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"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," the researchers report.
However, the scientists agree, aspiration during labor is extremely rare and a change in practice "makes sense."
"Physician anesthesiologists and obstetricians should work together to assess each patient individually," says Christopher Harty, co-author of the study and a medical student at Memorial University, St. John's in Newfoundland, Canada. "Those they determine are at low risk for aspiration can likely eat a meal during labor."
What has changed over the years is the way women are receiving anesthesia during labor. Before epidurals and spinal blocks, which are used regularly now, women who were giving birth in the 1940s were more likely to have received anesthesia through a mask covering their nose and mouth. Women at the time often had a tube placed in the windpipe for breathing, leading to a greater risk of aspiration.
While methods of delivering anesthesia have changed, researchers also noted that depriving women of food during labor also had negative effects on the mother and unborn child.
"Without adequate nutrition, women's bodies will begin to use fat as an energy source, increasing acidity of the blood in the mother and infant, potentially reducing uterine contractions and leading to longer labor and lower health scores in newborns," the researchers report.
Not only that, but fasting can cause "emotional stress" in the laboring mom, which can potentially move blood away from the uterus and placenta, ultimately lengthening labor and potentially causing fetal distress."
Researchers recommend that healthy women consult their health-care providers to see if eating a light meal during labor is right for them. Specifically, fruit, light soups and toast are recommended.