Background: Restricting fluids and foods during labour is common practice across many birth settings with some women only being allowed sips of water or ice chips. Restriction of oral intake may be unpleasant for some women, and may adversely influence their experience of labour.
Objectives: To determine the benefits and harms of oral fluid or food restriction during labour.
Search strategy: We searched the Cochrane Pregnancy and Childbirth Group's Trials Register (April 2009).
Selection criteria: Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) and quasi-RCTs of restricting fluids and food for women in labour compared with women free to eat and drink.
Data collection and analysis: Two authors independently assessed the studies for inclusion, assessed risk of bias and carried out data extraction.
Main results: We identified five studies (3130 women). All studies looked at women in active labour and at low risk of potentially requiring a general anaesthetic. One study looked at complete restriction versus giving women the freedom to eat and drink at will; two studies looked at water only versus giving women specific fluids and foods and two studies looked at water only versus giving women carbohydrate drinks.When comparing any restriction of fluids and food versus women given some nutrition in labour, the meta-analysis was dominated by one study undertaken in a highly medicalised environment. There were no statistically significant differences identified in: caesarean section (average risk ratio (RR) 0.89, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.63 to 1.25, five studies, 3103 women), operative vaginal births (average RR 0.98, 95% CI 0.88 to 1.10, five studies, 3103 women) and Apgar scores less than seven at five minutes (average RR 1.43, 95% CI 0.77 to 2.68, three studies, 2574 infants), nor in any of the other outcomes assessed. Women's views were not assessed. The pooled data were insufficient to assess the incidence of Mendelson's syndrome, an extremely rare outcome. Other comparisons showed similar findings, except one study did report a significant increase in caesarean sections for women taking carbohydrate drinks in labour compared with water only, but these results should be interpreted with caution as the sample size was small.
Authors' conclusions: Since the evidence shows no benefits or harms, there is no justification for the restriction of fluids and food in labour for women at low risk of complications. No studies looked specifically at women at increased risk of complications, hence there is no evidence to support restrictions in this group of women. Conflicting evidence on carbohydrate solutions means further studies are needed and it is critical in any future studies to assess women's views.