A review of five clinical trials involving eating during labor resoundingly found that no medical need exists for women at low risk for complication to restrict food or beverages during labor. The study, published online on January 20, 2010, looked at eating habits among different groups of laboring women—some had food and drink completely restricted until after birth (ice chips only), some had been given soda and other sweetened drinks, and others had the freedom to eat and drink at will.
Despite the decades-long practice of food prohibition in the US (put in place as a safeguard against food aspiration in case general anesthesia was called for during a Cesarean delivery), researchers observed no differences in birth outcomes whether women chomped only on ice chips during labor or ate and drank whatever their hearts' desired.
According to a New York Times piece detailing the study's findings, the use of general anesthesia during labor and delivery is rare in 2010. Caesarean sections are generally done using regional anesthesia, with some major hospitals reporting general anesthesia use in just 1 to 2 percent of laboring women. Some hospitals have lifted restrictions on drinking during labor in recent months, since the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists issued new guidelines last August allowing patients to drink clear liquids. But the guidelines kept the restriction on solid foods.
"My own view of this has always been that you could say one shouldn't eat or drink anything before getting into a car on the same basis, because you could be in an automobile accident and you might require general anesthesia," said Dr. Marcie Richardson, an OB-GYN at Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates in Boston, as quoted in the Times article.
Still, it may not be time to call take out between contractions just yet. Anesthesiologists, the newspaper reported, were critical of the review, saying none of the studies evaluated the impact of eating for women who did end up undergoing general anesthesia.