Ramadan and Pregnancy
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Looking after yourself while you're pregnant is essential, but what happens when carrying a baby clashes with important religious events such as Ramadan? Is it possible to stay safe and healthy while observing the necessary rituals?
Fasting and pregnancy?
Fasting during the holy month is an important observance for many Muslim mums and it can be difficult to consider the possibility of skipping the fast.
Ramadan represents a fundamental principle within the Islamic faith and is a time dedicated to abstinence, reflection and refraining from self-indulgence or wrongful behaviour. Many Muslims feel that to fully embrace the spirit of the holy month, it is necessary to take part in all aspects, both in the nature of their thoughts and in their actions.
As Ramadan involves fasting during daylight hours, this can pose a real dilemma for Muslim mums-to-be and there is divided opinion about the best way to approach this time.
Some doctors believe that providing the pregnancy is healthy and with no complications, fasting is not completely out of the question. However, it will not be easy and the woman must ensure that she eats well between dusk and dawn, spacing out the nutrition regularly, rather than in one large amount. Going for such a long time without food is also likely to take its toll on energy levels and pregnant women attempting to fast must ensure that they avoid stress and take regular rests.
However, dehydration is an even bigger risk to the unborn baby and the mother and it is for this reason that many women are unable to continue to observe the fast, especially if they are living in a warm climate.
Some pregnant women may have to break their fast for medical reasons if any warning signs appear. These include extreme dizziness, blurred vision, palpitations, dehydration or uncontrollable nausea and vomiting.
Other expectant mums should not even attempt a fast. Any pregnant women who has diabetes, a kidney or liver disease or asthma requiring treatment should refrain from fasting. In addition, high blood pressure, severe morning sickness or high risk pregnancies such as a multiple baby pregnancy or a pregnancy at prematurity risk should also not fast between dawn and dusk.
Feeling like you're not taking part
Being unable to take part in such an important part of Ramadan can feel very distressing for some women, but the Qur'an can be a source of comfort as it not only confirms that the fasting person should not harm or kill themselves but also nor hurt anyone else either. The Qur'an also says that 'Allah intends every ease for you; He does not want to put you to difficulties..'.
It should not be seen as a sin to be unable to participate in fasting through Ramadan as all of the evidence suggests that it is not designed to be an exercise in danger, but a gentle refocusing of the mind. There are other ways in which to become involved in the holy month such as giving to charity, feeding the poor or having family and friends around for meals after dusk.
Theories on Ramadan and pregnancy
According to Muslim scholars, a pregnant woman is entirely excused from observing the fasting rituals of Ramadan at the time should they feel it may harm either themselves or their child. It is generally agreed that as pregnancy is only a temporary physical state, once the woman has recovered from childbirth and is fit to do so, she should make up the fasting days, without any additional penalty. The days do not have to be subsequent but should preferably take place before the following year's Ramadan.
Some other Muslim tutors have suggested that an additional penalty may be necessary if only the baby's health was feared for and not the expectant mother's. It has been suggested that if this is the case then the women must pay the fidyah, which involves providing food to one poor person for every day the fast is broken. However, this view is rather controversial as the mother and the baby are within the same body and causing harm to one could cause harm to the other.
An alternate opinion amongst not only Muslim mothers but also clerics is that continuing to fast can actually be viewed as a selfish act, rather than a good one. This is because Allah has given explicit consent to be excused from fasting in the circumstances and in fasting, the woman is choosing to ignore the unborn baby's needs to gain sawab (spiritual rewards), an act against the very spirit of Ramadan itself.
Of course, the one party not mentioned so far is the expectant father. Watching his partner go through the difficulties of fasting while pregnant can lead to a huge amount of worry and stress and many men have admitted they would rather the fast was not observed by the expectant mother.
Choosing whether or not to fast during the holy month is a highly personal choice and much will depend on how far along the pregnancy is; whether there has been any complications as well as the general health of the mother. However, because so much is unknown about the potential effects of fasting on the development on an unborn baby, many Muslim women opt to not fast during their pregnancy, with maybe just one or two occasional fasts towards the end of the month.