Can you fast while you are pregnant or breastfeeding?
Fasting for religious reasons is common in India, and it usually involves complete or partial restriction of food, and sometimes even water. Hindus often fast during Navaratri, Muslims tend to fast during Ramadan, Christians fast during Lent and Jews fast during Yom Kippur. The period of fasting can vary in length, depending on the faith of the individual. Now, when you are expecting or breastfeeding, fasting might not be ideal for you. Hence, it is essential to know about the pros and cons of fasting during pregnancy before you decide what to do.
Is it safe to fast during pregnancy?
Pregnancy is a crucial period of development and growth, for both the mother and the child to different extents, and calls for increased nourishment. The increased need for nutrients continues during lactation, especially because breast milk is the only food for your baby until he is six months of age. Hence, nutritional inadequacy can have a lasting impact on maternal health and the infant’s growth and development.
Now, while debating if fasting during these periods is safe or unsafe, do remember that each pregnancy is different. The gestation period is an important factor to consider while deciding whether to fast or not.
Fasting during pregnancy, specifically during the second trimester, is considered a risk factor for preterm birth. In a recent research published in the Journal of Nutrition, the authors evaluated the risk of preterm birth against Ramadan fasting among Arab women in Quebec, Canada. Fasting during the second trimester was associated with 35 per cent greater risk of very preterm birth (28-31 weeks) compared to women who did not fast. The study also reported that fasting had no impact during the first trimester. It must be noted that the energy requirements increase by every trimester, and in the second trimester, it is undoubtedly higher than the first trimester. Fasting during 22-27 weeks, i.e. the latter period of the second trimester, was reportedly riskier. Ketone bodies produced as a result of low energy intake were also found to have an impact on the growing foetus. Hence, fasting during pregnancy requires a delicate approach and should be done thoughtfully.
Is it safe to fast during lactation?
Lactation is a recovery period for the mother. Also, adequate nourishment is the key to feeding your infant with enough of high quality milk. So, fasting during this period can impact the milk supply for the infant, which can lead to poor weight gain, causing undernutrition.
Fasting tends to make one dehydrated too, and this is not good for lactating mothers and the milk output. It is also advisable for breastfeeding mothers to drink at least a glass of water every time you breastfeed your child. Water fasting during breastfeeding is a better idea than complete fasting, as in this case, you can drink water even if you don’t take food.
Tips to follow while fasting
Nurturing your own body is crucial to take care of your baby, whether you are pregnant or lactating. So, if you consider to fast during your pregnancy or while breastfeeding, these tips might be helpful:
- Hydrate yourself: Consider drinking enough water both before and after fasting to ensure you stay hydrated throughout your fasting period. Even a brief period of dehydration can lead to lowering of amniotic fluid, thereby increasing the risk of congenital disabilities and preterm birth.
- Discuss with your obstetrician: Remember to consult your physician before you keep a 24 hour fast while pregnant or during lactation.
- Avoid prolonged fasting: A long fasting period does have an impact on your growing foetus. For a lactating mother, production of milk can be affected too. Ideally, the fasting duration should not exceed more than a day.
- Avoid strenuous activities. Heavy physical activity can lead to dehydration and burning of additional calories, which might not be necessary during the fasting period. Energy conservation is essential for good pregnancy outcomes and an infant’s wellbeing.
To conclude, during the pregnancy or breastfeeding phase, make sure you consider your health as well as the baby’s first, before deciding to fast. Fasting for religious reasons can be done wisely based on your medical condition, the infant’s health, and what your doctor might recommend.