I have compiled some helpful tips to help you along the way, but keep in mind; they are just that — tips. Nothing in this article is intended as a religious ruling nor as a replacement for advice from your medical doctor. Also, keep in mind as you read that everybody is different and reacts to fasting and pregnancy in different ways.
Imam Madani Abdur Rahman, from London, says Islam does give pregnant women options.
“We have to assess the situation, if the doctor says fasting could cause problems for the mother or her baby, then women should not fast. Health must always come first,” he added.
Pregnant women who request an exemption from fasting are expected to make up the days they have missed after the baby is born.
Despite research, we can’t be sure that fasting is safe for you and your baby.
However, fasting in pregnancy appears to be safer for you and your baby if you feel strong and well enough, and if your pregnancy is going well.
If you don’t feel well enough to fast, or are worried about your health or your baby’s wellbeing, Islamic law gives you clear permission not to fast.
Since Ramadan coincides with summer this year, this puts you at greater risk of dehydration.
Some studies show little or no effect on newborn babies whose mums fasted in pregnancy. Others suggest health problems later in life, or that fasting in pregnancy may have some effect on the intelligence or academic ability of a child.
Here’s what the research has told us so far:
- The Apgar score of babies of women who fasted in pregnancy was no different from babies of women who didn’t fast.
- Fasting in pregnancy may cause a baby to have a lower birth weight especially if the fasting took place in the first trimester. However, other studies found the difference in birth weight to be very small.
- Babies born to mums who fasted either in pregnancy or at the time of conception may grow up to be slightly shorter and thinner. But again, this difference is very small.
- The chemical balance of the blood changes when you fast. But the changes don’t appear to be harmful to you or your baby.
There’s some concern that fasting may affect how well a baby grows in the uterus (womb), or that fasting may be linked to premature labour. Some studies suggest that more babies are born early if their mums fast during Ramadan, though the country you live in also plays a part.
If your weight and lifestyle are generally healthy you are likely to cope better with fasting. Your baby needs nutrients from you, and if your body has enough energy stores, fasting is likely to have less of an impact.
How your body deals with fasting will also depend on:
- Your general health before you became pregnant
- Your stage of pregnancy
- The length of time you fast during the day
According to some studies, about three-quarters of pregnant Muslim women worldwide choose to fast for Ramadan. But everyone has his or her own way of observing Ramadan.
Most Islamic leaders say that you should fast if you are healthy enough to do so. But they also say that if you are unwell you mustn’t fast. You shouldn’t ignore this special permission if you feel unwell, or if you fear that fasting could harm you or your baby.
Any pregnant woman who suffers from complications during pregnancy, like high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney infections or heart problems must refrain from fasting because her health situation does not permit her to fast, as these complications risk the health of the fetus.
Only you can judge how healthy you feel, and what the right decision is for you. Talk to your family or doctor, and an Islamic sheikh, to help you to consider your options.
Plan ahead to make things easier during Ramadan:
- Talk to your doctor who can check your health and for any possible complications that fasting makes you more prone to, such as diabetes (gestational diabetes) and anemia. You may need to have more frequent check-ups during your fast to monitor your blood sugar levels. Fasting is not considered to be safe if you have diabetes and are pregnant.
- If you’re used to having a lot of caffeinated drinks, such as coffee, tea and cola, cut back before you fast to prevent withdrawal headaches. You shouldn’t have more than 200mg of caffeine a day when you are pregnant, which is about two cups of instant coffee. Remember that chocolate and green tea also contain some caffeine.
Contact your doctor as soon as possible if:
- You’re not putting on enough weight, or are losing weight. Try to weigh yourself regularly at home while you are fasting.
- You become very thirsty, are weeing less frequently, or if your wee becomes dark-colored and strong-smelling. This is a sign of dehydration, and it can make you more prone to urinary tract infections (UTIs) or other complications.
- You develop a headache or other pains, or a fever.
- You become nauseous or start vomiting.
You should contact your doctor straight away if:
- There is a noticeable change in your baby’s movements, such as if your baby is not moving around or kicking as much.
- You notice contraction-like pains. This could be a sign of premature labour.
