For years, pregnant women were banned from consuming anything beyond ice chips and water during labor and delivery. However, new research now suggests that women can safely consume another form of sustenance while giving birth: a protein shake.

Historically, women have been discouraged from eating food during labor because of the risk for aspiration in the event that they require an emergency cesarean section.

“Because they lose their protective reflexes (under anesthesia), including gag reflex, whatever is in the stomach could be aspirated into the lungs,” study author Dr. Manuel C. Vallejo, professor and chair of the department of anesthesiology at the West Virginia University School of Medicine, told FoxNews.com. “That could be deadly for the moms.”

Despite these concerns, Vallejo wondered if women might benefit from consuming something more substantial than just ice and water, because labor and delivery is such a physically demanding process.

“Labor is an aerobic activity; it’s very strenuous, and some moms can labor up to 18 hours, so to restrict them to just ice chips and water isn’t natural,” Vallejo told FoxNews.com. “What we’d like to do is give them sustenance.”

In a study presented at the Anesthesiology 2013 Annual Meeting, Vallejo evaluated 150 pregnant women to see whether protein shakes improved their overall labor experience or reduced nausea and vomiting – a common side effect during the delivery process. Previous studies had shown that consuming protein helped reduce nausea and vomiting in chemotherapy patients.

Researchers gave half of the women in the study only ice chips and water during labor, while the other half received a 325-mL, 160-calorie Premier Nutrition Protein Shake in addition to ice and water. The shake contained 30 grams of protein, 1 gram of sugar, eight amino acids and 24 vitamins and minerals.

Overall, women who drank protein shakes reported higher maternal satisfaction throughout the delivery process, compared to women who only consumed ice chips and water. However, the shakes did not significantly reduce incidences of nausea and vomiting. Additionally, protein shakes did not appear to pose any significant risk for aspiration compared to ice chips or water.

“We had one woman who two minutes (after drinking the protein shake), we had to do a ‘hurry-up’ C-section (on), and everything was good,” Vallejo said. “Furthermore, the protein shakes did not appear to present any significant risk for aspiration compared to water or ice chips, likely because it exits the stomach fairly quickly after consumption.”

Though laboring women should consult with their physicians prior to drinking a protein shake, Vallejo said it should be safe for most healthy mothers, and it could make the overall labor and delivery experience much more pleasant.

“To have a baby is one of life’s most memorable events, not only in mom’s life but in dad’s, so we need to make it a positive experience,” Vallejo said. “And for a mom to have control and sustenance, if there’s no harm to having the protein drink, if it increases maternal satisfaction without causing maternal complications, it should be available.”