Allowing a pregnant woman to eat during labour does not seem to have any effect on the outcome of mother or her baby, a new study finds.
Conventional medical wisdom has suggested that women shouldn't eat during labour because they could vomit while under general anesthesia for an emergency caesarean section and then breathe the food into their lungs. But with regional anesthetics (called spinal anesthetics) used for most caesareans these days, that advice has been under review.
The new research finds that women who have eaten during their labour are no more likely to vomit during delivery than those who did not.
The findings come from a study of 2,426 pregnant women in labour. Half were allowed to have just water during labour; the other half were encouraged to eat small amounts of food, such as bread, fruit, yogourt and juice.
Eating had no effect on the length of labour for either group, nor for the need for assisted delivery, such as the use of forceps, or C-section, Dr. Andrew Shennan, from King's College London, and colleagues report in the online edition of the British Medical Journal.
Forty-four percent of women who ate during labour had a normal vaginal delivery -- a rate identical to the rate seen in those who were allowed to have only water. The C-section delivery rate was 30 per cent in each group, and rates of instrument-assisted vaginal delivery were 27 per cent in the eating group and 26 percent in the water group.
The average length of labour was slightly but not significantly shorter in the eating group versus the water-only group (597 vs. 612 minutes).
The incidence of vomiting was nearly the same as well, at 35 per cent and 34 per cent in the two groups.
And there were no significant differences in any infant outcomes between the groups.