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Pregnancy: Could A Light Meal During Labor Be Safe?

First Posted: Oct 26, 2015 10:39 AM EDT

New findings presented at the ANESTHESIOLOGY® 2015 annual meeting suggest that eating a light meal during labor may be healthy for women.

Women have traditionally been told to avoid eating or drinking during labor as they may aspirate or inhale food or liquid into the lungs, increasing the risk of pneumonia. However, advances in anesthesia now show that most healthy women would not deal with this problem, and withholding liquid or foods during the birthing process could be unhealthy.

In this recent study, researchers analyzed 385 studies published in 1990 or later that focused on women who gave birth in a hospital. Without adequate nutrition, health officials noted that women's bodies could begin to use fat as an energy source and increase acidity of the blood in both the mother and infant. Over time, this problem could result in longer labor due to reduced uterine contractions, as well as potentially lower health scores in newborns, researchers say. 

"However, certain factors increase a laboring patient's risk of aspiration which outweigh the risks of withholding nutrition," said Erin Sprout, BN, co-author of the study and a medical student at Memorial University, in a news release. These factors include eclampsia, pre-eclampsia, obesity and the use of opioids to manage labor pain, which can delay stomach emptying, according to researchers.

Though the majority of women lose their appetite during labor, it's still good to continue to drink fluids that include clear juices and water. And for those who are not at risk of apsiration, it can help to talk with the physician anesthesiologist and obstetrician if a light meal--including soup, toast, fruit, etc.--would be right during the the process. 

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