Birthowl’s natural childbirth

Eating during labour?

The involuntary fast

Veggie Sandwich

Excerpts from Ina May Gaskin’s “Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth”

You may wonder about weather you should eat or drink in labour. Many hospitals place restrictions on eating and drinking once you have been admitted. Some maintain a strict policy of denying anything by mouth. The reasons for this are historical rather than scientific. The fear behind this policy is that if a woman should need a cesarean section under general anaesthesia, she might vomit and inhale some of the food into her lungs while she is unconscious from the anaesthesia. Those who devised this policy hoped that restricting food and drink during labour would guarantee that there would be nothing to vomit in those rare cases when general anaesthesia was used.

However, subsequent research has shown that restricting food and drink after hospital admission does not guarantee an empty stomach. When you are in labour, digestion happens slower than usual, so the food you ate several hours before coming to the hospital is likely to still be in your stomach. In addition, even when your stomach has been “empty” for hours, it will still secrete gastric juices, and these can be vomited and inhaled under anaesthesia. This kind of inhalation can burn the lining of the lungs or cause aspiration pneumonia, a serious disease.

…Be sure to drink a lot while in labour and to pee every hour or so. Drinking a lot will prevent dehydration as you labour. It also prompts the need to pee, which will send you to the toilet. This is good, because you likely have a conditioned response that causes your pelvic muscles to relax when you sit on the toilet. This will increase pressure against your cervix if you are still dilating or help descent of the baby if you are pushing.

…Labour is the only hard work that people do that carries a medical prohibition against eating and drinking. i think that much of the “uterine dysfunction” noted in hospitals can be attributed to low blood-glucose levels caused by fasting for a number of hours.

…In fact, I think that some women require nourishment in labour. I always did. I never had a baby in less than twelve hours, and each time, rather late in labour, I needed a tofu salad sandwich and regular gulps of water in order to feel strong and relatively comfortable. in some births I have attended, I know that a few bites of food gave the mother the strength she needed to push her baby out without forceps or a vacuum extractor.

…Many women never feel hungry in labour, and their labour progresses so quickly that eating would be bothersome for them. If labour is progressing well and the mother does not want to eat, I find it best to honor her wishes. She knows what is best for her. On the other hand, many women, particularly those having her first babies, may be in labour far longer than six hours. My partners and I always provide food for labouring women when they express a desire to eat.

…The strangest request I have encountered was that of a first-time mother who-just before pushing-asked her husband for a jar of peanut butter and proceeded to eat two heaping spoonfuls. She then washed the peanut butter down with nearly a quart of raspberry leaf tea and pushed her baby out. I was impressed.

Photo by Greg Hirson

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