Fasting During Pregnancy: What Are The Major Risks Involved?

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Lent, Ramadan, and Shivaratri are some of the few occasions when people fast. These events may coincide with your pregnancy period at some point. If you are pregnant and want to fast, then one inevitable doubt you have is: Is fasting during pregnancy safe?

Studies say that fasting, especially during pregnancy, may have long-term effects for the baby in later life (1). Keep reading this MomJunction post to understand how fasting can have an impact on the mother and the baby.

Is Fasting During Pregnancy Safe?

There is no clear answer to this since there is no research on how fasting during pregnancy can affect the mother or the baby.

However, some studies report that babies born to mothers who fasted during pregnancy may have to deal with health implications in later life (2).

Please note that fasting during summer months may lead to headaches, exhaustion, acidity, and dizziness since the days are hot, long and humid. There is also a possibility of dehydration.

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How Does Fasting During Pregnancy Affect The Baby In The Womb?

Although fasting will not affect the baby in the womb, it can have long-term outcomes. Research has revealed two hypotheses concerning the fetal effects (3).

  1. Lower birth weight babies: Under-nutrition associated with fasting during pregnancy can affect the fetal growth. Also, the organs that are developing will be permanently impaired. This can happen due to the insufficiency of nutrients. The after-effects that can develop in later life include kidney problems and risk of type 2 diabetes (which could lead to coronary heart disease).
  1. Cognitive impairment: Nutritional restrictions during fasting can elevate the levels of cortisol hormone, which can result in cognitive impairment in children.

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[ Read: Symptoms Of Dehydration In Pregnancy ]

Should Pregnant Women Fast During Ramadan?

Pregnant women should try to avoid fast during Ramadan as they may put their baby’s health at risk. Moreover, if Ramadan falls in summer, it is challenging to stay without food and water from dawn until sunset. It is always good to seek advice from the doctor before you think of it (4).

The Islamic law also permits pregnant women to skip fasting but make up for it by feeding the poor or donating food to someone (5).

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Is Intermittent Fasting Safe During Pregnancy?

Intermittent fasting may pose a danger to both the mother and the baby as the shortened eating window can stimulate weight loss. Though studies say that this type of fasting plays a prominent role in improving metabolism, curbing inflammation and boosting cellular protection (6), the risks involved with it far outweigh the benefits.

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Tips For Safe Fasting During Pregnancy

Continuous fasting for an extended period may not be advisable but if you want to fast for a few days in between, here are a few tips to follow:

  1. Before you begin fasting, drink a lot of water and fresh fruit juices to keep yourself hydrated throughout the day.
  1. Since your body will be deprived of food the entire day, gobbling down heavy foods (such as fried chicken) on an empty stomach won’t really be good for your baby.
  1. Eat two to three types of fruits. They are rich in natural sugars and minerals, which will help maintain energy levels. Milk and coconut water are excellent sources of nutrients.
  1. Avoid walking long distances and indulging in any other physical activities while fasting to avoid getting tired. Try to stay indoors during the fasting period.
  1. The body has a good way of giving you signs when something is wrong. If you experience any strange symptoms during your fasting period, break the fast immediately.
  1. Avoid foods with high sugars and caffeinated drinks (such as tea and coffee).
  1. Avoid any kind of stress building activities, and try to stay calm. Those who fast are found to have higher stress levels.

If you think you can manage to fast with these tips, find out how to prepare for fasting next.

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How Should You Prepare For Fasting?

Planning is essential to make fasting easier during this season:

  • Limit your intake of addictive and habitual substances one to two weeks before you begin fasting. They could be tea, coffee, soda, cigarettes or alcohol. This will mitigate the chances of withdrawal symptoms you might experience while fasting, and also reduce toxins in the body.
  • Make changes to your diet one or two weeks before you begin fasting. Cut down on refined sugar, high fat, baked foods, chocolates, and candies. Reduce the consumption of meat and dairy products; instead, have more of raw or cooked fruits and vegetables.
  • Have lots of liquids including water, vegetable and fruit juices. They keep your body hydrated for quite some time.
  • Get enough sleep at night so that the body gets accustomed to a routine and takes to fasting during the daytime.
  • Have a health check-up to understand if there are any possible complications such as anemia or gestational diabetes. Once you start fasting, you should go for frequent check-ups to monitor blood sugar levels.
  • Talk to your employer regarding your work management – whether taking work from home option or reducing working hours so that you do not have to spend a lot of time outdoors.

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[ Read: Lemon Water During Pregnancy ]

What Are The Warning Signs When Fasting?

You should end the fast when you start to experience the following symptoms:

  • Gaining or losing weight.
  • Reduced frequency of urination or dark colored urine that could be a sign of dehydration.
  • Constipation, indigestion, headaches, lethargy, fever, nausea and vomiting.
  • A decrease in baby movements or labor like pain

If the symptoms are not worrisome, you can continue fasting, but follow a routine when breaking the fast, and eat healthily.

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What Is The Best Way To Break The Fast?

Break the fast with a variety of healthy foods and drinks. When it comes to Ramadan, you can consume at Suhoor (meal at pre-dawn) and Iftar (meal at dusk).

  • Include complex carbohydrates (such as whole grains and seeds, oats,brown breads, dalia), high-dietary fiber foods (vegetables, pulses, and dried fruits). They offer high energy and prevent constipation.
  • Cut down sugary foods as they elevate the blood sugar levels, causing dizziness.
  • Choose healthier options such as chickpeas and potatoes instead of high-fat and refined foods.
  • Eggs, meat, fish, paneer, mushroom, nuts, and beans offer protein that supports your baby’s growth.
  • Consume plenty of water and fluids between meals, and avoid caffeinated drinks.

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Still Not Sure If You Should Fast? What You Should Do

If you are unsure about taking up the fast, you should:

  • Ask your healthcare provider for a complete health check-up.
  • Get advice from the priest or Islamic sheik to help you make the right decision.
  • Try fasting for a day or two and check for yourself if you can sustain.

In case complete or proper fasting is not possible, you may consider alternatives.

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Can You Do Daniel Fast While Pregnant?

Yes, you can try Daniel fasting while pregnant, provided you are healthy enough. This is ideal if you are a vegan or vegetarian since this diet focuses mainly on vegetables and excludes animal sources. But if you are a non-vegetarian, you can ease the fast by excluding some foods slowly before you begin the fast.

[ Read: Drinking Coconut Water In Pregnancy ]

Please note that these tips for fasting during pregnancy may or may not work for everyone. So make sure you talk to your doctor and decide whether or not you should fast. Be very sure before fasting because even a single bad decision when you are pregnant can be detrimental to yours and your baby’s health.

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If you have anything to share about fasting and pregnancy, write to us in the comment section below.

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Subhashis Samajder

( MS, DNB)
Dr. Subhashis Samajder is a consultant Gynecologist-Obstetrician currently practising at Narayana Multispeciality Hospital, Howrah. His area of expertise includes abortion, colposcopy surgery, hysterectomy, hysteroscopy, infertility treatment, and menopausal problems. Dr. Samajder believes in sending his patients back home healthy and satisfied with the treatment. He also takes up women’s health awareness through his YT videos.

Rebecca Malachi

Rebecca is a pregnancy writer and editor with a passion for delivering research-based and engaging content in areas of fertility, pregnancy, birth, and post-pregnancy. She has been into health and wellness writing since 2010. She received her graduate degree in Biotechnology and Genetics from Loyola Academy, Osmania University and obtained a certification in ‘Nutrition and Lifestyle in Pregnancy’ from Ludwig... more