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In The News:
Avoiding Food, Drink During Labor Holds 'No Benefit' for Women, Review Says

National Partnership for Women & Families
January 27, 2010

There is no evidence to support the widespread practice of not allowing women in labor to eat or drink, according to a systematic review published last week by the Cochrane Collaboration, the New York Times reports. For many years, women have been told not to eat or drink, regardless of the length of time they are in labor, to reduce the risk of Mendelson's syndrome. The syndrome can occur if the contents of the woman's stomach are drawn into the lungs while she is under general anesthesia. Mendelson's can be fatal, but the use of general anesthesia during labor and delivery today is rare. Caesarean sections typically are performed using regional anesthesia.

Joan Tranmer, associate professor of nursing at Queen's University in Ontario and author of the review, said, "With improved anesthetic techniques, we don't do general anesthesia a lot anymore," adding that even when anesthesia is necessary, the techniques have improved, making the risk for Mendelson's "very, very low."

Study authors analyzed 11 studies, which included five randomized controlled trials that incorporated 3,130 women who were in active labor and at low risk of needing anesthesia. Tranmer said the review found "no benefit" to restricting oral food and fluid during labor. However, the authors acknowledged that they found relatively few studies to analyze.

Certain hospitals recently have lifted restrictions on drinking during labor because of guidelines issued last August by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. The guidelines maintained the restrictions on solid foods. William Henry Barth, chair of ACOG's committee on obstetrics practices, said, "The problem is going to be for emergency c-sections, which are rare but not unheard of." He added, "There's just not time in that setting to stop and do regional anesthesia. And it can be unpredictable" (Rabin, New York Times, 1/26).

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