Pregnant and fasting

Holiday fast with baby on board

Holiday fasts are a common religious custom, but when you've got a baby on board, is it OK to fast while pregnant or is it a pregnancy danger you should avoid?

Before you deprive yourself and your baby-to-be, check out these tips for practicing your faith without risking your pregnancy.

Consider your health

Fasting for pregnancy glucose tests is common, but when it comes to fasting while pregnant or nursing, research is still unclear as to whether or not it is a danger to your baby-to-be or nursing child. However, one study researched the effects of fasting on preterm delivery rates, published in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, reporting that Ramadan-fasting women exhibited no significant increase in preterm delivery rates. But, that doesn't mean fasting while pregnant is without risks. According to Dr. Jim Betoni, DO, co-author of The Pregnancy Power Workbook, the study looked at mothers who fasted during Ramadan and found:

  1. The babies born to Ramadan-fasting mothers were slightly smaller
  2. The Ramadan-fasting mothers gained a total of less weight
  3. There was no increased risk for preterm labor or delivery in the fasting group compared to a non-fasting group

"When I have patients who wish to observe the Ramadan fast I review the above research data with them," explains Dr. Betoni. "If these same patients also have underlying health issues (diabetes, hypertension, auto immune disease, a history of preterm delivery, etc.), I advise them to consider making themselves 'exempt' from the fast. If they insist on fasting, I have them come for more frequent prenatal visits, perhaps every week, to assess their tolerance to the fasting."

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Stock up on the good stuff

Before you engage in a holiday fast while pregnant or nursing, it's important to store up as many important vitamins and nutrients as you can during the days leading up to your fast. "Our bodies store lots of vitamins and nutrients if you eat right, even when breastfeeding or pregnant," explains Sara Chana, international board-certified lactation consultant, birthing instructor, classical homeopath and herbalist. "Drink lots water, lots of protein such as chicken soup, fruit and vegetable smoothies and honey leading up to the fast and your body and your baby should be fine."

Seek your physician's advice

Most importantly, before making any changes to your diet, whether for a holiday fast or a lifestyle modification, it's vital that you consult with your OB-GYN. "The most important part is to treat each woman individually on a case-by-case basis and make her care decisions together," explains Dr. Betoni.

Doctor or midwife: which should you choose for your prenatal care and delivery? >>

The only absolute in the debate on holiday fasting is that research is still seeking concrete answers to the question: Is it OK to fast while pregnant? But, to minimize pregnancy dangers with any decision you make about your health while pregnant or nursing, it's important to partner with your doctor or lactation consultant. "I've worked with thousands of pregnant and breastfeeding women through fasting and no one has been hospitalized or dehydrated," assures Chana. "Just be sure to avoid dehydrating-type foods like feta cheese, alcohol, MSG and sodium nitrate the two days prior." As long as you're in good health, your doctor will likely give you the go-ahead to follow your religious beliefs and fast while pregnant.

More tips on pregnancy safety

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Tags: pregnancy concerns


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