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Eating during labour OK for some: review

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Women should be allowed to eat and drink during labour if they are at low risk of complications, say researchers who reviewed studies on the subject.

Women should be allowed to eat and drink during labour if they are at low risk of complications, say researchers who reviewed studies.

Since the 1940s, women have been discouraged from eating during labour because doctors worried there could be complications if she needed anesthesia for surgery.

“The review identified no benefits or harms of restricting foods and fluids during labour in women at low risk of needing anesthesia,” the team concluded in Wednesday’s online issue of the U.K.-based, non-profit Cochrane Reviews, an international publication that reviews health information.

Mandisa Singata of the East London Hospital Complex in East London, South Africa, led a review of five studies on a total of 3,130 women.

“Women should be able to make their own decisions about whether they want to eat or drink during labour, or not,” Singata said in a release.

Previously, doctors had been concerned that women who ate during labour could develop Mendelson’s syndrome. It could cause potentially fatal damage to the lungs if particles of regurgitated food are inhaled under general anesthetic during caesarean sections.

Mendelson’s syndrome is rare, and it might be better to look at preventing regurgitation during anesthesia rather than restricting food and drink, Singata said.

The reviewers did not look at women at high risk of complications.

The practice of withholding food and liquids once labour starts has come into question, and is “not supported in the literature,” the Public Health Agency of Canada’s website notes in guidelines on maternity and newborn care.

The agency called for decisions to be made on an individual basis, in consultation with the woman.

The question is ripe for a controlled trial, the guidelines said.

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