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Recently reader Brianne asks if I’ve ever seen information on fasting and pregnant women.
I explored this area not too long ago and found some interesting studies on pregnant women and fasting. I’ll present them in a moment. First I want to mention:
Many pregnant women do in fact practice fasting. Ramadan and Yom Kippur are religious observations in which healthy pregnant women fast. However, there are general fasting flexibility within each of these religions for the pregnant woman.
During Ramadan, if a pregnant woman fears for her health or the health of the unborn child, then she can fast the same equivalent of days at another time or feed the poor to compensate.
During Yom Kippur, if a pregnant woman feels dizziness or nausea, she may eat in “measures,” which means only a small amount of food and a cheekful of water.
In both religious observations, however, the healthy pregnant woman is encouraged to endure through the fast. This is serious religious practice.
The point I’m showing is that pregnant women have been fasting for a long time. But does it mean it’s the safest thing to do?
I looked at some studies (note: mostly abstracts). Here is what I’ve found.
One study shows that, in 110 pregnant women in their third trimester, short-term fasting of 12 hours has no effect on uterine and umbilical indices, or fetal cerebral artery developmental status (Abd-El-Aal, 2009).
Another study concludes that Ramadan maternal fasting has no effect on the birth weights of 13,351 babies born at full term (Cross, 1990).
Another study of healthy pregnant women found no difference between the fasting group (n=39) and control group (n=29) for fetal age, maternal weight gain, estimated fetal weight gain, fetal biophysical profile, amniotic fluid index, and umbilical artery blood pressure. In the fasting group, HDL (good cholesterol) increased slightly, and LDL/HDL ratios were significantly decreased (Dikensoy, 2009).
Another study concludes that fasting during Ramadan does not lead to excessive ketones in the body or urine of pregnant women. Additionally, fasting during Ramadan has no significant adverse effect on intrauterine fetal development or the fetus’s health (Dikensoy, 2008).
So do I recommend fasting to pregnant female? I’ll say no. Not everything is always simple: these studies examined healthy women with low-risk pregnancies. The whole story can change in pregnant women with diabetes, thyroid dysfunction, Cushing’s syndrome, adrenal disease, pre-eclampsia, and multiple pregnancy (twins, etc).
But I will tell you this: fasting in pregnant women isn’t new. This has been going on throughout history in observation of religious beliefs. Additionally, hunter-gatherers may have lived through irregular eating patterns, even if within a tribe the pregnant female garnered dietary support from others. We ought to remember the brilliance of the human body to adapt to feed patterns.