and hospitals about whether to allow women to eat during labor.

A new study from the United Kingdom suggests that there are no additional complications from eating lightly during labor. Women in this study were randomized to two groups: the women in one group were permitted to eat lightly, while women in the other group were restricted to drinking water. Researchers found no differences in rates of spontaneous vaginal delivery, length of labor, medical interventions, Caesarean section rates and baby Apgar scores. They also found no differences in the rate of vomiting in both groups. Most importantly, there were no cases of pulmonary aspiration in either group.

This study suggests that for women without other risk factors, eating lightly during labor may be safe. However, this is a topic that I recommend you discuss with your provider before you go into labor.