A noninvasive method to determine the actual stomach contents of parturients may help to identify factors responsible for delayed gastric emptying as well as define the risk of aspiration of gastric contents in individual patients. Therefore, we tested the ability of ultrasound imaging to identify noninvasively the stomach contents of laboring and nonlaboring pregnant volunteers. A preliminary study demonstrated that the stomach contents could be identified by ultrasound in 20 healthy volunteers and in 34 parturients, not yet in active labor, scanned after consuming liquids or solid food. Next, 39 parturients in active labor were scanned at varying postprandial times. Sixteen parturients in active labor who had not eaten for 8-24 h still had food detected in the stomach. In fact, nearly two-thirds of the patients in active labor who were scanned had solid food present in the stomach independent of the interval between last oral intake and the ultrasound scan. The present study demonstrates that high-resolution ultrasonography is capable of noninvasively identifying the stomach contents of parturients. These results confirm the clinical impression that emptying of the stomach is delayed for many hours after the onset of labor.