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Theoretically, women will no longer have to starve during childbirth. Findings from a study presented at the Anesthesiology 2013 Annual Meeting suggested that it is safe for women in labor to have a protein shake as opposed to the traditional ice chips according to Dr. Manual Vallejo, chairman of the Department of Anesthesiology at West Virginia School of Medicine.

150 pregnant women were divided into two groups. The first group received 325 cc of chocolate or a vanilla shake that contained 30 grams of protein during the course of labor and tolerated it well with the exception of a few patients who experienced nausea and vomiting. The second group received ice chips alone during the course of their labor and some members of that group experienced nausea as well. According to Vallejo, the first group expressed profound satisfaction with their labor experience which is not surprising. What was surprising was the myth that was dispelled about women in labor not being able to tolerate food.

Traditionally, women in labor were only allowed to have ice chips or gelatin for fear that any other type of food could potentially travel to their lungs (aka aspiration) which could prove deadly, especially if they had general anesthesia for an emergency cesarean section. The time food takes to empty the stomach is longer for a pregnant women, thus increasing their risk. However, with new anesthesia procedures and less use of general anesthesia, these risks have been reduced, thus introducing a new practice allowing laboring patients to have protein shakes that would theoretically give them more energy.

All of the laboring patients who had the protein shake had an epidural for anesthesia and their food remained in their stomachs six minutes longer than those who received ice chips which, according to Vallejo is not statistically significant.

Although Dr. Vallejo’s research will now have to be presented in a written journal to be evaluated by his peers before it can be considered a new standard of practice, having a protein shake during labor is certainly food for thought.