My first birth took place in a hospital, with half of my labor happening at home while the other half of my 40-hour experience had me pacing the halls of my local labor ward, painfully aware of the presence of others, hooked up to an IV of antibiotics, and eventually succumbing to the suggestion of Pitocin I had so desperately wanted to avoid, which was recommended due to the fact that I was in labor for “too long.”
During my 40-hour birthing process, I was not allowed to eat.
40 hours. Almost two whole days. Even though half of my labor was spent in the comfort of my own home (before my water broke and I felt the dramatic need to rush to the hospital, just like in the movies), I didn’t eat while I was there either. Because the doctors told me not to.
I wasn’t sure why, at the time. After my first birth experience, when I went on to do more research (as so many mothers do, when the light switches on inside of us and we wonder: “What else don’t I know??”), I learned that this rule was in place because I might have needed anesthesia at some point during labor, and there was a statistically small chance that I may have aspirated on any food I had recently eaten.
I, an individual birthing woman, and so many other women having babies in hospitals like mine, were each forbidden from eating food for the length of our respective labors, because of a relatively tiny chance that we might inhale food into our lungs and end up with pneumonia.
When I first read that the concern was aspiration, I thought it made sense, sort of. Aspiration sounds scary. But when I learned that this issue was rare, and that the need for anesthesia during labor could be lowered with certain preventative measures, the fog lifted and I realized that the risk of disaster due to eating a snack during labor was minimal, and the benefits of nourishment for the marathon of birth outweighed any such risk.
During my subsequent homebirth, I ate eggs, spinach, tomatoes, bone broth, and a smoothie, among other nutrient-dense options. I ate early in my 24-hour labor, feasting on plates of snacks that my husband prepared for me while I breathed through my experience. The last 5-or-so hours of my homebirth were so intense that I couldn’t remember what food was, never mind eat it. But the calories I’d consumed earlier worked to fuel my strength throughout those last few hours, during which I om’d and gyrated my baby into this world, sitting on my toilet in my bathroom at home.
“New research” presented at an annual anesthesiology meeting has finally caught up with what evidence-based birthers have known for years. In a statement released on October 24th, 2015 by the American Society of Anesthesiologists, they say, “Most healthy women can skip the fasting and, in fact, would benefit from eating a light meal during labor… When researchers reviewed the literature of hundreds of studies on the topic, they determined that withholding food and liquids may be unnecessary for many women in labor.”
A co-author of the research that inspired this change also stated that “Physician anesthesiologists and obstetricians should work together to assess each patient individually.”
Assess each patient individually, rather than creating a potentially unnecessary, limiting, one-size-fits-all rule for all birthing women? Who’da thunk?