Can I eat during labor?
Updated: Mar 28, 2021
Spoiler alert - YES!
There is a crazy, and I mean CRAZY, rumor out there that women are not supposed to eat solid food during labor. This makes zero common sense. And, surprise!, totally not evidence-based.
Labor, as the term might imply, is work. It's hard work. And it's important to fuel your body so that it has the energy to continue doing that work. Think about marathon runners. Do they eat and drink while they're running. Of course! It makes sense - you burn an insane amount of calories running long distances and need to refuel at some point to keep going. Labor, like running, is a natural process that burns a ton of calories. Eating during labor helps your body recharge, progressing your labor, and keeps things going strong.
Hospital policies that prohibit laboring women from eating and drinking in labor are misguided, not evidence-based, and just plain wrong.
Bad Advice, Outdated Research
The prohibition against eating and drinking during labor comes from a study conducted in the 1940s. That was 20+ years before we landed on the moon. For real. I think it's fair to say that we've made a few medical advances since then, don't you?
It's unfortunate that the bad advice discouraging (or prohibiting) eating and drinking during labor persists, despite tons of evidence to the contrary. According to the American Society of Anesthesiologists:
"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 [...] most healthy women would benefit from eating a light meal during labor."
And from a 2008 press release from the American College of Nurse Midwives:
"'It is important that we don’t unnecessarily restrict a women’s ability to eat or drink during labor,' said Deborah Anderson, CNM, Associate Clinical Professor from the University of California, San Francisco. 'In addition to providing hydration, nutrition, and comfort, self-regulating intake decreases a women’s stress level and provides her with a feeling of control.'"
So, what do I tell my birth clients? If you're hungry - eat! And make sure you bring plenty of snacks in your bag for the hospital or birth center. I'll share my go-to list with you soon!