Ramadan is a holy month that Muslims use as a time for spiritual reflection. Muslims spend the 30 days of Ramadan fasting from sunrise to sunset, praying more intensely, and performing acts of charity to grow closer to Allah. Fasting is an important way for Muslims to strengthen their faith, develop self-control, and grow compassion for the less fortunate. But can you participate in Ramadan fasting (also known as ‘puasa’) during pregnancy?
If you are pregnant, you may be concerned about how fasting might affect your health and that of your unborn child. How can you perform your religious duties while protecting your foetus? In this article we will talk about the Islamic view of fasting during pregnancy, the effects of fasting while pregnant, and tips on how you can continue to fast safely.
(See also: Ramadan in Singapore: a Guide)
Islamic View of Ramadan Fasting during Pregnancy
Fasting is one of the Five Pillars of Islam — the five duties that every Muslim is expected to perform. Fasting during Ramadan is compulsory for all healthy, able-bodied Muslims. Young children, the elderly, and women who are menstruating, pregnant, or breastfeeding are some groups who can be exempt from fasting during Ramadan.
According to Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura (Muis), the Islamic legal ruling on fasting during pregnancy is that a pregnant woman can fast if she is physically able to do so. If a pregnant woman is in good physical condition and believes she can fast without fear for her health or her baby’s health, she should do so. However, if her doctor advises her not to fast because it might threaten her health or the health of the foetus, it is a valid reason for a woman to break her fast.
Women who are pregnant and do not fast out of worry for their health can compensate by fasting on other days (qadha’) to make up for the days they miss. Women who are pregnant and do not fast due to concern for their child’s health are required to do qadha’ and pay fidyah. Fidyah involves meeting the needs of the poor by giving them food. It may be as cash donations of cash or in the form of staple foodstuffs like rice. This online calculator on Muis’ website shows how much fidyah you need to pay.
Should Pregnant Women Fast during Ramadan?
If you find yourself unable to fast during Ramadan, there are ways you can make up for it through giving to charity or fasting on days outside Ramadan.
Nonetheless, many Muslim women choose to continue fasting during their pregnancy. A survey of Muslim women in Singapore who did Ramadan fasting during their pregnancy found that 87 per cent chose to fast for at least one day and 33 per cent fasted for all 30 days. Some Muslim women who fasted during pregnancy say it is possible to fast during pregnancy without ill effects.
Ultimately, it is a decision for each woman to make after weighing the pros and cons. Your pre-existing health condition, work commitments, and the time of year that Ramadan falls on may be factors to consider in deciding whether to break your fast or not. Always consult your doctor before deciding whether to fast as they can inform you about possible health effects that may arise.
Health Effects of Fasting during Pregnancy
Outside of pregnancy, fasting can help increase one’s metabolic rate. This helps with burning excess calories and preventing weight gain. A study of pregnant women in Iran who fasted during their second trimester found that women who participated in fasting during pregnancy had a lower risk of developing gestational diabetes than women who did not fast. Other studies have found that in women who had a healthy pre-pregnancy weight and no chronic conditions, there is little difference in the outcome of pregnancy between those who fast and those who do not.
(See also: Gestational Diabetes 101 – Are You at Risk?)
However, other experts agree that fasting during pregnancy may also result in negative side effects. This is because pregnant women require more nutrients than usual. Poor nutrition while pregnant may place strain on the maternal body. Fasting during pregnancy may increase the risk of lower birth weight and premature labour.
In sum, there is no clear consensus on the health effects of fasting during pregnancy. But it is important to be aware of the possible negative effects of fasting during pregnancy so that you can make an informed decision. Women are advised to decide whether they should fast during pregnancy after consulting their doctor, midwife, and religious authorities.
Tips for Safe Fasting during Pregnancy
If you have decided to fast during pregnancy, you may be wondering how best to do so. These five tips will help you fast safely while protecting you and your child:
1. Do not skip the pre-dawn meal
Some may consider skipping the Ramadan pre-dawn meal, also known as sahoor, to try to get more sleep in the morning. However, skipping this meal may leave you feeling lethargic throughout the day as you have less energy. The nutrients you take in from sahoor will help you have more energy than if you decide to sleep in. Make sure you have enough to eat during sahoor to prevent weakness and dehydration until the time you can break your fast for the day.
2. Keep yourself hydrated
Dehydration is a serious concern to watch out for during pregnancy. Pregnant women require more water than average. Not getting enough water can lead to low amniotic fluid levels, low breastmilk production, and even cause premature labour. Dry mouth, headaches, and dark yellow urine are some signs that you might not be drinking enough fluids. Remember to drink lots of water during sahoor and iftar, the evening meal that you break your fast with. It is also helpful to consume foods with high water content like fresh fruits and vegetables. Avoid eating salty foods as they can make you feel thirstier.
3. Have a balanced diet
Keeping a balanced diet is necessary to ensure you and your baby receive enough nutrients. Make sure that your sahoor and iftar meals contain a balance of nutrients like carbohydrates, protein, vitamins, and fibre. Eating more complex carbohydrates can help you to feel less hungry as they release energy more slowly. Complex carbohydrates include foods like brown rice and wholemeal bread and pasta. Lean proteins and healthy fats from foods like nuts and olive oil are also good sources of nutrients you need to stay healthy during Ramadan.
4. Control your portion sizes
Don’t be tempted to eat huge portions of food during iftar because you may stress your body. Overeating can lead to indigestion and weight gain, especially if you eat a lot of foods that are high in sugar and salt. You should eat only as much as you need to feel full. This will prevent you from gaining weight or feeling uncomfortable after eating.
5. Move around to stay active
During Ramadan, it can be tempting to not move around for the sake of conserving energy. However, avoiding exercise entirely can make you feel more lethargic instead. Keep yourself active through moderate exercise. This can help to keep your energy levels up throughout the day and reduce the risk of back pain, constipation, and excessive weight gain during pregnancy. Simple exercises that you can do while pregnant include brisk walking, swimming, and modified yoga or pilates. It is best to do these exercises around an hour before sahoor.
Be careful not to over-exert yourself when pregnant, even if you already exercise frequently outside of pregnancy. Signs that you should stop exercising include calf pain, headaches, regular painful contractions of the uterus, and shortness of breath before starting exercise.
We hope that this article has helped you be more aware of the effects of fasting during pregnancy and how to fast safely this Ramadan. If in doubt of whether you should be fasting, always consult a doctor to be safe.
This article first appeared on Homage, an award-winning personal care solution that provides on-demand holistic home and community-based caregiving and medical services to seniors and adults, allowing them to age and recover with grace, control, and dignity.