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Research has found that it's perfectly safe for most healthy women to eat during labour.
Eating a light diet during labour has no effect on the need for assisted delivery, the duration of labour or Caesarean rates. It's usual in most hospitals to prevent eating during labour to minimise the risk of complications if surgery is required.
Some doctors have previously advised women not to eat during labour to minimise the risk that they would breathe food into their lungs should they need an emergency caesarean under general anaesthetic but due to the increased use of local anaesthesia for caesarean deliveries, this is probably too cautious an approach now.
A team from King's College focused on 2,426 healthy women having their first baby. Each women was either allowed small, regular amounts of food during labour, such as bread, fruit and yoghurt, or water only. The natural birth rate for both groups was the same, at 44%. Average duration of labour was also similar, 597 minutes for the eating group, and 612 minutes for the water only group. The caesarean rate was also the same - 29% for the eating group, and 30% for the water group. And in both groups around one in three women vomited during labour. There were also no differences in the condition of the babies at birth.
The researchers, led by Professor Andrew Shennan, said there was no genuine reason to deny women food during labour.
Current guidelines from the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommend that low risk women in normal labour may eat and drink.
Dr Virginia Beckett, a consultant obstetrician and spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, stressed that it was not a good idea for those who were at higher risk, such as women who were obese and that women using pethidine to reduce pain during labour, should also avoid food
Dr Beckett said: "We would not want women to be sitting there eating a roast dinner, but it is reasonable to suggest it is safe for low-risk women to eat small amounts of preferably liquid food during labour."
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