Pregnant and breastfeeding women who are fasting during the holy month of Ramadan have been advised to watch for unusual symptoms to avoid complications.
In a statement, Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) said: "Pregnant and breastfeeding women 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, senior consultant for obstetrics and gynaecology at Women’s Wellness and Research Center, said pregnant and breastfeeding women are advised to consult with their physician and undergo a general health check-up before fasting.
“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.
Dr Amal Abu Bakr Arbab, lactation consultant and lead for the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative at Women’s Wellness and Research Center, agrees that it is important for breastfeeding women to consult with their physician prior to fasting.
“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 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 pointed out.
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 2,000 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 Mohamed Ilyas Khan
Dr Mohamed Ilyas Khan, specialist and lactation consultant, Obstetrics and Gynaecology Department, Al Khor Hospital, reiterated 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 1kg 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 paediatrician as soon as possible,” he added.