Mrs. Jones is in labor and she is hungry. Should she be given some food to eat? The medical response to that question depends upon the era you are talking about. Until the mid-1940s, the answer would have been yes.

Mrs. Jones is in labor and she is hungry. Should she be given some food to eat?


The medical response to that question depends upon the era you are talking about. Until the mid-1940s, the answer would have been yes.


At that time, physicians did not believe there was anything wrong with women in labor eating food. It was theorized that the nourishment provided women with the much needed energy that was necessary as they would go through the birthing process.


In 1946, there was a report in the medical literature that some women during general anesthesia - not many - aspirated the food they recently ate, resulting in respiratory difficulties.


This resulted in the general recommendation that food and water be restricted during labor.


However, with advances in anesthesia and the increase use of local anesthesia, there has been a relaxation of the no-food rule.


In an attempt to better answer the food-or-no-food question, a recent report reviewed studies that compared pregnancy outcomes of more than 3,000 women who did and did not receive food during labor. All of these women were at a low risk of having pregnancy complications.


The results showed that there was neither any harm nor benefit of restricting food or water to these women during labor. The researchers who did the study concluded that there was no justification to restrict fluid and food in women in labor who had a low risk of complications.


But not everyone agrees with these conclusions.


Various obstetrical and anesthesia groups believe it is prudent to allow ice chips, clear water and other fluids, but to restrict food during labor. Their reasoning is the unpredictability of labor and not being certain which women might require anesthesia for a C-section or develop some type of unsuspected medical problem requiring immediate surgery.


What is interesting and perplexing to me is, although we have made so many scientific advances in medicine, such as transplanting almost any organ in the body, why can't medical science provide a more definite answer to a question that affects so many women?


Food or no food during labor remains a question.


Dr. Murray Feingold is the physician in chief of the National Birth Defects Center, medical editor of WBZ-TV and WBZ radio, and president of the Genesis Fund. The Genesis Fund is a nonprofit organization that funds the care of children born with birth defects, mental retardation and genetic diseases.