On the one hand, you are expecting your little bundle of joy in, well, any number of months; on the other hand, you may be thinking of fasting for one reason or the other. For instance, maybe it’s Lent or Ramadan, and you’re considering joining in the fasting season. Generally, obstetricians don’t recommend fasting for pregnant women—in fact, they generally advise against it. Similarly, religious bodies also make allowances for pregnant mothers to be exempt from it. However, it is still ultimately your decision to fast or not. And should you decide to, it’s best you do it under proper guidance.
In this article, we explore the question of fasting while pregnant, in case you do decide to fast. We will also offer some healthier alternatives to fasting that you might try. Let’s start by looking at why fasting while pregnant is a bad idea.
Why Fasting While Pregnant Is Ill-Advised
People fast often for one or more of at least two reasons: religious exercise and personal dieting needs. Doctors may recommend intermittent fasting or other dieting plans, especially in the latter case. However, they will generally advise against even intermittent fasting for women who are expecting, no matter the grounds.
To be sure, there doesn’t seem to be a very robust body of medical research surrounding the issue—an unfortunate state of affairs. However, the little research there has been on the issue demonstrates three main reasons why fasting of any kind is advised against.
Under healthy conditions, the average duration of a pregnancy is about 40 weeks. By comparison, a preterm birth is about 37 weeks and may be less, depending on how bad the situation is. According to a 2019 study on the impact of fasting on pregnancy duration, the chances of preterm labor and birth are significantly increased by Ramadan fasting, especially during the second trimester of pregnancy. And while the study did not identify any specific causes behind the trend, it has nonetheless been linked to energy deficiencies due to a lack of nutrients. Moreover, miscarriages are likely to result from unsustainable intensities of fasting.
Poor Fetal Growth
Fasting while pregnant has also been linked to a risk of poor fetal growth. The whole idea of fasting is that you stay off food for a specified period of time, and that means your baby does not get as much nutrient intake as it needs. According to health experts, this can contribute to poor intrauterine growth of your baby, as their body attempts to break down available fats, stunting their ability to gain weight healthily. Moreover, an inadequate supply of calcium will often stunt the healthy development of their skeletal structure.
Health Problems for the Mother
Another problem with fasting is that it can create or compound certain health problems for you. For example, up to 18% of pregnant women suffer from gestational diabetes, a condition correlated with insufficient insulin production during pregnancy. It is not very clear why some women suffer from it and others don’t, though some research suggests genetic factors are sometimes relevant. However, one thing is generally clear: an active lifestyle, a healthy weight, and a steady and balanced diet help some women manage it. Conversely, fasting practices, especially when done excessively, are known to compound it.
If You Do Decide to Fast
Ultimately, it’s up to you whether you want to fast or not, whether for personal or spiritual purposes. Should you decide to fast for whatever reason, here are a few things you can do to reduce the risks as much as possible.
Consult Your Medical Expert
Your doctor, midwife, or obstetrician may be obligated to tell you straight up that fasting is a risk when you’re pregnant. However, they are also obligated to respect your choices about your health. So, if you want to fast regardless, the first thing you should do is talk to your doctor about it. This is necessary because your doctor has access to your medical records, including pregnancy history and any other relevant information you may have provided in the past. They will be able to advise you on how best to engage in the exercise with minimal risk to your health.
It is risky to engage in fasting after the same pattern as everyone else who isn’t pregnant. When fasting, you should make sure to avoid going more than a day without food. Your fasting should be intermittent, with regular breaks and lots of rest. Furthermore, dry fasting should be an absolute no-no; dehydration will only increase the risk that your fasting will cause you and your baby harm. However, note that while intermittent fasting is the safer way to go, there is currently no research to support that it has any health benefits.
Limit Fasting the Further Along You Get
The study we talked about earlier was conducted on pregnancies in their second trimester. Even at that mid-stage, fasting correlated strongly with an increased likelihood of preterm births. If there is any relatively safe period to fast, it’s in the first trimester of pregnancy. The second trimester is riskier, and even more so is the third; after all, it is the most critical period in the pregnancy.
Watch for Signs of Adverse Effects
When fasting, keep a weather eye out for any indication that the exercise is beginning to affect your health negatively. Dark urine, headaches, extreme fatigue, and dizziness are signs you are getting dehydrated. If you feel lethargic, you should contact your doctor immediately. You should also monitor your weight and make sure to disengage when it becomes apparent you’re losing too much of it.
Safer Alternatives to Fasting
Fasting may be strongly discouraged while you are pregnant, but it doesn’t mean you reorganize your eating habits and explore new eating paces. You can still engage in any of these healthier practices to explore your relationship with food and nutrition.
- Watch your diet: Pregnancy is a great time to exercise some forethought about what you eat, making sure to schedule your meals properly.
- Engage in healthy exercise: There are many great exercises you can engage in to keep yourself fit and prepared to welcome your baby in good health. For instance, you may try swimming, riding a stationary bike, walking, and yoga.
- Follow a balanced dietary regimen: If you haven’t been doing so already, you should make sure to eat foods rich in all the right nutrients and avoid monotonous meal plans.
You may have your own reasons for wanting to fast. But take it from here (and your doctor, too) that it is strongly recommended against. There is just too much risk involved both for you and the baby, especially the closer you get to the end of the pregnancy. However, you ultimately decide whether or not to go ahead with the exercise. If you do, we hope that this article has furnished you with enough to know how to do it as safely as possible. However—and we cannot emphasize this enough—you really should see your doctor, as they will offer you the best guidance tailored to your unique medical history.