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Whether you are motivated by religious devotion or enjoy an occasional detox, you are sure to be accustomed to fasting. This common practice, however, comes under the scanner when you are pregnant, and understandably so. While you are carrying, the food you eat provides nourishment, not just to you but also to your growing baby. Read on for the different views people have on fasting during pregnancy, precautions to take if you do decide to fast, and alternatives to fasting if you decide to forgo it.
Is Fasting Safe During Pregnancy?
There is no clear answer to this question. On one hand, women have been fasting during pregnancy for centuries and still have healthy children. On the other hand, new research has been warning women of risks involved in this practice.
Studies have indicated that during the first trimester, fasting may result in low birth weight in babies, but the difference is marginal. Furthermore, studies have also shown that children may grow to be slightly shorter and thinner than average but again the difference is negligible. It is recommended, however, that expert advice is sought from medical professionals before fasting in early stages of pregnancy.
The third trimester is that period of pregnancy when the baby displays fast growth. During this period the baby needs more nutrition and greater amounts of minerals and vitamins to sustain the accelerated growth. Some studies do suggest that besides possible adverse effects on the speed of growth, fasting during pregnancy in the third trimester is by and large safe. It is recommended that proper medical advice is sought before taking the decision to fast. Your doctor will be able to check for any complications that could arise if you forgo food for some time, and advice you accordingly.
Effects of Fasting during Pregnancy
Fasting during pregnancy can have several effects. Some of them are short-term effects and would subside with time whereas others may have implications for the long term. Here are some of the possible effects of fasting.
- Increase in the probability of premature birth.
- Increases the possibility of dehydration.
- Fasting could result in low birth weight.
- Reduced gestation period.
- Baby and mom could be deprived of essential nutrition.
Tips for Safe Fasting
If you decide to go ahead and observe a fast during pregnancy, here are some tips and advice to do so safely:
- Ensure that you eat healthy before initiating your fast.
- Avoid physical activity during the fasting period which could leave you tired.
- In case of a fast which requires you to give up water too, hydrate yourself well before fasting.
- Break your fast immediately if you feel too weak.
- When it is time to break your fast, do so gently as your digestive system has slowed down.
- Include a bit of all type of healthy food while breaking your fast.
- Plan your day to accommodate appropriate time for rest and relaxation.
- Avoid stressful situations.
- Think positively.
Warning Signs to Look for
While there are some precautions to be taken while fasting during pregnancy there are also some warning signs to look out for. These include the following:
- If you are not putting on weight or are losing weight, there may be cause for concern.
- Reduced frequency of urination accompanied by getting thirsty often you may need to break your fast.
- If you experience nausea and vomiting you may need to see a doctor.
- Headaches, pain in other parts of the body and fever are warning signs which must not be ignored.
- Dark coloured strong smelling urine could be a sign of dehydration and may cause UTI (urinary tract infection).
- Extreme weakness and fatigue should be addressed immediately.
Best Ways to Break a Fast
There are some precautions to be taken while breaking your fast to avoid any damage to your health. These include the following:
- Break your fast slowly: Fasting slows your digestive system. Start with small morsels to give your digestive system a chance to operate at its normal pace.
- Choose your first foods carefully: Consume complex carbohydrates like whole grains oats and cereals as they release energy slowly, and consume high fibre foods such as pulses fruits and vegetables to avoid indigestion and constipation.
- Avoid sugar: Food that is high in sugar content should be avoided as it can result in rapid fluctuations in blood sugar levels resulting in dizziness and fainting.
- Watch what you drink: Caffeinated drinks like coffee, tea, green tea, and aerated drinks such as cola should be avoided while breaking your fast.
- Stock up on protein: Make sure you consume high protein foods such as eggs, meat and beans.
- Steer clear of fatty food: Avoid high-fat content refined food, consume potatoes and chickpeas instead.
Alternatives to Fasting Daily When Pregnant
Depending on which culture you follow, some occasions may require you to fast for more than a single day at a stretch. All available alternatives to daily fasts should be explored during pregnancy.
- If there is a provision to avoid fasting altogether during pregnancy then it is best to make use of it.
- Rather than fasting daily one could fast every alternate day or opt for fewer fasts in a week.
- Donate money to charities or explore other such alternatives to compensate for not keeping religious fasts. Such exemptions, options and provisions are available to members of all faiths.
- Check if you could substitute a complete fast with other types of fasts. You could consider fruit fasting or water fasting while pregnant as they are less stressful as compared to a ‘complete fast’ which requires one to not have any water or food for an extended period of time.
Pregnancy involves a lot of changes to the body, the gain in weight and the fact that there is a baby which needs constant nutrition means that there are certain disadvantages of fasting during pregnancy, they are as follows:
- Low birth weight, there is the increased likelihood that the baby may be born with low weight.
- There is an increased likelihood of fatigue dizzy spells and fainting.
- Fasting during pregnancy may result in severe acidity.
- Increased likelihood of premature birth.
- Fasting may also increase the likelihood of dehydration.
While there is an ongoing debate about the effects of fasting during pregnancy and there are no clear answers yet. Women who choose to fast during pregnancy must keep the following in mind:
- If there is a provision of not keeping a fast during pregnancy then it is best that this provision be made use of
- A doctor’s advice is highly recommended and should not be ignored
- Women are advised to listen to their bodies and fasting should be immediately stopped on the first signs of weakness and uneasiness.
While not being able to hold a fast might affect women emotionally – especially if it is a religious fast they really want to, or are expected to hold – please do remember that your health and that of your baby is more important than anything else in the world. Also, there’s always the next year when you may fast! Offer your sincerest apologies to the Almighty, and skip fasting altogether if you can. Never push your body to do things it may not be able to bear!
Also Read: Smoking during Pregnancy