Posted on May 26, 2018

To avoid complications, pregnant and breastfeeding women who are fasting during the Holy Month of Ramadan are advised to watch for unusual symptoms. Pregnant and breastfeeding woman who have not sought medical advice prior to starting their fast are also advised to consult their doctor if they have questions about whether fasting is right for them.

Fasting during Ramadan is compulsory for all healthy adult Muslims; however, pregnant and breastfeeding women are exempted and are able to postpone fasting to a more suitable time. Dr. Salwa Abuyaqoub (pictured left), a Senior Consultant for Obstetrics and Gynecology at Women’s Wellness and Research Center says pregnant and breastfeeding women are advised to consult with their physician and undergo a general health check before fasting. She also highlighted the importance of keeping the lines of communication open during the month, especially if a woman or her baby are experiencing unusual symptoms.

“While many pregnant women can safely fast during Ramadan, this is not medically advisable for women who have pregnancy complications such as diabetes and high blood pressure. If a woman is classified as having a high-risk pregnancy, fasting could potentially cause harm to her or her unborn baby,” said Dr. Abuyaqoub. She says women who have been deemed fit to fast while pregnant should rest frequently throughout the day and ensure they receive the correct nutrients and calories when breaking their fast each evening. “Women should also ensure they consume up to three liters of water between Suhoor and Iftar and avoid sweets and other sugary snacks which are usually consumed after Iftar,” she noted.

Dr. Amal Abu Bakr Arbab, Lactation Consultant and Lead for the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative at Women’s Wellness and Research Center also agrees that it is important for breastfeeding women to consult with their physician prior to fasting. She says while it is advisable to speak with one’s doctors before Ramadan begins, women should not hesitate to talk to their healthcare team throughout the month, especially if they start to feel unwell. “It is highly recommended that women exclusively breastfeed their babies for at least six months. Therefore, women with newborns are advised not to fast. Mothers of older babies who have already been weaned onto supplementary food in addition to their mother’s milk can fast because scientific evidence proves that fasting for 24 hours or less will cause very little change to the amount of breast milk produced and its composition,” she said.

Dr. Arbab explained that fasting may cause fatigue and dehydration (especially during hot weather and long fasting days) which will impact a woman’s ability to breastfeed effectively. “To maintain a continuous flow of milk and ensure breastfeeding is a success, women should be physically and mentally prepared, keep cool, eat healthy food, drink enough fluids, get at least two hours of rest prior to feeding their baby and ensure an average of eight hours of sleep each night,” she highlighted.

Dr. Arbab added that breastfeeding women should ensure they are eating a balanced diet and consuming an extra 500 calories in addition to the usual recommended intake of 2000 calories a day for females. Lots of fruit, vegetables, and foods rich in minerals as well as calcium should also be incorporated into meals.

Dr. Mohammed Ilyas Khan (pictured right), Specialist and Lactation Consultant, Obstetrics and Gynecology Department, Al Khor Hospital, reinforced Dr. Arbab’s advice, recommending that breastfeeding mothers who are fasting look out for signs and symptoms that could negatively impact their health. “If a breastfeeding mother is fasting and discovers that she is losing weight quickly, for example around one kilo per week, and also has a headache, feels excessively thirsty or dizzy and/or notices her urine is very dark, she should stop fasting immediately,” he stressed.

Dr. Khan added that the weight and growth rate of any breastfed baby of a fasting mother will most likely remain unchanged during Ramadan. However, he said it is important to keep an eye out for any signs of ill health. “Signs that your baby’s nutrition may be inadequate include constant crying, fewer wet nappies, greenish stools, and weight loss. If these signs are noticeable in your baby, please see a pediatrician as soon as possible,” he concluded.

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