- You feel dizzy, faint, weak, confused or tired even after you have had a good rest. Break your fast immediately and drink water containing salt and sugar, or an oral rehydration solution and contact the doctor.
Keep calm and avoid stressful situations. Changes in your routine, a lack of food and water, and eating and drinking at different times can cause stress.
Pregnant women who fasted during Ramadan were found to have higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol in their blood than women who didn’t fast.
Take things easy, and accept help when it is offered. Even if your family and friends stay up late, you may need to mark this Ramadan with quieter, restful time.
Keep cool, as you may become dehydrated quickly, which isn’t good for you or your baby.
Plan your days so you can take regular rests.
Try not to walk long distances or carry anything heavy.
Cut down on housework and anything that tires you out
How to break your Fast
- Drink a large glass of fruit juice immediately after breaking her fast
- You must have a well-balanced meal at the time of breaking your fast. Your meal must include starches that supply the body with the required calories, like rice, bread or pasta
- Choose a variety of healthy foods and have plenty to drink at Suhoor and Iftar). Have a healthy bedtime snack too, and set your alarm clock if you need to, so you don’t miss your Suhoor meal. Also, Eat a light meal between Iftar and Suhoor.
- You usually need around 2250 calories daily, and these calories must come from food sources that are rich in vitamins and minerals, such as iron and calcium.
- Choose foods that release energy slowly. Complex carbohydrates, such as wholegrain and seeds, and high-fiber foods, such as pulses, vegetables and dried fruits, will help to keep you going. This will also help to prevent constipation.
- Avoid having lots of sugary foods that will raise your blood sugar levels quickly. Your blood sugar may then drop quickly, which may make you feel faint and dizzy.
- Make sure you get plenty of protein from beans, nuts and well-cooked meat and eggs. This will help your baby to grow well.
- Try to drink about 1.5 liters to 2 liters of water or other fluids between dusk and dawn, and avoid caffeinated drinks such as tea and coffee.
- You should stay away from meals that are difficult to digest, like deep-fried foods, as this may cause indigestion. Moreover, you must avoid overeating because this may cause difficulty in breathing.
- Eat with moderation at Iftar. Resist the urge to eat until it hurts. You can have another healthy snack a bit later on, maybe after Taraweeh or between prayers.
- Try to avoid acidic or greasy foods that will give you heartburn, especially before bed. You may try to sleep propped up on a couple of pillows as well.
Beware of Dehydration
The pregnant Muslimah should also keep in mind that becoming dehydrated can increase Braxton Hicks contractions (hardening of the tummy), decrease your baby’s activity, and if it becomes serious, dehydration can even lead to preterm labour.
Some of the symptoms of heat exhaustion include headache, fatigue, nausea, an increased pulse, and possibly fainting.
If you experience any of these symptoms, it is best that you break your fast and rehydrate quickly. Again, do not despair. You have tried your best, and Allah knows best.
Here are items that you may want to avoid while you are pregnant:
Raw or Undercooked Food of Animal Origin
Hot Dogs, Luncheon Meats, and Unpasteurized Dairy Foods
Raw Vegetable Sprouts
It’s OK to eat thoroughly cooked sprouts, according to the FDA.
Drinks to Limit or Avoid
Lead is linked to low birth weight, preterm delivery, and developmental delays in children. If you have an older home with pipes made of lead, it can leach into your tap water, and home filtration systems may not prevent it from reaching you.
If you’re in doubt about your tap water, have it tested.
Caffeine from coffee, tea, soft drinks, energy beverages, and other sources may increase the risk of miscarriage, reduced birth weight, and stillbirth, but the research is conflicting. The March of Dimes recommends limiting caffeine consumption to 200 milligrams a day. That’s about the amount found in 12 ounces of coffee.
Herbal Teas and Supplements
You’re eating for two now, but you don’t need twice the calories. Gaining too much weight threatens your health, and may increase the risk of childhood overweight in your future child.
In the second trimester, add 340 calories a day to your pre-pregnancy calorie needs, and 450 a day more in the third trimester. But if you’re very overweight at conception, or if your physical activity level drops, you may need fewer calories during pregnancy. Still, pregnancy is not a time to try to lose weight.