Attention, Pregnant Women: You Can Eat During Labor

Photographed by Guang Xu.
Moms-to-be (and those who love them), take note. New research suggests a major shift in thinking about one of the biggest annoyances about giving birth: not being allowed to eat while you're in labor.

Like any real American, this writer learned about the intricacies of childbirth from the first season finale of Friends — in which Carol, Ross' ex-wife, gives birth. One detail that stayed with me long after my circa-first-grade viewing is the moment when Carol asks if she can have something to eat and is rebuffed by the handsome male obstetrician: "Ice chips. Only ice chips." That's weird, I thought to my seven-year-old self. But I quickly accepted it as fact: Women in labor just weren't allowed to eat.

The thing is, this "rule" was simply a precaution; doctors feared women who ate during labor would aspirate their food and die. However, a new study, presented at the American Society of Anesthesiologists' annual conference, may have proven that handsome sitcom doctor — and countless others — wrong.

Between 2005 and 2013, the study's authors found only one woman who actually died from eating during labor, and she had some very serious preexisting conditions. Women whose pregnancies have been free of complications, on the other hand, should feel safe to eat what the researchers call a "light meal," or "fruit, light soups, toast, light sandwiches (no large slices of meat), juice and water."

The researchers behind the study also pointed out just how much energy (a.k.a. calories) women have to use while giving birth; they compare laboring moms' efforts to those of marathon runners. Plus, it's difficult, if not impossible, to predict how long labor will last. So under the old "rules," you could end up trying to perform the greatest physical feat of your life for hours or even days while running on only fumes and good ol' ice chips. Thus, the researchers urge, doctors shouldn't only change the "rule" because there's not much risk, but also because women in labor need those calories and that energy in order to, you know, give birth. (They don't call it "labor" because it's easy.)

Finally, our fear of childbirth-related hanger has been alleviated. Now if someone could come up with a way to avoid pooping on the table, we'd be golden.
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