This year, the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan begins on Monday 12 April and ends Wednesday 12 May. In Islam, Ramadan is a holy month that Muslims use as a time for spiritual reflection. Muslims will 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 during Ramadan to strengthen their faith, develop self-control, and grow compassion for the less fortunate.
If you are pregnant, you may be concerned about whether fasting might affect your health or the health of your unborn child. Are you wondering how you can perform your religious duties while protecting your health? 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.
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 the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia, 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. Otherwise, worry for one’s health or child’s health during pregnancy is a valid reason for a woman breaking her fast if she chooses to. There are Islamic authorities who will recommend that a woman break her fast if the woman has sought the advice of a doctor who advises her not to fast because it might threaten her health or the health of the foetus.
Women who are pregnant and do not fast out of worry for their health and safety can compensate by fasting on other days (qadha’) to make up for the days they have missed. Women who are pregnant and do not fast for fear of their child’s health will be required to do qadha’ and pay fidyah. Fidyah involves meeting the needs of the poor by giving them food. Fidyah can be made as cash donations or donations of staple foodstuffs like rice. You can find an online calculator to show how much fidyah you need to pay on the PPZ (Pusat Pungutan Zakat) website.
Islamic authorities agree that worry for your health or your child’s health during pregnancy is a valid reason to break fast. 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. Some Muslim women who have 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 their fast or not. Always consult your doctor or midwife before deciding whether to break fast as they can let you know about possible health effects that may arise.
Outside of pregnancy, fasting can help increase one’s metabolic rate that 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 fasted during pregnancy had a lower risk of developing gestational diabetes than women who did not fast. Other studies have found that in pregnant women who were previously at a healthy weight and had no chronic conditions, there is little difference in the outcome of pregnancy between those who fasted and those who did not fast.
However, other experts agree that fasting while pregnant may also result in negative side effects. This is because pregnant women require more nutrients than usual and getting fewer nutrients while pregnant may place strain on pregnant women’s bodies. 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.
If you have decided to fast during pregnancy, you may be wondering how you can do it safely. At Homage, we have five tips for you to fast safely while protecting you and your child.
1. Do not skip the pre-dawn meal
Some people may consider skipping the Ramadan pre-dawn meal, also known as sahur, to try to get some more sleep in the morning. However, skipping this meal may make you feel lethargic throughout the rest of the day as you have less energy. The nutrients you take in from sahur will help you have more energy than if you decide to sleep in. Make sure you have enough to eat during sahur 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 because water is necessary to form the placenta that gives the growing baby her nutrients. Not getting enough water can lead to low amniotic fluid, low breast milk 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 your pre-dawn meal (sahur) and your meal once you break your fast for the day (iftar). It is also helpful to consume foods with high water content like fresh fruits and vegetables to keep yourself hydrated. 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 meals at sahur and iftar contain a balance of nutrients like carbohydrates, protein, vitamins, and fibre. Eating more complex carbohydrates would help you to feel less hungry as complex carbohydrates release energy more slowly. Complex carbohydrates include foods like brown rice and wholemeal bread and pasta. Lean protein 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
You do not have to eat huge portions of food during iftar because you may stress your body by overeating. 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 most of the day to try to conserve energy. However, avoiding exercise entirely can make you feel more lethargic instead. Keeping yourself active through moderate exercise 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 sahur.
Be careful not to over-exert yourself when exercising while 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. Homage would like to wish our Muslim readers and customers Ramadan Kareem (a generous Ramadan).
- A healthy Ramadan – British Nutrition Foundation. (n.d.). British Nutrition Foundation. Retrieved April 4, 2021, from https://www.nutrition.org.uk/healthyliving/seasons/ramadan.html
- Panduan Amalan Di Bulan Ramadhan. (n.d.). Retrieved April 19, 2021, from Gov.my website: http://islam.gov.my/images/ePenerbitan/Panduan_Amalan_di_Bulan_Ramadhan.pdf
- Dehydration During Pregnancy. (2020, August 25). American Pregnancy Association. https://americanpregnancy.org/womens-health/dehydration-pregnancy-9901/
- Exercise During Pregnancy. (n.d.). The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Retrieved April 4, 2021, from https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/exercise-during-pregnancy
- Islam, S. (n.d.). Tips for Healthy Ramadan Fasting | Cornell Health. Cornell Health. Retrieved April 4, 2021, from https://health.cornell.edu/about/news/ramadan-fasting
- Ramadan and pregnancy – British Nutrition Foundation. (n.d.). British Nutrition Foundation. Retrieved April 2, 2021, from https://www.nutrition.org.uk/healthyliving/nutritionforpregnancy/ramadanpregnancy.html
- Safari, K., Piro, T.J. & Ahmad, H.M. Perspectives and pregnancy outcomes of maternal Ramadan fasting in the second trimester of pregnancy. BMC Pregnancy Childbirth 19, 128 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12884-019-2275-x
- Simple vs Complex Carbs. (2020, March 9). Diabetes.Co.Uk. https://www.diabetes.co.uk/nutrition/simple-carbs-vs-complex-carbs.html
- Talwar, B. D. (2010, August 12). Pregnant women told not to fast during holy Ramadan. BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/health-10927611#:%7E:text=Pregnant%20women%20who%20fast%20during,a%20risk%20to%20their%20health.
- Ziaee, V., Kihanidoost, Z., Younesian, M., Akhavirad, M. B., Bateni, F., Kazemianfar, Z., & Hantoushzadeh, S. (2010). The effect of ramadan fasting on outcome of pregnancy. Iranian journal of pediatrics, 20(2), 181–186.