ABU DHABI // Pregnant women wanting to observe Ramadan have been urged by doctors and clerics to seek medical advice before attempting to fast.
Possible side-effects of fasting while pregnant include hypoglycaemia, ketosis and dehydration.
"With this year's Ramadan falling in the peak of summer, the long hours of fasting can have a significant effect on the mother and the baby," warned Dr Gowri Ramanathan, division chief of Foetal Medicine at Corniche Hospital. "Pregnancy puts additional demands on a mother, and fasting can cause dehydration."
The risks are even higher for women in the first few months of pregnancy, according to Dr Ramanathan. Yet despite the repeated warnings many women remain stubborn in their resolve, she said.
"We see many women who insist on fasting, even women who have medical disorders such as diabetes, who we have clearly advised not to fast."
Muslim clerics at the UAE's official Fatwa centre have also joined calls for women to be sensible. They said those advised not to fast - particularly pregnant women and those breastfeeding - should take the advice and not fast.
Dr Ramanathan said it was not enough for expectant mothers to rely on how they were feeling. "Although most women feel well with fasting, sometimes it can have an effect on their bodies without them being aware. It is always advisable to speak to your doctor about this.
Dr Muna Tahlak, a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at Latifa Hospital in Dubai, is willing to give some of her patients permission to fast.
"Each pregnancy is very different in terms of whether there are complexities or not so it is very important their obstetrician knows," she said, but added: "Normally if a woman is pregnant - regardless of which trimester they are in - and she is doing well in terms of complexities and no excessive nausea or vomiting, then it is OK she fasts as long as she hydrates herself well when she breaks the fast and she pays attention to her needs at that time.
"It is important she has taken adequate requirements to give her baby enough nutrients."
Samira Juma, a 23-year-old Emirati from Abu Dhabi who is pregnant with her second child, said she plans to fast.
"It is important I keep hydrated and if I feel dizzy then to take time from what I am doing to relax for five minutes," she said. "I also tend to avoid any hot places to keep me from feeling dizzy."
Her after sunset diet will exclude oily foods, starchy carbohydrates and fizzy drinks. Instead, she will eat plenty of yogurt, dairy and soups.
Fasting pregnant women should be sure to have a piece of fruit that is high in iron at iftar, such as pomegranate, mango or grapes, according to Dr Hiam Ahmed Harfoush, a specialist in obstetrics and gynaecology at Burjeel Hospital.
"Then my best advice would be to eat little and often until Suhoor," she said, adding that women should try to eat the best quality food as possible and stick to natural, rather than processed food where possible.
"Natural food is best for both mother and baby," she said.
"In our religion pregnant women should try to fast only if they are able. If she is not able then break the fast. The most important thing at any time is the baby."
Dr Tahlak agreed, adding that pregnant women should not put themselves under too much pressure. "Fast for one or two days then take a break for a day or two," she said. "Religion says pregnant women have the excuse not too fast. This takes the pressure off," she said.
"The moment you feel fasting may harm the baby then you must stop."