Why can’t I eat or drink in labor?

(Part 2 of “Why, why, why?”)

Let’s take being denied food and water as a prime example of asking why something must be done, since most hospitals today have that as their protocol. You may actually be already expecting it, and have never thought to question it. But now, ask yourself, “Why should I not get to eat or drink during labor? Why do I only get hard candy or ice chips?” Do you know? Really?

The real answer is that back half a century ago, most women were anesthetized during birth, many under general anesthesia, and anesthesia techniques were not as good as they are today, and many patients–not just pregnant women, but all people undergoing anesthesia for surgery–vomited and (being unconscious) inhaled the vomit. Many of them got sick, and some even died. Modern anesthesia techniques eliminate that possibility; so unless you have an incompetent anesthesiologist, this will not be a problem. Even if it were still a problem, the likelihood of you actually needing general anesthesia is very slim. Even if you need an “emergency C-section,” in most cases, it will be in reality an “unplanned C-section”–there will actually be plenty of time to place an epidural, which will allow you to remain conscious during the procedure. If you are awake, trust me, you will not inhale your vomit.

But you’re in the hospital, and you ask the nurse for some food because you’re hungry and it’s suppertime. “Oh, no,” she says, “you can’t eat in labor.” At this point you can say, “okay,” or you can say, “why?” She will probably say that it is hospital protocol, routine, or procedure, and hope you shut up. Do you say, “okay” or “why?” See–you may think you have been given an answer, but “this is what we always do” does not answer why you can’t eat. You are not a three year old child who cannot understand the reasonings of an adult. Many times, you will find that hospital answers to such questionings are basically the equivalent of “because I said so.” You deserve better. You are an intelligent adult, and should understand the logic behind the request, before just mutely submitting to it. So, in answer to your question, the nurse may say, “Well, you may vomit if you eat.” You can say, “I’ll take my chances–I’m really hungry!” She may still resist–and remember, most women just blindly follow hospital protocol, so this is a learning experience for her, too. She may speak of the danger of vomiting; but as I’ve already shown, the real danger is so miniscule as to be nonexistent. Think of it this way–there is a greater possibility of a driver getting into a wreck and needing emergency surgery under general anesthesia right after he finished his lunch (so a very full stomach), than of you needing the same. Yet there are obviously protocols in existence to minimize the risks of aspiration in those cases, so why should you be any different?

One further question–how do you think your doctor would react if you told him at your next prenatal appointment that you had worked outside all day without eating or drinking anything but a little hard candy and some ice chips? Your body is working very hard–hey, it’s called “labor” for a reason!–and needs fuel to continue. So ask your doctor or nurse why you should fast and become dehydrated at the end of your pregnancy, if it is dangerous during pregnancy. What athlete would compete in an endurance event without proper nutrition and hydration? Labor may last longer than a marathon, and you’re supposed to complete it without food or water?

4 Responses

  1. So TRUE! Eat if you are hungry, it can help you have the energy you need.

  2. I have never thought of it that way. Very thought provoking

  3. […] of food and fluids during labour (2.3). [Most hospitals have this as a strict policy. See my post for more on that, as well as read the WHO […]

  4. […] talks about (among other things) why you can’t eat or drink in labor; the downsides of epidurals; why doctors are so quick to call for a C-section; that doctors […]

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