Experts at Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) have advised pregnant and breastfeeding women to take necessary precautions if fasting during the holy month of Ramadan.
Women who have pregnancy complications such as diabetes, high blood pressure or anaemia are generally advised to avoid fasting during the holy month of Ramadan. Breastfeeding women are also advised to have a general health check to ascertain their fitness and ensure their baby’s well-being before undertaking fasting, according to the experts.
Fasting during Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam, although pregnant and breastfeeding women are exempt if it poses a risk to their health. “However, some Muslim women still choose to fast despite the health implications. Some studies show there is little or no effect on newborn babies whose mothers fasted during pregnancy. Others suggest health problems later in life, or that fasting in pregnancy can have some effect on the intelligence or academic ability of a child,” HMC has said in a press statement.
“Pregnant women with underlying health conditions should avoid fasting in order to protect themselves and their unborn babies from any further unwanted complications. However, pregnant women who are willing to fast during Ramadan should seek their doctor’s advice throughout the month to make sure that fasting is not affecting their baby,” cautioned Dr Faten El Taher, senior consultant in Obstetrics/Gynaecology at Women’s Hospital.
According to her, there are some concerns that fasting may affect how well a baby grows in the uterus (womb), or that fasting may be linked to premature labour. “There is usually an increase in the number of pregnant women visiting our Emergency Department during Ramadan due to fasting.”
“Some studies suggest that more babies are born early if their mothers fast during Ramadan. If Ramadan coincides with the summer months, this means hot weather and long days, which puts pregnant women at greater risk of dehydration due to a low fluid intake. This could induce premature labor and subsequently lead to preterm births,” Dr El Taher said.
She suggested that fasting pregnant women should contact their doctor as soon as possible if they are not putting on enough weight or are losing weight; become very thirsty, are urinating less frequently or if their urine becomes dark-coloured and strong-smelling - this is a sign of dehydration and can make them more prone to urinary tract infections or other complications; develop a headache or other pains, or a fever; and become nauseous or start vomiting.
She added that they should contact their doctor “straight away” if there is a noticeable change in their baby’s movements, such as if the baby is not moving around or kicking as much; they notice contraction-like pains - this could be a sign of premature labour; and they feel dizzy, faint, weak, confused or tired, even after they have had a good rest.
“If any of the instances above occur, women should break their fast immediately and drink water containing salt and sugar or an oral rehydration solution. They should also contact their doctor immediately,” Dr El Taher added.
Meanwhile, Dr Amal Abu Bakr Arbab, Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative Programme lead at Women’s Hospital, said if women are exclusively breastfeeding their babies, they are not expected to fast during Ramadan. She added that most Muslim scholars believe that women who are breastfeeding have permission not to fast.
“However, if breastfeeding women choose to fast, their baby will not be harmed because they will be able to keep making breastmilk while they are fasting,” she said.
Dr Arbab noted that if a breastfeeding woman begins to feel unwell and is experiencing increased thirst, dizziness or a headache, she should break her fast with water and rest. If she continues to feel unwell, Dr Arbab has advised that the person consult with a medical professional.
The Ministry of Public Health, HMC and Primary Health Care Corporation have partnered again this year to provide the public with information about common health issues through the Ramadan Health website. Introduced last year, the website is Qatar’s first online resource devoted to health and wellness during Ramadan and is available at www.hamad.qa/ramadanhealth
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