SATURDAY, Oct. 12 (HealthDay News) -- There may be good news for
moms-to-be: A new study finds that women in labor and delivery may
not have to forgo all nutrition or rely solely on ice chips to
rehydrate, as is typically the case now.
Researchers say that allowing women to drink a protein shake
during labor actually led to higher satisfaction rates among the
"We've found that not being able to eat or have any type of sustenance during labor and delivery is tough on the mom, who can labor for a long time. And, labor is like an aerobic exercise. By taking in extra calories, it helps ease the feeling of starvation and moms can feel better," said the study's senior author, Dr. Manuel Vallejo, a professor and chair of the department of anesthesiology at the West Virginia University School of Medicine in Morgantown, W.V. Vallejo was working at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center at the time of the study.
Dr. Ashley Roman, an obstetrician and gynecologist at NYU
Langone Medical Center in New York City, agreed that labor is akin
to serious exercise.
"Labor is like a marathon, and it puts an unparalleled stress on women's bodies," she said. "It's nice to know that we can give women more than ice chips or water during labor. It's nice to know we can give them something caloric."
Results of the study were scheduled for presentation on Saturday
at the annual meeting of the American Society of Anesthesiologists
in San Francisco. Findings presented at medical meetings are
typically considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed
Since the 1940s, women have been restricted to a minimal amount
of ice chips and water while they're in labor, according to
background information in the study. There were several reasons for
this practice. One was a concern that emptying of the stomach would
be delayed when women were in labor, and that slow digestion could
lead to nausea and vomiting during labor or delivery. Another
concern was that if a woman needed general anesthesia at any point
during labor or delivery, that any food or liquid present in the
stomach could be breathed (aspirated) into the lungs.
Improved general anesthetic techniques have reduced the risk of
aspiration, and the use of general anesthesia during childbirth is
much rarer now, according to both Vallejo and Roman.
Still, the practice of limiting women to ice chips -- or in some
hospitals clear liquids, which includes Jell-O -- leaves laboring
women hungry, and possibly dehydrated or with low blood sugar
levels, the study authors said.
According to Vallejo, prior research had suggested that protein
shakes containing 30 grams of protein given during chemotherapy
helped lessen nausea and vomiting for cancer patients. That made
his team wonder if a protein shake would have a similar effect on
the nausea and vomiting that many women experience during
Their study included 150 women who underwent epidural
anesthesia, a regional anesthetic that numbs just certain areas of
the body. Aspiration isn't a concern with an epidural.
The women were randomly assigned to be given a protein shake and
ice chips or water as they wanted, or just ice chips or water.
Vallejo's team found no significant differences in rates of
nausea and vomiting between the two groups. What they did find was
a greater level of satisfaction in the group that received the
protein shake during early labor.
The researchers looked at another 18 women -- half who received
a protein shake and ice chips or water, and half who just received
ice chips and water -- and measured how quickly their stomachs
emptied during labor. Vallejo said it was about 20 minutes for ice
chips or water and about 26 for the protein shake. He said this
isn't a big enough difference to be concerned about.
"In patients who are otherwise healthy, we should have a more liberal policy on what women can have during labor. A clear liquid diet or a protein shake should be OK," Vallejo said.
Roman agreed. "I think most places are already offering clear
liquids during low-risk labor," she said. "But this study does have
the potential to change practice in that it gives reassurance, and
it has the potential to improve patient satisfaction and also make
patients more comfortable."
She added that low-risk moms include those who haven't had a
prior surgical delivery (cesarean-section), women carrying one baby
that's normal in size, and women who are not having problems with
the progression of labor.
Learn more about what to expect during childbirth from the
U.S. National Library of Medicine.
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