This past weekend at the Anesthesiology 2015 annual meeting, researchers presented information to show that in fact, it is beneficial and safe for women to eat during labor (see the press release here). For many years, people laboring and giving birth in hospitals have routinely been told not to eat anything but clear liquids. The premise has been that if there was food in the stomach and a cesarean would be necessary under general anesthesia (which is not common), there would be risk of aspiration. For several years now, many maternity care experts have asserted that the risks of aspiration are rare, easily mitigated, and are far outweighed by the benefits of a woman receiving nutrition during the physically challenging event of labor and birth. Now, new research from the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) shows that others may also be on board:
“Our findings suggest a change in practice makes sense,” said Christopher Harty, BN, co-author of the study and a medical student at Memorial University, St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada. “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.”
The release does caution about conditions that may preclude women from being categorized as "low risk" for aspirating, including eclampsia, pre-eclampsia, and obesity. It will be important to discuss this further with your care provider.
ASA is the organization responsible for providing education and research to maintain the standards for anesthesiologists. Unfortunately, while this news does not represent an official change in guidelines or policy, it is one step further in the right direction. Some hospitals and care providers have already implemented this rule (after reviewing existing research). It's important to discuss this new finding with your doctor or midwife, as well as present other relevant research about the issue. Print out the ASA press release, as well as this article from Evidence Based Birth, bring them to your next prenatal appointment, and discuss with your provider concerns about and preferences for maintaining energy and keeping nourished during labor. Be sure to also take a look at the information and graphics from Lamaze on this topic.