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Women in Labor May Be Fine Taking in Nourishment

Those who got protein shake fared no worse than women given ice chips only, researchers say
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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 labor.

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.

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