If you wish to fast, it appears to be safer for you and your baby if you feel strong, and if your pregnancy’s going well.
If you don’t feel well enough to fast, or are worried about your health or your baby’s wellbeing, talk to your GP or midwife and get a general health check before deciding to fast.
One factor is when the fast takes place. If Ramadan coincides with summer, this means hot weather and long days, which puts you at greater risk of dehydration.
What do studies into fasting in pregnancy show?
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.
How will I cope with fasting?
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
Fasting in the summer months is likely to be harder work for you than it would be in the winter due to the longer days and higher temperatures.
What do other women do?
According to some studies, about three quarters of pregnant Muslim women worldwide choose to fast for Ramadan. But everyone has their 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.
Only you can judge how healthy you feel, and what the right decision is for you. Talk to your family, midwife or doctor, and an Islamic sheikh, to help you to consider your options.
How should I prepare for fasting?
Plan ahead to make things easier during Ramadan:
Talk to your midwife, who can check your health and for any possible complications that fasting makes you more prone to, such as diabetes (gestational diabetes) and anaemia. 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.
Talk to your employer about managing your work during Ramadan, whether through reducing your working hours or having extra breaks. Read more about working and fasting.
Your doctor, midwife or a dietitian can help you to work out your dietary needs.
Keep a food diary, so you know what you are eating and drinking.
Start preparing early by doing shopping and errands before you fast.
What warning signs should I look out for?
Contact your doctor as soon as possible if:
You’re not putting on enough weight, or are losing weight. You probably won’t be weighed during your antenatal appointments, so 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-coloured 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 such as Dioralyte, and contact the doctor.
How can I make fasting in pregnancy easier?
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 more quiet, restful time.
Ask family or friends who have fasted while being pregnant for tips and suggestions.
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.
What’s the best way to break my fast?
Choose a variety of healthy foods and have plenty to drink at Suhoor (pre-dawn meal) and Iftar (meal taken at dusk). Have a healthy bedtime snack too, and set your alarm clock if you need to, so you don’t miss your pre-dawn meal.
Choose foods that release energy slowly. Complex carbohydrates, such as wholegrains and seeds, and high-fibre 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.
Rather than high-fat, refined foods, choose healthier options such as potatoes or chickpeas.
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 litres to 2 litres of water or other fluids between dusk and dawn, and avoid caffeinated drinks such as tea and coffee. Caffeine makes you lose more water when you wee, so you may be more likely to become dehydrated, especially if the weather is hot.
I’m still not sure if I should fast. What should I do?
Ask your midwife to give you a general health check before you begin. An Islamic sheikh will probably suggest getting medical advice to help you to make your decision. Consider trying a trial fast for a day or so, see how you feel, and then go back to your midwife or GP for a check-up.