Navratri, a nine-day Hindu festival dedicated to the worship of Goddess Durga, often involves the tradition of fasting. However, for pregnant women and new mothers, the question arises: should they observe fasts during this auspicious period? Since the tradition of fasting is deeply rooted in cultural and spiritual practices and many women feel extremely conflicted about whether they should fast or not and if they skip fasting, will it affect them in some way. Lets dive into a possible answer for this!
Should pregnant women fast?
I spoke to a few moms from the zactive mom community on their experiences. Here is what Shriya, a new mom shares- “Fasting is compulsory in our culture. I was expected to fast when I was pregnant in Navratri. I ate fruits that day and I remember feeling dizzy towards the end of the day. My husband took me to the hospital where they told me my blood sugar had fallen due to fasting. I got a good lecture from my gynecologist on this!”
So is fasting in pregnancy safe?
It is well known that growing a baby requires 400-450 calories extra in addition to the usual calorie intake of an adult female. For expectant mothers, observing fasts during this time requires careful consideration of potential health implications. Dehydration, fluctuations in blood sugar levels, and nutrient deficiencies are some of the risks associated with fasting that could adversely impact the health of both the mother and the developing fetus. And some research has shown that fasting when you are pregnant can lead to the production of ketone bodies, molecules produced by the liver during periods of low food intake that may have a negative impact on the fetus. So it is best to stay away from fasting when pregnant. If you must fast, take your gynecologists advice on how to maintain your blood sugar levels. Don't feel guilty, most religions allow pregnant and breastfeeding moms to skip fasting!
Is fasting safe while breastfeeding?
Breastfeeding moms need 450 calories extra to make milk for the baby. So in this situation it seems that it will be tough to do it while fasting! Its not a good idea to fast immediately after giving birth as the body is recovering and sometimes it takes a few days for milk supply to get established. However, its also important to note that research has shown that fasting for a day or so does not have an effect on the milk supply or mother's health. Its also very important to stay hydrated even if you decide to fast as liquid intake is crucial in breastfeeding moms!
Fasting for extended period of time isn't recommended in new moms- the reason being- the quality of breastmilk is dependent on mother's diet. So you risk the quality of your breastmilk and thereby your baby's weight gain.
Is there scientific evidence on effects of fasting?
Well, the answer is YES. Most religions allow pregnant and new moms to skip fasting so please don't feel guilty if you have to skip!
Here are a few general points that were commonly acknowledged:
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), fasting during pregnancy can potentially lead to dehydration and inadequate nutrient intake, affecting the health of both the mother and the developing fetus.
A study published in the Journal of Mid-life Health indicated that fasting can impact breast milk supply and composition, potentially affecting infant health.
The Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism emphasized the significance of stable blood sugar levels during pregnancy, suggesting that fasting could lead to fluctuations in glucose levels, potentially posing risks for pregnant women, especially those with gestational diabetes.
A survey conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO) emphasized that individual recommendations should be the norm for pregnant and new moms who fast for cultural and spiritual reasons.
Here are some diet tips for fasting in pregnancy and breastfeeding.
So while it is clear that its better to stay away from from fasting when you are pregnant or breastfeeding, what can you do if you just have to fast? Luckily, there are a number of foods allowed during Hindu fasting. These foods differ from region to region so you can ask your elders for advice. Here are a few healthy foods you can consume every 2 hours while fasting in navratri.
Include slow digesting carbohydrates as they will make sure you get the required energy throughout the day. Combine high carbohydrates like potatoes and sabudana (widely used in fasting) with other fibrous vegetables like sweet potato and bottle gourd.
Some regions allow vegetables like raddidh, cabbage and spinach to also be included in fasting foods.
. Kuttu is a brilliant combination of carbohydrates (70-75 per cent) and protein (20-25 per cent). It is also rich in proteins, B-complex vitamins and minerals like phosphorus, magnesium, iron, zinc, copper and manganese. Use it to make chapatti.
Include whole grains like ragi and amaranth for making roti. Use roasting instead of deep frying.
Samak rice is extremely easy to digest and provides energy, contains a high amount of fibre, B-complex vitamins and important minerals like iron and magnesium.
Eat plenty of seasonal fruits.
Many regions allow liquids like coconut water, lemon water, buttermilk without sugar to be consumed when fasting.
Makhana is a great food option to have when fasting. Have it by roasting it in ghee or as a kheer to stay full!
Dry fruits like almonds and cashews are also consumed in some parts of India as a fasting food.
Use sendha namak (rock salt) instead of regular salt.
Include peanuts in your diet. They are rich source of proteins and will keep you full longer!
If you are having pre-existing conditions like gestational diabetes, high blood pressure or complicated/high risk pregnancy, please talk to your gynecologist before starting any change in diet. Have a great Navratri and remember to take ample rest!
NOTE: This article does not replace medical advice. Every pregnancy is different and we recommend you take your doctor's advice before fasting in pregnancy or breastfeeding.
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