Women in labor might not have to worry about their hunger anymore. A new study has found that women who drank protein shakes fared comparably to those who only consumed the standard ice chips with regards to physical side effects. Yet their satisfaction during the ordeal was much higher.

“We've found that not being able to eat or have any type of sustenance during labor and delivery is tough on the mom, who can labor for a long time. And, labor is like an aerobic exercise. By taking in extra calories, it helps ease the feeling of starvation and moms can feel better,” Dr. Manuel C. Vallejo, professor and chair of the Department of Anesthesiology at the West Virginia School of Medicine, told HealthDay.

Adverse events that typically occur during include nausea and vomiting. Women are restricted from eating to prevent such events, but the practice dates back more than 50 years ago, when general anesthesia during labor risked aspiration of food and drink into the lungs — an event that could prove fatal. But forcing women, who can endure hours of labor, to forgo any nutrition can cause added stress.

To alleviate this, the researchers tested a protein shake, which also included a little sugar, amino acids, and vitamins and minerals, on about 75 women. These women also consumed ice chips and water for the duration of their labor. Another 75 women were only given ice chips and water. The researchers found that both groups of women felt nausea and vomited at the same rate. Both groups also fared comparably with stomach emptying rates. However, when it came to patient satisfaction, those who drank the protein shakes were more satisfied.

“Labor is like a marathon, and it puts an unparalleled stress on women’s bodies,” Dr. Ashley Roman, an obstetrician and gynecologist at NYU Langone Medical Center, told HealthDay. “It’s nice to know that we can give women more than ice chips and water during labor. It’s nice to know we can give them something caloric.”

The researchers suggested that physicians allow healthy, low-risk patients get protein shakes to increase satisfaction. “This study suggests that more liberal general guidelines regarding what a mother can eat and drink during labor should be considered,” Dr. Vallejo said in a statement. “Doctors should feel comfortable, at least, replacing ice chips and water with high protein shakes to increase patient satisfaction.”

The study was presented at the Anesthesiology 2013 Annual Meeting, held by the American Society of Anesthesiologists.