The Importance of Eating During Labor
Recently, we attended a birth where the mom powered through an exhausting 60+ hours of labor. There were some very brief pauses and times to rest, but the majority of that 60 hours was filled with contractions, relaxation, coping techniques, working hard to rest, but also encouraging labor progress. It was incredible for sure. It is hard to believe that women can do that for so long! It is possible, but to make it possible, her body required hydration and nutrition throughout the labor. This mom was very blessed in the fact that she had her husband, a professional chef, preparing food and encouraging her to eat. She did a great job of staying hydrated and her husband made nutritional shakes throughout the labor process as well. She also ate apples, peanut butter, turkey/cheese, and other great snacks.
Food during labor can be extremely beneficial. Unfortunately, it is something that is discouraged by many care providers in our country. The most common reason given is that the mom could vomit. Unfortunately, even if a mom does not eat, there is still a chance she will throw up. Some care providers say that they don't want a mom to eat in case she needs general anesthesia due to the concern that she could throw up, aspirate, and develop pneumonia. However, general anesthesia is extremely uncommon and it is possible that not staying nourished or hydrated could actually lead to an increased risk of a Cesarean birth. Additionally, in the last decade, there have been many advances in anesthesia medicine and the chances of aspiration are very low. In the United States, there was only one case of aspiration related to labor and birth from 2005 to 2013.
In a natural birth setting, such as a homebirth or a birth center birth, women are encouraged to eat and drink throughout labor. The care providers who attend births in these settings specialize in working with moms who are planning a natural birth. The possibility of complications decrease when mom eats and drinks! For care providers who see women in high-risk settings, or primarily work with women who receive medications during labor and birth, they have seen complications with general anesthesia and therefore caution against it. However, even with women who receive medication during labor, the risk of aspiration is almost nonexistent due to the advances in anesthesia care.
The American Association of Anesthesiologist has published an evidence-based research study stating that for healthy women, snacking during labor can be beneficial. This is huge news! In an article released in 2015, the ASA states, “Women traditionally have been told to avoid eating or drinking during labor due to concerns they may aspirate, or inhale liquid or food into their lungs, which can cause pneumonia. But advances in anesthesia care means most healthy women are highly unlikely to have this problem today and when researchers reviewed the literature of hundreds of studies on the topic, they determined that withholding food and liquids may be unnecessary for many women in labor.”
So, talk to your care provider! Ask what their recommendations are on snacking during labor. This study also says that the energy and caloric demand of laboring women are similar to a marathon runner! We normally tell women to prepare for the “marathon of labor” and this fits that analogy very well. Consider what types of snacks you feel would help you in labor. Both mom and partner will benefit from staying hydrated and nourished during labor!