Photo: AP

London – Women having their first baby could see their labour reduced by more than an hour if they are hooked up to a glucose drip, a study suggests.

The idea is similar to the use of energy supplements to boost the performance of athletes, according to the researchers. Glucose helps muscles in the womb to contract, making contractions more regular and speeding up labour. This was found to work in a study of 200 first-time mothers who were induced and given a salt and water solution or one containing glucose.

Cutting the time of labour can also reduce the risk of complications. However experts say similar benefits from glucose can come from women being given water and sweets to keep their blood glucose levels up naturally.

Jelly babies, handed out to runners during marathons, could also work for new mothers. The Canadian research, from the University of Sherbrooke in Quebec, will be presented this week at the Society for Maternal-Foetal Medicine.

"We found that the median duration of labour was 76 minutes shorter in the group of women receiving glucose," said Dr Josianne Pare, of the university’s department of obstetrics and gynaecology.

Women were no more likely to have a caesarean or forceps delivery after being given glucose and their baby’s wellbeing was not affected.

Pare added: "Glucose supplementation therefore significantly reduces the total length of labour without increasing the rate of complication. This is great news for women experiencing induced labour."

There are few medical interventions known to shorten the length of labour in women giving birth.

The latest research looked at women given an induced labour, started artificially, which is the case for one in five new mothers in Britain every year.

Doctors can start labour with drugs, usually where a woman is past her due date or they have a health condition such as high blood pressure or their baby is failing to grow.

The researchers knew that muscle performance can be improved by glucose supplements, which boost the glucose broken down to provide energy as people exercise.

They wanted to know if adding it to the intravenous hydration solution that women receive during labour could achieve a similar effect.

They concluded that, given the low cost and safety of the method of intervention, glucose should be the solution of choice during labour.

However, the findings have been questioned by pregnancy charity Tommy’s, which has always recommended that women keep well hydrated with water and light snacks such as jelly baby sweets, to boost glucose levels.

Sophie King, a midwife for Tommy’s Information Service, said: "This is not a significant breakthrough. We have always known that consuming a small amount of glucose throughout labour can help the body fuel the demands of labour.

"Contractions become and remain more regular, the contractility of the muscles of the uterus are improved as they are aided by the glucose circulating the body."

She added: "Canulating for an IV infusion alone is an intervention, which if not medically necessary, can stall the natural progress of labour.

"Labour and birth is mostly a low-risk life event and unless medically indicated, should be allowed to progress without the use of intravenous fluids or medication."