Eat and drink anyway -- merriment can come later. The former advice comes from a new Cochrane Review analysis; the latter is actually just reassurance that such emotion (and the energy required for it) will ultimately be possible once again.
In an analysis of five studies assessing the risks of consuming food or fluids during childbirth, researchers found, essentially, that there seems to be no good reason to forbid mothers-to-be enough nourishment to keep them going. And going. And going. So, if they want a snack or a drink and they're at low risk of complications, well... why not?
The analysis concluded: "Since the evidence shows no benefits or harms, there is no justification for the restriction of fluids and food in [labor] for women at low risk of complications."
Here's the summary. It includes both a "plain language" version and the more traditional kind. (The best part: "Women's views were not assessed.")
This practice of denying women sustenance while they're trying to bring new life into the world comes from a fear that general anesthesia might be required. This attitude has been relaxing in recent years, but only marginally...
A committee opinion from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, published last year in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology, said that women could have "modest amounts of clear liquids." But it drew the line there. Food, the statement said, should still be off-limits.
The organization's Pain Relief During Labor and Delivery pamphlet spells out the concern:
"A major risk during general anesthesia is caused by food or liquids in the woman's stomach. Labor usually causes undigested food to stay in the stomach. During unconsciousness, this food could come back into the mouth and go into the lungs where it can cause damage. To avoid this, you may be told not to eat or drink once labor has started."
Similarly, the Merck Manual offers this on the matter: "When fluids are given intravenously, the woman does not have to eat or drink during labor, although she may choose to drink some fluids and eat some light food early in labor. An empty stomach during delivery makes the woman less likely to vomit. Very rarely, vomit is inhaled. Inhaling vomit can cause inflammation of the lungs, which can be life threatening."
The Cochrane Review might give more physicians pause.
And, for the heck of it, here's general information on labor from WomensHealth.gov. The information is solid enough, if fairly routine. But the highlight is the photo of the preternaturally relaxed, even chipper-looking, woman wearing a fetal monitor.
-- Tami Dennis
Photo: You might want to consider the during-childbirth snack. It could be the least-interrupted dining experience you'll have for a while. Credit: Los Angeles Times