A guide to fasting during pregnancy
Ramadan is a challenging month for practising Muslims, especially pregnant women. Theasianparent provides a 101 on how to cope with fasting during pregnancy.
Ramadan is the Islamic month of fasting, in which Muslims refrain from eating, drinking and sexual activities from dawn until sunset. Fasting is intended to teach Muslims about patience, humility and spirituality and is a time for Muslims to fast for the sake of Allah and to offer more prayer than usual.
During Ramadan, Muslims ask forgiveness for past sins, pray for guidance and help in refraining from everyday evils, and try to purify themselves through self-restraint, good deeds and prayers.
According to the Islamic law, you should fast if you feel strong and healthy enough to do so. You are, however, exempted from fasting if you are not well. This includes pregnancy. You should not ignore this special permission if you feel that fasting could cause harm to you or your baby because 'God gives you the exemption as a mercy, it would be rude not to accept’. This means that allowances are made for fetal and maternal health.
If you plan to observe your holy days by fasting, make sure your doctor or midwife knows that you plan to fast, and exactly what that means:
- how long you will fast,
- whether you may drink water, and
- what rules govern your options if you start to feel poorly.
Fasting can be dangerous if you are already dehydrated from nausea and vomiting of pregnancy, or if you have a medical condition like diabetes. If your practitioner objects to your fasting, follow his or her medical recommendations.
Also, talk to an Imam (a trusted spiritual leader) or anyone who has gone through pregnancy during the fasting month about whether fasting is right for you. Remember; always put you and your baby first!
In the early stages of pregnancy you are likely to suffer from:
- headaches and
- light headedness
These may become more pronounced if you aren't eating or drinking for long periods of time. Fasting changes your routine, and not eating and drinking for long hours may cause stress. One study found that pregnant women who fasted had higher levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, in their blood than women who didn't. This, in addition to the natural worry you may feel as a newly pregnant woman, could put a strain on your health.
Whether or not you decide to fast, it is possible that problems such as dizziness, blurred vision and cramping could occur. If you have any of these or other symptoms that concern you, speak to your doctor immediately.
Always drink lots of water. One of the most common reason to feel ill while fasting is dehydration. If your fast is from dawn to dusk, be sure to eat well and drink a lot of fluids before sunrise. Sahur (pre-dawn meal) is one of the most important meals to consume during Ramadan as it keeps your energy levels up during the day. It also decreases hunger pangs, headache and sleepiness. Sahur should consist of a wholesome, moderate meal that is filling and will provide enough energy to last through your fasting.
Try to eat high-fibre foods and complex carbohydrates, such as grains and pulses. Your body takes longer to break down and absorb these foods, so they will fuel you better during your hours of fasting. Your healthy meal could include:
- wholewheat breads, with a little jam, cheese
- high-fibre cereal with semi-skimmed milk
- fresh and dried fruit, including bananas and dates
- unsalted nuts, granola bar
Avoid consuming coffee and tea. Coffee contains caffeine, which can make you lose more water when you urinate, because it is a diuretic. Drinking tea with food can reduce the amount of iron your body is able to absorb, so stick to water when you're eating. If you find water boring, spice it up with a slice of lemon!
Conserve your energy. Avoid over-exerting yourself with work and housework, and allow yourself to take frequent breaks. If you feel lightheaded or dizzy, quickly get a drink. If your brain isn’t getting enough blood flow and oxygen (the cause of lightheadedness) the baby may not be either. Lie down right where you are if you feel faint, and drink until you feel better. If plain water doesn’t work, you may need something with nutrition in it, like juice or food.
If you start to have uterine contractions (a balling up or tightening feeling, or the sense of menstrual cramps) you must drink some fluids. Dehydration can lead to preterm contractions and potentially preterm labor. The most sensitive time in pregnancy is the last trimester. If contractions don’t stop with rest and fluids call your doctor or midwife or go to the hospital.
Break your fast gently with water, sports drinks, or dilute juice. Carbohydrates like crackers or toast typically go down easiest, and try not to eat high-fat meals. These will fill you up, but give you poor nutrients, and possibly indigestion, too. Eat a small amount first and see how you feel before filling up. There is no ideal Iftar (break fast), but you could start with:
- three dates and juice (good for bringing your sugar levels back to normal)
- semi-skimmed milk
- clear-based soup
Then eat a well-balanced meal that may include:
- salad as a starter
- protein from chicken, meat or fish, or lentils, chickpeas or beans
- complex carbohydrates from brown rice, wholemeal pasta and wholewheat bread
- plenty of vegetables
And the most important tip of all:
Listen to your body! Your body can gauge how the baby is doing. If you're feeling terrible, that probably isn’t good for your baby, either.
Hope these tips have helped. Ramadan mubarak everyone!