Ramadan and pregnancy
By Alexa Evans RD
By Alexa Evans RD
It’s Ramadan! You may be wondering what this means for you whilst you are pregnant. Pregnant women are usually exempt from fasting during Ramadan, and it is generally not encouraged to fast as there may be potential risks to your baby.
It is your choice whether to fast or not, but it may be helpful to understand the effects that fasting may have on your baby. Many pregnant women who choose to fast have safe pregnancies with healthy babies, however, research on this subject has had some interesting findings.
During pregnancy, there are critical windows of development for your baby, where nutrition plays and important role. A restricted supply of nutrition during these windows may result in poorer outcomes in later life.
Fasting during pregnancy can cause something called ‘accelerated starvation’. This is when the hormones that regulate how glucose is handled in the body are disrupted and glucose levels can sharply drop. This process has been associated with poorer cognitive function during childhood, and some animal studies suggest that these changes may affect the development of the nervous system.
Fasting has also been shown to result in lower calorie intakes in pregnant women, by as many as 500-1000 calories below what is required. This is not recommended during pregnancy and can cause problems with your health or your baby’s development. Some evidence also shows that disruptions with nutrition supply during pregnancy can cause low birth weight babies, which can result in poorer health outcomes.
Dehydration can also be a risk if you are fasting, which is unsafe for you and your baby. Great care must be taken, particularly if Ramadan is during the summer months when the days are longer and hotter.
If you choose to fast, you may want to follow these tips for a healthier, safer fast.
Suhoor, the meal before dawn, should include foods that are slowly digested and have enough energy to keep you going for long hours. Foods containing fibre take longer to digest, so include plenty of these. For example, fruit and vegetables, beans and pulses, oats and grains. Make sure you set your alarm and don’t miss this meal – it is very important!
Iftar, the meal that breaks your fast should be a meal and not a feast! A glass of fruit juice, or some dates is a good way to break your fast, initially giving you a refreshing burst of energy that you need. This may also be a good opportunity to include dairy products to help give you enough calcium. For example, a glass of milk with some dates, or a yoghurt with some fruit.
If you have any concerns with fasting during Ramadan, and whether it is safe for you to do so, speak to your GP.
Almond D and Mazumder B (2011) Health Capital and the Prenatal Environment: The Effect of Ramadan Observance during Pregnancy. American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 3(4):56-85.
Communities in Action (2007) Ramadan Health Guide (Accessed July 2013).
NHS Choices: Guide to healthy fasting (Accessed July 2013).