It is important for the woman to keep drinking (and to a lesser degree eating) when in labour. Especially during the prelabour and the early phases of the 1st stage of labour, and continuing in small amounts for the rest of the 1st stage and the 2nd stages of the labour. The woman's body needs continual fuel (food) and water to keep her energised, and for the contractions to remain strong and regular.
As the labour progresses, and becomes more intense, the woman's desire for food normally decreases. She will then generally rely on small sips of fluid, or sucking ice chips or lollies (sweets) between each, or every other contraction. This is something your partner / support person will need to constantly remind you to do. Some women can't bear the thought of eating and drinking, needing encouragement to continue, while others may have frequent light snacks and gulps of fluid often.
There are still some hospitals that restrict women from eating in labour, allowing only ice chips. Others will even restrict fluids, in the belief that they the woman may have to go to the operating theatre at any time (and should have an empty stomach). The research does not support this claim, with any risks of complications due to having eaten, being similar to women who have not eaten. Modern techniques in anaesthesia have meant that women who eat and drink during labour are at no more risk of breathing in stomach contents (called aspiration) than women who fast.
If you are prevented from eating and drinking (and you are hungry or thirsty) you are more at risk of ketosis (or slow progress), with the interventions and complications that can follow. If this is the case, suck on glucose lollies, or have a teaspoon of honey, or sips of mineral waters or flavoured sports drinks to keep ketosis at bay. Ideally women should be able to respond to their appetite and thirst, only being encouraged (or reminded) to have fluids but not force-fed!
Last revised: Friday, 9 May 2014
This article contains general information only and is not intended to replace advice from a qualified health professional.