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Can I Eat or Drink During Labor?

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Can I Eat or Drink During Labor?

Oct 16, 2015
Giving birth is a lot of hard work, but since most women are anesthetized during the process, eating and drinking anything besides ice has generally been discouraged. But many women feel like they need extra nutrients and energy, especially if their labor ends up lasting hours. Certified midwife Debra Penney talks safety and hydration while giving birth.

Episode Transcript

Interviewer: Eating and drinking during labor. Is this a thing that women should be concerned about? We'll find out next on The Scope.

Announcer: Medical news and research from University of Utah physicians and specialists you can use for a happier and healthier life. You're listening to The Scope.

Interviewer: We're talking today with Debra Penney. She is a Certified Midwife from the College of Nursing at the University of Utah. A topic of concern for women going into labor is whether I can eat and drink, because for the longest time anesthesiologists have said that women shouldn't be eating and drinking because of the risk of aspiration.

Debra: Traditionally when the anesthesiologist comes into the room, perhaps, to give an epidural to a woman, they routinely ask the woman to only have ice chips, and this is really hard for women because they're doing a lot of work in labor, and sometimes they need the glucose or the sugar that's in a drink or sometimes some light food to eat, and they feel really restricted a lot, and mentally it's just not good. They want to eat and drink in labor because they're doing a lot of hard work.

Interviewer: It can be a long time too.

Debra: It can be a long time for their body to have to keep working. So when we look at the evidence for the risk of aspiration, which would be like inhaling something, perhaps vomit in labor, that's not a big concern as it used to be because of many reasons. One is they're less likely to even be intubated for labor because they had an epidural, and a lot of times a C-section can be done under a spinal and they can use that same epidural to do a spinal so they don't need to be intubated during labor. So there's even less intubation going on and that decreases the risk of aspiration.

Interviewer: And so with all these new evidence that say it might be okay for a woman to eat and drink during labor, if there is an increase, are women still being in aspiration or is it just fine?

Debra: So it's really hard to track aspiration. It can be lethal if it happens. Most often it happens with general anesthesia and intubation, but it can happen to anyone who vomits anytime. We know that some women are at risk for aspiration. Women who are obese. Women who have GERD, or they have gastric reflux anyway. Women who have been given IV narcotics for pain relief because the intestines just aren't moving in a normal fashion, and so they're at risk, so it would really be good to know what risks exist for women and to discern that rather than just saying every woman should not eat or drink in labor. And of course drinking clear liquids is going to be your least likely problem if you aspirate, because the lungs can clear that out easier.

Interviewer: So it seems to me like it's actually a pretty safe thing for women to eat and drink in labor. You agree with that?

Debra: If they're low risk during their pregnancy, they don't have any medical problems, and they're also progressing normally in labor, there shouldn't be any reason to restrict, at least clear liquids if not food for them because their chance of aspirating is less than getting hit by lightning. Evidence has shown that this fear of aspiration is not as universal as we thought it was, and women should be allowed to at least drink in labor, if not eat.

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