Eating and Drinking Instructions

Nothing by mouth (NPO)

When you are scheduled for surgery, you will hear the words “NPO” a lot. “NPO” is a Latin abbreviation that means “nothing by mouth.”

Eastern Maine Medical Center follows the guidance of the American Society of Anesthesiologists for fasting information before surgery. By using practices that are based on evidence and research, we provide you with the best care in the safest possible way.

You have probably wondered why you are asked to stop eating before surgery…

When you are having surgery, it is important that your stomach is empty to decrease the risk of aspirating (inhaling stomach contents into your lungs) while you are under anesthesia. This is a risk during surgery because your esophagus (the tube that carries food from your mouth to your stomach) is very close to your trachea (the “windpipe” that carries air into your lungs).

When should I stop eating before surgery?

You must not eat ANY solid food for at least eight hours before your surgery. In general, this means we ask you not to have anything to eat after midnight. Your last meal of the day before midnight should be small portions of food that are light and easy to digest (lean meat, eggs, cooked vegetables, white rice, toast, bananas, oatmeal).

Can I drink after midnight?

Yes! We encourage you to drink CLEAR liquids after midnight until 2 hours before surgery. During this time, you may drink a glass of a clear liquid every one to two hours, stopping two hours before your surgery starts.


Surgery Starts at: Do NOT eat anything after: Do NOT drink anything after:
7am Midnight 5am
11am Midnight 9am
1pm Midnight 11am
3pm Midnight 1pm

What is a clear liquid?

Clear liquids are easily digested, contain no bits of food particles, leave no residue, and may have color as long as you are able to see through them. They help keep you hydrated and provide energy when a full diet isn't possible.

Approved Clear Liquids:

  • Water
  • Apple juice, white cranberry juice, white grape juice
  • Kool Aid and Crystal Light
  • Pedialyte, Gatorade, and Powerade
  • Plain tea or black coffee (sugar or artificial sweetener is ok, but do NOT add honey, milk, or cream)

DO NOT drink:

  • Any dairy products (NO milk, cream, liquid or powdered creamers)
  • Any juice with pulp (NO orange juice, grapefruit juice, purple or red grape juice)
  • Energy drinks

IMPORTANT! If you have difficulty swallowing and normally take medications with applesauce or ice cream, please do not take your medication this way the day of surgery.

Instead, discuss other options with your nurse during your pre-surgical phone call.

DO NOT drink alcohol within 24 hours of arrival to the hospital.

To prevent risk of aspiration and the harm it may cause, if you have eaten or had anything to drink outside of these guidelines, your surgery may need to be rescheduled. If you are having a procedure that requires different fasting guidelines, this will be discussed with you during the POSH phone call or visit.

Certain procedures may require special eating and drinking instructions before surgery. For example, patients having colonoscopy, weight-loss, or bowel surgery, may be instructed to adhere to a clear liquid diet for a longer period of time. Patients having bowel surgery may be given a special clear liquid carbohydrate drink to have just prior to 2 hours of their surgery start time.

For certain procedures, you may be asked to avoid clear liquids that are red or purple.

If you received special instructions from your surgeon, be sure to follow these carefully. If you have questions about eating and drinking before surgery, please call Perioperative Surgical Home at 207.973.5456

Medicines to take

A specialist from the Perioperative Surgical Home (POSH) clinic will go over your medications with you and make sure you understand what to take and what not to take the night before and morning of your surgery.