19/01/2010 13:12 GMT | Updated 22/05/2015 06:12 BST

Study Recommends End To 'Nil By Mouth' During Labour

New research has overturned years of perceived best practice by many maternity hospitals who ban pregnant women from eating and drinking during labour.

It had been feared that eating and drinking could pose potentially fatal dangers for women who needed general anaesthetic.

However, findings of the Cochrane Systematic Review suggest that the time has come to look again at the policy which dates back to a time when general anesthetic was used more commonly during labour.

Lead researcher Mandisa Singata, said, "Since the evidence shows no benefits or harms, there is no justification for nil by mouth policies during labour, provided women are at low risk of complications,"

"Women should be able to make their own decisions about whether they want to eat or drink during labour, or not."

These latest recommendations revert back to the advice given to women before the 1950's, when a single study suggesting possible dangers associated with eating during labour meant that in many hospitals women were no longer given that choice.

It had been thought that the potentially fatal "Mendelson's syndrome", whereby particles of regurgitated food are inhaled into the lungs under general anaesthetic, could be prevented by restricting food intake during labour.

Although it is unlikely that anyone in the full throws of established labour is likely to feel inclined to tuck into a three course dinner, giving birth can be a long, exhausting process and the energy provided by a light snack may help mothers to keep going.

There are some who even believe that eating and drinking can 'get things moving' in a birth which isn't progressing.

In fact the 'nil by mouth' policy can have its own problems and dangers

As well as the possible stress caused to mothers who want to eat and drink, but aren't allowed, restricting intake during labour can cause dehydration and ketosis.

The amount of advice now given to women during pregnancy can be confusing, and there is an almost daily stream of new studies and latest research.

Here at least is some advice which points towards allowing low-risk mothers the confidence to trust their own instincts when making decisions for labour.

Do you think mothers have enough say in what happens during childbirth, or should decisions be left up to medical experts?