Eating in Labour
Whether you eat and drink during labour could well affect how well your body performs during what is serious physical exercise. Sports scientists have shown that keeping hydrated and eating carbs helps your body to perform better and reduces the chance of ketosis. Ketones are produced when your body needs more energy so fats in your liver are broken down (and lots of ketones are known to slow/stall your labour).
A Cochrane review of research (2013) didn’t actually show any difference in women’s chance of spontaneous birth which is surprising, but a later bigger review by Ciardulli (2017) showed women able to eat/drink had a shorter labour by an average of 16 minutes.
Evidence or not, low-risk women (and I would say all women) SHOULD be encouraged to eat/drink as most indeed want to, feel better when they do, are less likely to report feeling exhausted and are more satisfied with their birth experience.
And don’t forget it is your body, you decide! Just because you are pregnant or having a baby, it does not mean you lose your human rights!
Why is it even an issue?
In the 1940s, Mendelson published a study linking eating/drinking with aspirating stomach contents during general anaesthesia – basically vomiting and then inhaling food/drink whilst put to sleep. This can cause serious lung problems and even death.
However, things have changed A LOT since then – general anaesthesia is a lot safer (women are now intubated to protect their airway and the airway is not removed until they wake) and it is rarely used now anyway as spinal anaesthesia and epidurals would usually be used instead.
Unfortunately, there have been no studies about women at higher risk of needing general anaesthesia eating/drinking, so the guidance does not advise offering food/drink. But I am in no doubt that all would certainly like to be offered it!
What might you eat or drink?
Isotonic non-fizzy sports drinks are a great source of energy. Isotonic means the same particulate concentration as blood and contain both sugars and salts to help rehydrate and give you energy. Did you know coconut water is a natural isotonic drink?
Carbs rich in energy such as bananas, flapjacks and energy bars are great food sources. It is particularly important to eat during early labour, as you need to keep your energy levels up (rest is also important!). Women in later labour may naturally not feel like eating much, although it is a good idea to keep having nibbles here and there!
And then the first food AFTER the baby is a whole other thing!