The fairy dust has been sprinkled, the birthy dances have been danced, the heavens have opened up, and the birth gods have heard our cries! There isn’t much that parallels the physical demands on our bodies during the labor and birthing process, yet for decades, women birthing in a hospital setting have been told that they cannot eat during labor. Those days may soon be behind us! Earlier this week, the American Society of Anesthesiologists put out a press release stating that most healthy women would benefit from a light meal during labor.
Midwives have been encouraging women at home and in birth centers to snack during labor to keep up their energy while their laboring counterparts in hospitals have been sucking on ice chips and, if they’re lucky, eating “the BEST (sugar free) Popsicle I’ve ever had in my life!”. Eating is discouraged in hospital births due to the fear of aspiration (a fancy word meaning inhaling the contents of the stomach into the lungs) when anesthesia is administered. According to new research, “improvements in anesthesia care have made pain control during labor safer, reducing risks related to eating”. Another noteworthy piece of this article is that “aspiration today is almost nonexistent, especially in healthy patients. In the United States, there was only one case of aspiration associated with labor and delivery between 2005 and 2013, involving a complicated case of a woman who was obese and had pre-eclampsia”.
Researchers analyzed 385 studies that focused on women who birthed in a hospital setting. The findings after poring over mountains of research is something childbirth educators have said over and over again: “the energy and caloric demands of laboring women are similar to those of marathon runners”.
If you’re a healthy pregnant woman, talk to your provider about ditching the ice chips and sugar free Popsicles and bringing in the healthy snacks that include protein, natural sugars, and carbohydrates so you can get through your marathon that we call labor. Bring them the new research. Tell your OB to talk to the anesthesia team to determine the best approach for each woman individually. I am hopeful for the day that we see this change in Houston.