“Based on our review, there is no convincing and current evidence to support restriction of fluids, and perhaps food, for women during labour. Women should be able to choose for themselves,” says Dr. Joan Tranmer of the Queen’s School of Nursing.
Practitioners have been concerned about eating and drinking during labour since the 1940s. The restriction is thought to prevent Mendelson’s syndrome (named after work by Dr. Carl Mendelson), a rare, but sometimes fatal, condition caused by regurgitation of acidic stomach contents into the lungs when a general anaesthetic is given.
“With medical advances over the past 60 years, including the increase use of epidural anesthesia, we thought it was time to question the widespread ban on food and drink now that we are in the 2000s,” says Professor Tranmer. “The use of general anesthesia during C-sections is low. And even when used, the techniques have improved since the 1940s, so the risk of maternal death or illness is very, very low.”
There is tremendous variation in the practice of fluid and food restriction across birth settings (home births versus hospitals).
“The food and fluid restriction can be stressful and uncomfortable for some pregnant women, especially for those who are in labour for more than 12 hours and unable to eat,” adds Professor Tranmer, who is based out of the Clinical Resear Centre at Kingston General Hospital. “Instead of eating ice chips, a snack can provide some nourishment, comfort and much needed energy.”
The review findings co-authored by Mandissa Singata (University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa) and Gill Gyte (University of Liverpool in the U.K.) were published by the Cochrane Collaboration, an independent, not-for-profit healthcare organization. The authors’ review looked at the data from five randomized trials that involved 3,130 women who were in active labour and with a low risk of requiring general anesthesia.