We had a great question come up in class on Friday, one that bears writing
about because at least one student every session plans to give birth at a
hospital where they are told to have a good meal before they come in, because
their food will be restricted or prohibited once they check into the labor and
To begin with, even having to ask that title question begs another question:
why are we asking permission? The female
body, left to it’s own devices, will naturally shut down appetite as the
serious work of labor progresses. Dr.
Bradley teaches to eat to appetite if you are hungry, drink if you are
thirsty. Even after mom is no longer
asking for water, Dr. Bradley admonishes coaches to keep mamas hydrated so that
the labor progresses with ample hydration to circulate all the hormones that
keep labor on track.
As students of natural birth, we know that as labor gets harder and moves
closer to birth, the body shuts down appetite because it needs to focus on the
work of labor, not digestion. If labor
is prolonged, maybe mom will want literally “a bite” of something: a bite of
banana, a bite of cheese, a bite of fruit, a couple of nuts, etc.; definitely
not a full meal. Since we had long
labors, we found that clear broths or simple soups (thin tomato soup in my
case) were a great compromise. Although
I wasn’t hungry, the liquids gave me a few calories to lend some energy to
continue to labor, while also meeting my hydration needs.
Science confirms that hospital policies need to catch up with evidence-based
care. Here are excerpts from the
Cochrane Review, plus two other articles for you to consider as you decide what
is best for your family.
From the review, “Restricting oral fluid and food intake during labour” 
In some cultures, food and drinks are consumed during labour for nourishment
and comfort to help meet the demands of labour. However, in many birth
settings, oral intake is restricted in response to work by Mendelson in the
1940s. Mendelson reported that during general anaesthesia, there was an
increased risk of the stomach contents entering the lungs. The acid nature of
the stomach liquid and the presence of food particles were particularly
dangerous, and potentially could lead to severe lung disease or death. Since
the 1940s, obstetrical anaesthesia has changed considerably, with better
general anaesthetic techniques and a greater use of regional anaesthesia. These
advances, and the reports by women that they found the restrictions unpleasant,
have led to research looking at these restrictions. In addition, poor
nutritional balance may be associated with longer and more painful labours, and
fasting does not guarantee an empty stomach or less acidity. This review looked
at any restriction of fluids and food in labour compared with women able to eat
and drink. The review identified five studies involving 3130 women. Most
studies had looked at specific foods being recommended, though one study let
women choose what they wished to eat and drink. The review identified no
benefits or harms of restricting foods and fluids during labour in women at low
risk of needing anaesthesia. There were no studies identified on women at
increased risk of needing anaesthesia. None of the studies looked at women's views
of restricting fluids and foods during labour. Thus, given these findings,
women should be free to eat and drink in labour, or not, as they wish.
From the Science Daily article, “Restricting Food and Fluids During Labor Is
Unwarranted, Study Suggests
"There should be no hospital policies which restrict fluids and foods in
labor; nor should formal guidelines tell women to take specific foods, such as
energy drinks," states one of the study's authors, Gillian ML Gyte,
M.Phil, of the department of women and children's health at the University of
Liverpool in the U.K.
She and her co-authors point out that prior research has shown that many women
in labor do not feel like eating, but for others the notion of long hours
without any food or drink can be anxiety provoking.” …
found no difference in the outcomes measured, in terms of the babies' wellbeing
or the likelihood of a woman needing a C-section," said Gyte. "There
is no evidence of any benefit to restricting what women eat and drink in labor."
The researchers also emphasize the value of allowing women to make choices
regarding these matters.
From the Science Daily article, “Eating and Drinking During Labor: Let Women
Decide, Review Suggests” 
Throughout much of the last century, eating and drinking during labour was
considered dangerous and many maternity units operated "nil by mouth"
policies or restricted what women in labour were allowed to eat and drink,
regardless of women's preferences. This was largely due to concerns about
possibly fatal damage to the lungs caused by "Mendelson's syndrome,"
where particles of regurgitated food are inhaled under general anaesthetic
during Caesarean sections. Recently, however, attitudes have begun to change
and in many maternity wards, particularly in the UK, women are now allowed to
eat and drink what they want during labour…
the evidence shows no benefits or harms, there is no justification for nil by
mouth policies during labour, provided women are at low risk of
complications," said lead researcher Mandisa Singata, who is based at the
East London Hospital Complex in East London, South Africa. "Women should
be able to make their own decisions about whether they want to eat or drink
during labour, or not."…
"While it is important to try to prevent Mendelson's syndrome, it is very
rare and not the best way to assess whether eating and drinking during labour
is beneficial for the majority of patients. It might be better to look at ways
of preventing regurgitation during anaesthesia for those patients who do
require it," she said.
So what is a couple to do when the hospital has a policy that restricts food
and drink during labor? Do you feel
confident in your choice to eat and drink? Do you want to circumvent the system by
bringing in “Coach’s Food”?
That is a very individual choice. You
can labor at home as long as possible and follow your own cues if you want to
prolong going to the hospital where your intake is going to be restricted. You can pack some “Coach’s Food” and
circumvent the system by snacking out of the coach’s cooler. You can do neither and go with the system. You can also talk to your care provider,
bring in the scientific literature, and see if they will sign off on a birth
plan that allows you to eat and drink in the hospital in spite of the
policy. Their hands may be tied, and it
may not be a possibility, however as the saying goes, you won’t know unless you
Did your birth place have a policy that restricted food and drink? What did you do; how did you handle it?
Please leave us a comment – it will be moderated and posted.
 Singata M, Tranmer J, Gyte GML. Restricting oral fluid and food intake
during labour. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2013, Issue 8. Art. No.:
CD003930. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD003930.pub3.
 Health Behavior News Service, part of the Center for Advancing Health
(2013, August 22). Restricting food and fluids during labor is unwarranted,
study suggests. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 10, 2013, from
 Wiley-Blackwell (2010, January 22). Eating and drinking during labor: Let
women decide, review suggests. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 10, 2013,
Disclaimer: The material included on this site is for informational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. The reader should always consult her or his healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation. Krystyna and Bruss Bowman and Bowman House, LLC accept no liability for the content of this site, or for the consequences of any actions taken on the basis of the information provided. This blog contains information about our classes available in Chandler, AZ and Payson, AZ and is not the official website of The Bradley Method®. The views contained on this blog do not necessarily reflect those of The Bradley Method® or the American Academy of Husband-Coached Childbirth®.