Fasting – i.e. going without food for a significant period – is an important part of many women’s lives, whether for religious, cultural, or dietary reasons.
But if you’re expecting a baby, you might wonder if it’s possible (or advisable) to continue fasting while pregnant.
Whether you want to keep up your intermittent fasting regime, or you’re considering fasting during a religious festival, we’ve got all the info you need to help you make up your mind.
In this article: 📝
- Can you fast while pregnant?
- Can fasting affect early pregnancy?
- How long can you fast while pregnant?
- Can you do intermittent fasting while pregnant?
- What about fasting for religious reasons?
Can you fast while pregnant?
Of course, fasting while pregnant is a personal choice.
And we know the idea of not fasting might raise some strong feelings, particularly if you have religious reasons for the fast.
But the fact is that medical experts recommend avoiding fasting during pregnancy.
That’s because pregnancy is a time when what you eat is really important. It’s important to get enough calories and essential nutrients to help your baby grow and to support your body as you take on the mammoth task of making a brand new person!
Interestingly, in your first trimester, you don’t actually need any extra calories on top of what you’d normally eat.
But, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), in the second trimester, you need about 340 extra calories, and that rises to 450 calories in the third trimester.
Plus, if you’re planning on breastfeeding, eating enough during pregnancy is essential for building up your fat stores, which will help your body produce milk for your baby.
So, the bottom line is that fasting and going without food for long periods of time makes it much more difficult for you to get the calories and nutrients you need for a healthy pregnancy.
Fasting could also be problematic if you have pregnancy complications.
For example, if you have gestational diabetes, fasting can also make it more challenging to keep your blood sugar levels steady.
Can fasting affect early pregnancy?
Most of the research that’s been carried out on the effects of fasting while pregnant has focused on Muslim women fasting during the festival of Ramadan.
Results are quite mixed, but there is some evidence that fasting could have a negative impact on pregnancy in certain situations.
For example, in one 2009 study, it took the researchers longer to detect fetal movement after a woman had been fasting.
When the woman’s energy levels were low, it seems that the baby also wasn’t getting enough energy.
The study doesn’t look at whether there is any longer-lasting impact on the pregnancy because of this, though.
A more recent study from 2019 found a link between fasting in the second trimester (particularly during weeks 22 to 27) and a higher risk of preterm birth. But fasting during the first trimester was not found to have an impact.
How long can you fast while pregnant?
As we’ve seen, it’s not advisable to fast for any length of time during pregnancy.
But, if you do choose to fast, a shorter fast will be safer. It’s best to avoid fasting for longer than one day at a time.
Can you do intermittent fasting while pregnant?
Intermittent fasting (IF) means eating only within a certain time period every day.
Popular regimens include the 16:8, where you eat during eight hours of the day and fast during the other 16, and the 5:2, where you eat normally five days a week and fast on the other two.
IF is supposed to help you lose weight and provide other health benefits.
But is intermittent fasting while pregnant a good plan? In short, not really.
As we know, pregnancy is a time to focus on getting enough nutritious food rather than restricting your diet.
You might find it tricky to get enough calories when you’re squeezing all your meals into a shorter time period.
If you’re interested in IF because you feel you need to lose weight, chat with your healthcare provider.
It’s actually really important to gain at least some weight during pregnancy, even if you were overweight before becoming pregnant.
Your healthcare provider can work with you to come up with an eating plan that will help you gain weight in a healthy way.
What about fasting for religious reasons?
Periods of fasting are observed by many religions across the world, particularly during major festivals.
Think Judaism and Yom Kippur, Christianity and Lent, or Islam and Ramadan.
But most religions make an exception for pregnant women and don’t require them to fast. Take Islam, for example:
What is the Islamic ruling on fasting while pregnant?
Under Islamic law, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding are allowed to postpone their Ramadan fast. Another option is to pay Fidya – make a donation to charity – to compensate for not fasting.
Islam, along with other religious faiths, recognizes that women need to take special care of their health during pregnancy.
So fasting while pregnant isn’t an obligation for them.
But, of course, you might feel sad or guilty missing out on the fast, especially if your family and friends are all taking part.
Something that might help would be to consider marking the fast in a different way. For example:
- Cutting back on treat foods
- “Fasting” from an activity you enjoy, such as watching TV
- Spending time connecting with your spirituality through prayer or meditation
- Doing some volunteer work in the community
And you could always chat with other mamas-to-be on Peanut to get more ideas!
Tips for safer fasting
If you do decide to go ahead with your religious fast, here are some tips to help you and your baby stay healthy while you’re fasting:
- Talk to your healthcare provider before you start your fast. They’ll be able to advise you on how to fast more safely, based on your situation and pregnancy history.
- Consider fasting on alternate days. Taking regular breaks from fasting will help you keep up your calories and essential nutrients.
- Keep taking your pregnancy supplements. Especially folic acid in your first trimester.
- Drink plenty of water. Staying hydrated is essential during pregnancy. If you’re fasting from fluids and you notice any signs of dehydration, such as dark-colored pee, dizziness, or headaches, you should break your fast with a drink right away.
- Rest and avoid strenuous activity. You’ll need to conserve your energy!
- Stay cool and in the shade if your fast is taking place in hot weather.
- Break your fast with some nutrient-rich foods. Think fruit and veggies, whole grains, and protein. Eating foods with a high water content (soup, stews, or oatmeal) will help you stay hydrated, too.
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