The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) recently decided to allow laboring women in hospitals to have clear fluids. Until now the ACOG has restricted laboring women to ice chips only. They still don't allow food, because there is a fear that if a woman were to need general anesthesia for an emergency cesarean there would be a possibility of aspiration if she didn't have an empty stomach. Still, I think the decision to allow fluids is a good step.
Giving birth is like running a marathon, and a woman's body needs as much healthy nourishment as it can get during such a physically demanding time. I ate and drank as much as I wanted to during the recent birth of my baby at home. It was a really nice change from the old ice chips I had in the hospital with the births of my other children.
I'd like to point out that this is simply a recommendation from ACOG, and individual care givers will still vary in their practices. It's important to have open communication with your doctor or midwife about your birth wishes. If you would like to have liquids while in labor, ask your care giver if he or she would allow it. Also keep in mind that you are in charge of your own birth, and you can change care givers if you are not comfortable with the one you are seeing, for any reason.
Here is an editorial on the matter: Doctors okay liquids in labor; woman imprisioned for disobeying doctor's orders