Intended for healthcare professionals


Effect of food intake during labour on obstetric outcome: randomised controlled trial

BMJ 2009; 338 doi: (Published 25 March 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;338:b784
  1. Geraldine O’Sullivan, consultant anaesthetist1,
  2. Bing Liu, research associate2,
  3. Darren Hart, agenda for change midwife3,
  4. Paul Seed, senior lecturer in medical statistics2,
  5. Andrew Shennan, professor of obstetrics2
  1. 1Department of Anaesthesia, St Thomas’ Hospital, Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, London SE1 7EH
  2. 2Maternal and Fetal Research Unit, King’s College London, London SE1 7EH
  3. 3Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust
  1. Correspondence to: A Shennan andrew.shennan{at}
  • Accepted 17 December 2008


Objective To investigate the effect of feeding during labour on obstetric and neonatal outcomes.

Design Prospective randomised controlled trial.

Setting Birth centre in London teaching hospital.

Participants 2426 nulliparous, non-diabetic women at term, with a singleton cephalic presenting fetus and in labour with a cervical dilatation of less than 6 cm.

Intervention Consumption of a light diet or water during labour.

Main outcome measures The primary outcome measure was spontaneous vaginal delivery rate. Other outcomes measured included duration of labour, need for augmentation of labour, instrumental and caesarean delivery rates, incidence of vomiting, and neonatal outcome.

Results The spontaneous vaginal delivery rate was the same in both groups (44%; relative risk 0.99, 95% confidence interval 0.90 to 1.08). No clinically important differences were found in the duration of labour (geometric mean: eating, 597 min v water, 612 min; ratio of geometric means 0.98, 95% confidence interval 0.93 to 1.03), the caesarean delivery rate (30% v 30%; relative risk 0.99, 0.87 to 1.12), or the incidence of vomiting (35% v 34%; relative risk 1.05, 0.9 to 1.2). Neonatal outcomes were also similar.

Conclusions Consumption of a light diet during labour did not influence obstetric or neonatal outcomes in participants, nor did it increase the incidence of vomiting. Women who are allowed to eat in labour have similar lengths of labour and operative delivery rates to those allowed water only.

Trial registration Current Controlled Trials ISRCTN33298015.


  • We are indebted to the mothers, midwives, anaesthetists, and obstetricians at St Thomas’ Hospital for their cooperation and consistent support.

  • Contributors: GO’S and AS successfully applied for the funding for this project. BL and DH ran the trial. BL and PS analysed the data. AS is the guarantor.

  • Funding: This study was supported by a grant from the Obstetric Anaesthetists’ Association and the Special Trustees of the St Thomas’ Hospital. AS is supported by Tommy’s—The Baby Charity.

  • Competing interests: None declared.

  • Ethical approval: The research protocol was reviewed and approved by the Local Ethics Committee.

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

View Full Text