There is no evidence that eating in the hours leading up to the birth causes harm to them or their baby, researchers believe.
In the past women have been discouraged from eating during labour.
Doctors were worried that there could be complications if the expectant mothers went on to require surgery.
There have also been suggestions that eating, or drinking in large quantities, could impede the course of the birth.
However, in recent years many labour wards in Britain have allowed women to eat and drink as much as they want, a policy which is perfectly safe, according to a review of available evidence.
The review, published by the respected Cochrane Library, found that there were no extra risks.
They recommend that women should be allowed to eat and drink as they want, especially if they are at a low risk of complications.
Previously doctors have been concerned that patients who ate during labour could develop Mendelson’s syndrome, which can cause potentially fatal damage to the lungs.
The rare complication happens if pieces of regurgitated food are inhaled when patients are under general anaesthetic, for example during a Caesarean section operation.
The review looked at five studies involving a total of 3,130 women, around half of whom were allowed to eat or drink and half who were not.
They found no benefit from limiting food or water, especially in the number of Caesareans needed, a key indicator of labour progression.
“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,” said Mandisa Singata, from the East London Hospital in East London, South Africa, who led the study.
“Women should be able to make their own decisions about whether they want to eat or drink during labour, or not.”
However, the team admit that they did not look specifically at women with a high risk of complications.
Further research is need before recommendations for this group can be made, they say.
They add that while it is important to prevent Mendelson’s syndrome, this could be achieved in other ways than limiting eating.
By Kate Devlin, Medical Correspondent