Researchers have found that restricting food and drinks during labor does not benefit mothers in any way, according to a study published in The Cochcrane Library.

Many hospitals worldwide have policies that restrict foods and fluids once a woman has started the labor process. These policies are in place in the event that a cesarean section and general anesthesia is needed. However, researchers from the University of Liverpool in the UK say this procedure is “unwarranted.”

An analysis of five UK studies was conducted involving 3,130 women. All women were classed as low-risk for the need of general anesthetic throughout labor.

The researchers analyzed both mothers and newborns and compared those who had food and drink restrictions with those who did not have restrictions.

Three primary outcomes were reviewed for women:

  • A cesarean section
  • A vaginal birth
  • The mother’s satisfaction of the birth.

For the babies, the researchers reviewed APGAR score – a test that doctors and midwives use to evaluate the baby’s condition by scoring breathing effort, heart rate, muscle tone, reflexes and skin color. The researchers also analyzed babies’ blood glucose levels.

The results of the study revealed no differences in any of the outcomes measured, between women who ate and drank during labor, and those who did not.

Gillian Gyte, from Liverpool University’s department of women’s and children’s health and one of the authors of the Cochrane review, told Health Behavior News:

Our study found no difference in the outcomes measured, in terms of the babies’ wellbeing or the likelihood of a woman needing a C-section.

There is no evidence of any benefit to restricting what women eat and drink in labor.”

In the Cochrane review study, the authors say restrictions against food and drink during labor stem from 1946 research published in Gynecology. This found that women were suffering illness or death under general anesthetic for a C-section because the contents of their stomach were entering their lungs. After this, eating and drinking was considered too dangerous.

But modern cesarean techniques such as using regional anesthesia rather than general anesthetic have meant, the authors point out, that this risk “has become extremely small.”

The researchers say that although some women do not want to eat during the labor process, some women have “unpleasant and harrowing experiences” of food restriction. Women should, therefore, have a choice in whether or not they eat and drink during labor.

“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,” Gillian Gyte told Health Behavior News.

The researchers do acknowledge in their study, however, that these hospital restrictions have eased over the years. For example, a 2003 survey showed that 47% of women in the UK had access to food and drink during labor.

In the US, institutions such as the Mayo Clinic say that drinking fluids and eating light, healthy snacks during early labor may promote comfort.

The babycentre advises that carbohydrates are good to eat during labor as they can be easily digested while slowly releasing energy.