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    Researchers Find No Risks from Light Eating During Labor

    By Jennifer Huddleston, staff writer     

    For many expectant mothers, the findings from a recent study conducted by researchers in the United Kingdom may make the labor process a bit easier to swallow.

    A randomized, controlled trial involving more than 2,000 women in labor revealed that eating a light meal during labor did not increase vomiting or affect the outcomes of childbirth.
    [1] The study also found no difference in rates of Caesarean sections or complications. [2]

    The 2,426 women included in the study were randomly assigned to one of two groups—one allowed the traditional liquid diet fast (water) or one allowed a light meal. Those given a light diet were given low-fat, low-residue foods—including biscuits, bread, fruit, fruit juice, soup, vegetables and yogurt—at various points during their labor.
    [3]

    "Over the years there's been a general idea that women should starve during labor," said
    Andrew Shennan, the study’s co-author and a professor of obstetrics at King's College in London. [4]

    Doctors began recommending that patients fast during labor in response to reports of death due to pulmonary aspiration in some women who had Caesarean sections.

    "When we're awake or when we're asleep we have protective reflexes to keep things out of our airways, but under anesthesia you lose your protective reflexes," said Craig Palmer, M.D., chairman of the American Society of Anesthesiologists’ Committee on Obstetric Anesthesia.
    [5]

    Advancements in anesthesia practice, such as administering local—rather than general—anesthesia for Caesarean sections, have decreased pulmonary aspiration. [6] Even now though, patients in labor mainly are allowed only clear liquids such as water, tea, broth and some energy drinks. [7]

    "What we do is women are allowed to have clear liquids during labor, no solid foods, and I would say that's probably the norm in the United States," said Linda Polley, M.D., president of the Society for Obstetric Anesthesia and Perinatology and director of the obstetric anesthesiology division at the University of Michigan Health System in Ann Arbor.
    [8]

    While Polley said this is the largest study to date on the subject, she would like to see a study in which women in labor ate, later required general anesthesia for a Caesarean section and still experienced no complications or adverse affects.
    [9]

    At this point, doctors can use their discretion to determine whether it’s safe for a patient to consume a light meal.

    "If you are low risk and normal, it's okay to have a light diet or have isotonic fluids that have calories in labor," Shennan said. "But certainly we would not want people to be eating large chunks—we don't want you to be eating steak and chips."
    [10]

    The findings of the study are reported in the March 25, 2009, issue of the British Medical Journal.


    [1] Barclay, Laurie. “Eating Lightly During Labor May Not Affect Obstetric or Neonatal Outcomes.” Medscape Medical News. March 30, 2009.
    [2] Cox, Lauren. “Do You Need to Starve Before Surgery?” ABC News. March 25, 2009.
    [3] Barclay, Laurie. “Eating Lightly During Labor May Not Affect Obstetric or Neonatal Outcomes.” Medscape Medical News. March 30, 2009.
    [4] Cox, Lauren. “Do You Need to Starve Before Surgery?” ABC News. March 25, 2009.
    [5]  Ibid.
    [6] “No Risk from Eating During Labour.” BBC News. March 25, 2009.
    [7] Cox, Lauren. “Do You Need to Starve Before Surgery?” ABC News. March 25, 2009.
    [8]  Ibid.
    [9]  Ibid.
    [10]  Ibid.


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