Several holidays and religious practices worldwide, such as Lent and Ramadan, require individuals to fast according to their cultural traditions. So you might wonder about the safety of fasting while pregnant if these occasions coincide with your pregnancy period. Some studies suggest that fasting during pregnancy may potentially affect the baby long-term (1). Although fasting can be good for health, it may not be a good decision during pregnancy as your child requires adequate nourishment. So, continue reading to learn how fasting affects the mother and fetal development.
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).
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).
- 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).
- Cognitive impairment: Nutritional restrictions during fasting can elevate the levels of cortisol hormone, which can result in cognitive impairment in children.
Should Pregnant Women Fast During Ramadan?
Pregnant women should try to avoid fasting during Ramadan as they may put their baby’s health at risk. Moreover, if Ramadan falls in summer, abstaining from eating food and drinking water from dawn till sunset can be challenging. 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).
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, the risks involved with it far outweigh the benefits (6).
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:
- Before you begin fasting, drink a lot of water and fresh fruit juices to keep yourself hydrated throughout the day.
- Since your body will be deprived of food the entire day, gobbling down heavy foods (such as fried chicken) on an empty stomach out of hunger won’t really be good for your baby.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 and seek medical help if required.
- Avoid foods with high sugars and caffeinated drinks (such as tea and coffee).
- Avoid any kind of stress building activities, and try to stay calm. Those who fast are found to have higher stress levels.
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 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.
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
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 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.
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 maternal 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 it.
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.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What happens if I go a day without eating while pregnant?
It is essential to eat well during pregnancy. Research shows that not eating for 24 hours during pregnancy may increase the risk for preterm labor while decreasing the chances of a spontaneous delivery (7).
2. What happens if I skip a meal while pregnant?
It is not advised to skip meals during pregnancy as it may lead to harmful effects such as slow weight gain, irregular blood glucose levels, and nausea (8).
3. Can fasting during pregnancy affect the mother’s milk production or the baby’s breastfeeding ability after birth?
Pregnancy is the time when what you eat affects your baby. Hence, fasting while pregnant is generally not advised. However, if you still want to fast, consult your healthcare provider for proper guidelines. Drinking plenty of juices before beginning fasting and avoiding strenuous work when fasting are a few tips you can follow to fast during pregnancy. Alarming weight gain or weight loss, decreased baby movement, and reduced frequency of urination are warning signs that you should immediately consult your doctor before continuing fasting.
Infographic: How Overeating After Breaking Fast Can Affect Expecting Moms?
Experts advise that the meal after fasting should be consumed like a meal, not a feast. Overeating can cause several issues, especially during pregnancy when digestion slows down due to hormonal changes. Read through this infographic to learn the possible effects of overeating after a fast.
- Fasting during pregnancy is not recommended due to potential harm to the baby in the long term.
- Low nutritional supply from fasting can lead to low birth weight, affect fetal growth, and increase the risk of cognitive impairment.
- Pregnant women may experience digestive problems, bloating, heartburn, and weakness when fasting.
- Prior to fasting, ensure hydration with water and fresh juice, consume fruits, avoid heavy foods and physical activities, and break the fast if necessary.
- Plan ahead for easier fasting by limiting addictive substances, changing diet, staying hydrated, getting enough sleep, and checking for complications.
- Urfan Zahoor Ahmed and Jacob Alexander Lykke; (2014); Ramadan fasting and pregnancy.
- Xi Chen; (2014); Fetus Fasting and Festival: The Persistent Effects of in Utero Social Shocks.
- Muhammad Farhan Majid; (2012); Does Fasting During Pregnancy Affect Children’s Labor Market Outcomes? Evidence from Indonesia
- Nahid Sarafraz et al.; (2014); Effect of Ramadan Fasting during Pregnancy on Neonatal Birth Weight.
- Islamic Ruling on Fasting during Pregnancy.
- Valter D. Longo and Mark P. Mattson; (2014); Fasting: Molecular Mechanisms and Clinical Applications.
- Anna Maria Siega-Riz et al. (2001); Frequency of Eating During Pregnancy and Its Effect on Preterm Delivery.
- Eating for two: Nutrition blunders for newly pregnant women.
- Ramadan and pregnancy.
- Neslişah Rakicioğlu et al. (2006); The effect of Ramadan on maternal nutrition and composition of breast milk.
- Religious Fasting and Breastfeeding.