Let low-risk moms eat during labor?

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Allowing low-risk pregnant women to eat less restrictive diets during labor may not only make them happier, but may shorten labor, too.


Allowing low-risk patients planning for a vaginal delivery less restrictive diets during labor does not seem to increase the risk of aspiration or other harms and may shorten labor.1


A: Based on a meta-analysis of 10 randomized controlled trials (RCTs) in tertiary hospitals.

Ciardulli A, Saccone G, Anastasio H, et al. Less-restrictive food intake during labor in low-risk singleton pregnancies: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Obstet Gynecol. 2017;129:473-480.



Illustrative Case

A 23-year-old nulliparous female at term with an uncomplicated pregnancy presents to labor and delivery. She reports regular contractions for the last several hours and is admitted in labor for an anticipated vaginal delivery. She has not had anything to eat or drink for the last 3 hours and says she’s hungry.

What type of diet should you order for this patient? Should you place any restrictions in the diet order?

Since the first reports of Mendelson Syndrome (aspiration during general anesthesia) in the early 1940s,2 many health care providers managing laboring women restrict their diets to clear liquids or less with little evidence to support the decision. In a recent survey of Canadian hospitals, for example, 51% of laboring women who did not receive an epidural during the active phase of labor were placed on restricted diets of only clear fluids and/or ice chips; this number rose to 83% for women who did receive an epidural.3

Dietary restrictions continue to be enforced despite the fact that only about 5% of obstetric patients require general anesthesia.1 In a study of 172,334 patients ≥18 years of age in the general population undergoing a total of 215,488 emergency or elective surgeries with general anesthesia, the risk of aspiration was 1:895 and 1:3886, respectively.4 Of the 66 patients who aspirated, 42 had no respiratory sequelae.

Similarly, Robinson et al noted that anesthesia-associated aspiration fatalities have been much lower in more recent studies than in historical ones—approximately 1 in 350,000 anesthesia events compared with 1 in 45,000 to 240,000—and are more commonly observed during intubation for emergency surgery.5

The current American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists guidance is to restrict oral intake to clear liquids during labor for low-risk patients, with further restriction for those at increased risk for aspiration.6 The meta-analysis described here looked at the risks and benefits of a less restrictive diet during labor.

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