Women should be allowed to eat and drink what they want during labour, say researchers. They carried out a systematic review of studies examining the traditional practice of restricting food and fluid intake during labour and found no evidence for any risk or benefit for women at low risk of complications.
Worrying about lungs
Eating and drinking during labour is considered dangerous and many maternity units operate “nil by mouth” policies or restrict what women in labour are allowed to eat and drink, regardless of women’s preferences. This is largely due to concerns about possibly fatal damage to the lungs caused by “Mendelson’s syndrome”, where particles of regurgitated food are inhaled under general anaesthetic during Caesarean sections. Recent-ly, however in many maternity wards, particularly in the UK, women are now allowed to eat and drink what they want during labour.
The Cochrane Systematic Review, which included five studies and a total of 3130 women, found no evidence of any risk or benefit associated with eating or drinking, whether in studies comparing eating and drinking at will or just water with complete restriction, or in studies comparing specific foods, fluids, or carbohydrate drinks with water.
Lead researcher Mandisa Singata said that there are better ways to approach studies of eating and drinking during labour. “While it is important to prevent Mendelson’s syndrome, it is very rare and not the best way to assess whether eating and drinking during labour is beneficial for the majority of patients. It might be better to look at ways of preventing regurgitation during anaesthesia for those patients who do require it.”