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Can I Eat During Labor?

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Once you start feeling contractions, you probably have mixed emotions of excitement and nerves about the arrival of your new bundle of joy. You have everything packed, and you are ready to go to the hospital. But before you walk out the door, one thought that might cross your mind is, "Will I be able to eat while I am in labor?" Many of us have heard that you must fast during labor. But is that still recommended?

For years, pregnant women were advised to fast during labor and were limited to ice chips. This was mainly due to reports that pregnant women were at an increased risk for aspiration if they were put under general anesthesia. Aspiration occurs when food or water is inhaled into the lungs. Pregnant women were seen at an increased risk due to their enlarged uterus, which can push upward on the stomach, and because of their increased levels of progesterone, which can be a muscle relaxant.

However, most pregnant women are unlikely to need general anesthesia, which is when someone is completely unconscious. Regional anesthesia, like epidurals and spinal blocks, are more commonly used and only numb a part of the body. Studies have shown the aspiration rate to be minuscule when using regional anesthesia. Because of this, the American Society of Anesthesiologists and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists updated their guidelines to say it's OK for moms-to-be to drink clear liquids if they have uncomplicated labors. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends no solid foods during labor.

If you are going in for a planned C-section, you will need to follow strict instructions of restricting solid food and liquids eight hours before the procedure. Additionally, if you are attempting to have a vaginal birth but are at high risk for a C-section (you have had previous C-sections or you have health complications), your doctor may ask that you stop eating once you go into labor.

It is important to know that policies are different at various hospitals. When discussing your labor plan with your OB/GYN, it is best to find out what the policies are on eating and drinking during labor. Ask them what they recommend you eat before leaving your house to go to the hospital and what they will allow once you're checked in. If your practitioner gives you the go-ahead to drink clear liquids during labor, here are some things that might be available:

  • Ice chips
  • Clear beverages - water, tea, clear juice, carbonated water, clear sports drinks or clear broths

At the end of the day, your doctor wants to ensure that you and your baby are both healthy. The particulars of each expecting mother's health and pregnancy will be looked at on a case-by-case basis to determine what is best for her and her baby.

Learn more about Dr. Theresa Brignac.

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