The issue of fasting during pregnancy is a controversial one. Much has been asked about whether it is safe or not for both baby and mother to fast but in the end, the decision is yours and it has to be made together with your obgyn who knows your health best.
You and he or she will determine if you are healthy enough to fast, but as a rule of thumb, if you are in the first or third trimesters or you are unwell or have complications such as hypertension, gestational diabetes or any other problems, you should not fast.
The Khaleej Times of UAE has reported in an article that Islam is of the view that pregnant women do not have to fast. The days that have been missed can always be repaid back later when you are healthy.
However, if all is going well and you wish to fast, and your doctor gives his OK, then here are some food recommendations from Jayden Lee ─ a practicing nutritional therapist with a B.Sc. in nutrition science and certification in nutritional medicine and sports ─ to keep you and baby nourished and hydrated during the fasting period.
This article also covers nutrition for non-pregnant women. All healthy adults are required to fast from Sahur to Iftar during the month of Ramadan. Fasting is an obligation under the five pillars of Islam.
To learn more about fasting for children, do read 5 Secrets to Healthy Fasting for Kids: Expert Gives Tips.
Motherhood’s questions to Jayden are:
Q1: What do pregnant mums need to do to stay nourished and hydrated when fasting?
Jayden: For mums who insist on fasting during Ramadan, please make sure you:
- Drink plenty of water during Sahur
- Eat energy-rich foods during Sahur (Bananas, Leafy Green Vegetables, Fatty Fish, Brown Rice, Sweet Potatoes, Quinoa, Eggs, Oats, Nuts, Yoghurt).
- Consume prenatal nutrient and protein supplements in order to provide sufficient nutrients for the growing baby.
- Avoid heavy activity which will make you feel tired and exhausted.
- Break your fast if you feel weak and nauseous.
Q2: Pregnant mums will generally feel tired. Should they sleep more or take a nap when fasting?
Jayden: Pregnant women feeling tired is very normal. Instead of taking a nap, I would ask them to take more food containing iron and vitamin B6 to increase their blood supply, so they will not feel tired or sleepy. Foods that contain iron and B6 are Egg Yolks, Lean Meat, Beans, Lentils, Dates, Spinach, Kailan, Fortified Cereal and so on.
Q3: What do pregnant mums need to do to stay nourished and hydrated when fasting?
Jayden: The diet guide is the same as for children except the portion sides need to increase. Do take more iron-rich foods during Sahur like spinach, legume, tofu, dates, red meat, iron fortified cereal and some cashew nut.
As for hydration, coconut water is the best isotonic choice when compared to those sports or energy drinks. Coconut water contains a lot of potassium which provides better hydration power than plain water. Coconut water is low calories and has no added sugar. It is therefore, a much healthier choice.
Q4: After many hours of abstaining from food and water, what tips, advice or food do you recommend to break fast with ?
Jayden: Dates are usually a good choice for breaking fast. Dates are easily digestable and can give you instant energy. It is also a high fiber and potassium-rich food, it can stabilize your body’s sugar levels and make you feel rejuvenated after a long hours of fast. Besides dates, nuts are also another choice of healthy food to eat when you are caught in the jam and have to break fast in the car.
It is not recommended that you break your fast by straightaway eating fried foods, high sugar food or drinking carbonated drinks. Eating this way will bring a lot of trouble to your digestive tract, and eating high sugar food after a long fast will trigger an insulin spike. This will increase the risk of getting diabetes.
Do not eat too much red meat either the moment you break fast as red meat like beef is more difficult to digest compared to fish and eggs.
Generally speaking, however, most Malay dishes use a lot of spices like turmeric, curry powder, pepper, gloves, garlic, and onion. These foods are very high in antioxidants, which is good.
Dishes like Ayam Masak Merah, Ayam Kunyit, Ikan Bakar, Tempeh, Nasi Lemak (use quinoa to cook instead of white rice), Rendang (use chicken instead of red meat) are very healthy.
Even Sambal Sotong can be very healthy. There is nothing unhealthy about the main ingredient unless you add a lot of sugar and processed oil in there. You can replace the white sugar with honey and processed oil with good quality olive oil, or coconut oil.
Here are some bonus tips on how to break fast without upsetting your stomach: Take 1 teaspoon of Apple Cider Vinegar or a pinch of cinnamon powder or half a lemon in hot water as you break fast or right after the meal. This will help stabilise blood sugar and improve overall digestion.
For more tips on nutrition, diet and fasting, come meet Jayden Lee in person at Motherhood’s ParentCraft Classes, held every first Saturday of every month, or get in touch with him by emailing or calling him.