Confession: I ate (a little) during labor…even when the hospital told me not to.
It probably wasn’t the smartest thing I have ever done, but I was in the hospital for about 30 hours before my son was born. And a girl needs sustenance. Plus, I had read about boosting my comfort during labor, and all the things that U.S. hospitals force women to do that are not always necessary. So I packed a protein bar. (A study a few years back found that most women may benefit from a light meal during labor.)
There are two schools of thought about eating during labor. Some doctors advise their patients to only eat ice chips (this is known as nil per os [NPO] status) while more progressive findings report that women do better when they can eat during labor.
Of course the reason behind not eating is that you may need to have C-section surgery and may asphyxiate or vomit. But according to a study in American Journal of Nursing, there are advances in epidural and spinal anesthesia, and using general anesthesia during labor is actually pretty rare.
Researchers evaluated records of about 2,800 women in a single hospital between 2008 and 2012. The women were, on average, 31 years old. One group (about 1,200 women) was allowed to eat and drink “ad lib” or as they pleased, while the other 1,600 or so women were on NPO. Prior to delivery, 20 percent in the ad lib group were identified with a pre-existing condition, as were 14 percent of women in the NPO group.
Though women in the NPO group started out with fewer medical issues, they wound up having a higher incidence of complications during labor and birth compared with the ad lib group. The women in the NPO group were also significantly more likely to have unplanned C-sections.
Most doctors continue to recommend restrictions on eating and drinking during labor, says Anne Shea-Lewis, a nurse at St. Charles Hospital, Port Jefferson, N.Y.. But this suggests that restrictions on eating and drinking could be relaxed in uncomplicated cases.
That said, you may want to bring this up with your doctor before going into labor.
Though Shea-Lewis said her team didn’t identify which foods were “best” to eat during labor, most hospitals advise a light meal for those who can eat and drink during labor. Also, most women aren’t pounding anything heavy during the active stages of labor, Shea-Lewis added.
Shea-Lewis said that her study encourages dialogue around whether or not to eat or drink during labor. Ultimately, though, women should follow the advice of their health providers.
“If they have received instruction from their provider regarding whether or not they can eat, they should follow it,” she told HelloFlo.
Best bet? Talk to your doctor about whether or not you will be able to eat and drink during labor.
Who knows, you may not have to smuggle a protein bar into the bathroom like I did. (For the record, I had a C-section—the baby and I are fine!)