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If you are a Muslim woman who is pregnant, or is planning to become pregnant, you may be wondering whether you should still fast during Ramadan. Hopefully the responses to the frequently asked questions below will help provide you with the information you need.
Do I have to fast?
Islamic law gives permission for pregnant and breastfeeding women to opt out of fasting if she fears that it will harm her health or the health of her baby.
Missed days of fasting can be made up at a later date, or if this isn’t possible, a ‘fidyah’ can be paid by providing food for someone in poverty for every missed day of fasting. However, some pregnant Muslim women decide to fast during Ramadan. This is a very personal decision and will depend on your own circumstances such as the stage of pregnancy, how you are feeling and if you have experienced any problems so far in your pregnancy. Fasting should be discussed with your midwife or doctor so that you can have a health check, identify any potential complications you may be at risk of when fasting and get their advice on whether fasting is likely to harm you or your baby’s health. The time of year Ramadan falls (e.g. during long hot summer days) and work commitments may also affect your decision.
Is fasting during pregnancy safe?
Research is still ongoing in this area and although the evidence is not clear cut, many experts believe it is not a good idea to fast during pregnancy. There is some evidence to suggest that pregnant women who fast during Ramadan may have smaller placentas and/or babies with slightly lower birth weights, compared to women who don’t fast. Fasting may also increase the risk of becoming dehydrated, especially if Ramadan falls during the summer, and this may affect the way your kidneys function and the amount of fluid surrounding your baby. However, other studies have not found any differences between babies who are born to mothers who have fasted and those who have not fasted during Ramadan. The impact of fasting during pregnancy may depend on the overall health of the mother, the stage of pregnancy and the time of year Ramadan occurs. More research is needed to fully understand what impact fasting may have on the health and development of the baby and what that may mean for the child’s health in later life.
If I decide to fast, is there anything I can do to make it more manageable for me and my baby?
Pregnancy is quite a demanding time for your body in terms of nutrients and fluids it needs. If you are considering taking part in Ramadan during pregnancy, make sure you let your midwife and/or doctor know so that they can offer you some advice and perform any necessary health checks. If you do decide to fast during Ramadan, you may wish to consider fasting on some but not all days of the month e.g. fasting on alternate days or at weekends to try and make it a bit more manageable.
If you are fasting, dehydration is something to watch out for, especially if Ramadan falls during long hot summer days. Feeling thirsty or having dark-coloured urine can be early signs of dehydration, other symptoms may include dizziness, headache, tiredness, dry mouth and passing small amounts of urine infrequently (less than three or four times a day). If you feel dizzy, faint, weak, confused or tired during fasting, even after resting, then you should break your fast with a sweet drink, to replace lost sugar and fluids, and a salty snack, to replace lost salt, or an oral rehydration solution and contact your doctor. To try to reduce the risk of dehydration; stay cool in the shade, don’t over-exert yourself, and try to drink plenty of fluids once you have broken your fast and at ‘suhoor’. Remember that during pregnancy, the amount of fluid you need may increase by an extra one or two glasses a day. On top of drinking lots of fluids, including foods which have a high water content such as fruits, vegetables, soups, stews and porridge in your ‘suhoor’ and ‘iftar’ meals may also help to keep you hydrated. It is also a good idea to avoid consuming too many salty foods, especially first thing in the morning, as this may make you feel even more thirsty.
Make sure you are still taking your supplements (folic acid and vitamin D) and eating a healthy balanced diet during Ramadan so that you are getting all the nutrients you and your baby need. Also try to eat foods which release energy slowly (low glycaemic index foods) such as wholemeal pasta, wholemeal bread, oat and bran based cereals, beans and unsalted nuts, especially at suhoor.
If you have decided to fast during Ramadan and then begin to feel unwell, it is important to contact your midwife or doctor as soon as possible and consider breaking your fast.
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