Labor is very appropriately named because it is a physical task that involves both strength and stamina. More often, labor is a long process. For pregnant women who go in labor for the first time, it can be very tiring and can last up to 10 to 20 hours. Even after the cervix is dilated to 10 cm, it might take another couple of hours to push the baby out. Looking at this scenario most pregnant women have one question in mind – Can I eat or drink during labor? Read on to know more on this.
Eating And Drinking During Early Labour
Eating and drinking during labor, especially in the early stages, can provide a pregnant woman with necessary energy and make labor more comfortable for her. Being properly nourished and hydrated can prevent a pregnant woman from becoming exhausted, which can prolong labor and lead to fewer contractions that are less effective.
Most of the doctors ask a pregnant woman to remain NPO (nil per OS / nothing by mouth). However, recent studies support that a pregnant woman should be allowed to eat and drink during the labor if she wishes to. It is advisable to eat and drink more frequently and have smaller amounts of food and drinks that are easily digestible rather than having larger quantities in one go.
Eating And Drinking During Active Labour
Appetite of a pregnant woman will decrease as labor progresses. Eating small snacks or even just bites of easily digestible foods can help the pregnant woman during active labor and give her energy for childbirth. It’s always sensible to have a few options readily available.
In spite of these studies, women are frequently told by some doctors that they can’t eat or drink during labor, if there is a requirement for C-Section down the track. However, there is another group of doctors who encourage the pregnant women to eat and drink if they wish to do so.
When Is Eating Or Drinking Not Encouraged During Labor?
If the pregnant woman is under some painkillers like pethidine, diamorphine or if she has had an epidural, the bowel movement will be affected and therefore she will be asked not to eat anything and even drinking will be restricted to few sips of water or isotonic drinks. In addition, if there are any complications in delivery then the doctors will prefer IVs rather than oral food.
What If There Is A Caesarean Section?
Based on a hypothesis, eating and drinking during the labor is thought to be risky for a pregnant woman and her unborn baby. It states that if the pregnant woman needs general anesthesia in order to perform an emergency C-section, the food in the digestive track might be aspirated into the lungs thereby, increasing the chances of pneumonia and other significant health complications for the pregnant lady.
However these days, general anesthesia is quite rare, even in cases of emergency cesarean and the epidural is more commonly administered.
Even if in some cases a general anesthesia is given, the medical science nowadays is so well developed and there are several drugs which ensure nothing will get into the lungs.
How Does Drinking Help During Labor?
Just like any other intense physical activity, it’s especially important to stay hydrated during labor. Even when the pregnant woman no longer feels like eating, it is good to continue to take little sips of liquid in between contractions. She can assign someone attending to her during labor to keep offering her a drink every 15 minutes to ensure she stays hydrated. The person can bring a straw to the pregnant woman’s lips which will make it easier for her to consume the drink during labor.
Most women feel thirsty during labor and should be able to drink to their comfort level. Drinking is better than IVs as sipping through the dried mouth and throat will help her to feel better. Even if IVs are administrated, she can still sip water if she feels so.
What If Restriction On Eating And Drinking Are Unnecessarily Implemented?
If the pregnant woman feels like eating or drinking something, more or less it is her body’s physiological requirement. If these instincts are neglected (by concentrating more on the progress of labor), there are chances of the pregnant woman experiencing dehydration and low blood sugar levels. Restricting food intake during labor can also cause stress, nausea, vomiting and headaches.
Labor is a “laborious” process and lots of energy is required for the uterine muscles to contract and relax. This energy is provided by the glucose in the blood. When the labor prolongs and the glucose is not restored, the glucose in the blood will reduce significantly and the body will start to use its fat storage.
Breaking down of fats increases the ketone level, which in extreme cases, results in the dropping of the pH level of the blood dangerously low. This can lead to fetal distress.
Also, dehydration and low blood sugar result in less effective contraction, which again delays the delivery.
What To Eat And Drink During Labor?
It is advisable to eat and drink in small quantities during labor. A pregnant woman can sip a drink in between contractions during active labor. As mentioned above, it is wise to choose food that is easier on stomach and can be easily digested. Some of the food and drinks that can be had during labor are:
- Carbohydrates, which release energy slowly like dried fruits, cereal bars, banana, soup, honey sticks, toast with jam etc. These are good choices to have during labor
- Chicken or vegetable broth is a good choice to have during early labor. Go for homemade one with a little salt. Tinned one contains more sodium, which make the pregnant lady thirstier
- Soft, non-acidic fruits (non-acidic fruits include bananas, cantaloupe, grapefruit, apple, watermelon etc.)
- Fruit juice without pulp
- Coconut water, water, diluted apple juice, isotonic drinks are also good options
- Smoothies from non-acidic fruits
- Unsweetened yogurt
- Skimmed milk
What Foods To Avoid During The Labor?
- Avoid acidic food such as grape juice, orange juice etc
- Avoid the foods that are high in fat and fibers
- Avoid drinks with caffeine in it
- Highly aromatic foods
- Artificially flavored drinks and foods should be avoided
It is imperative to listen to body’s requirement as the body will be the best guide to what a pregnant woman should eat or drink irrespective of which phase of labor she is in.