August 12, 2012

Religious Fasting Does Not Lead To Premature Babies

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Fasting during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan does not make a pregnant woman more likely to give birth to their child prematurely, a team of Lebanese researchers has discovered.

Their study, which has been published in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, looked at a total of 402 women (201 who fasted during daytime hours and 201 who ate normally). They found that there was no significant difference in preterm delivery (PTD) regardless of gestational age.

"There was no difference in the proportion of women who had PTD at <37 weeks (10.4% versus 10.4%) or PTD at <32 weeks (1.5% versus 0.5%) in the Ramadan-fasted group and the controls, respectively," the scientists wrote. "The PTD rate was also similar in those who fasted before or during the third trimester."

They also reported that the mean birth weight of the children of those who fasted during Ramadan, the ninth lunar month of the Islamic calendar, was lower and the rate of ketosis and ketonuria was higher in those women -- a finding lead author Dr. Anwar Nassar, an obstetrics and gynecology professor at the American University of Beirut Medical Center, and colleagues called "alarming," according to Andrew M. Seaman of Reuters.

In an email interview with Seaman, Nassar said that pregnancy amongst women is in some cases a valid reason for exemption from the fasting requirement during Ramadan. However, he added that he is often asked by pregnant females whether or not it is safe to fast, leading him to begin work on what Seaman dubs the first English language study to examine "the effects of Ramadan fasting, specifically, on preterm delivery."

The subjects were recruited from four Beirut-area medical facilities in August 2008, Reuters said. Each of them were in their third trimester during the study, and each was followed throughout the month of September, during which Ramadan was celebrated that year. Nassar and his colleagues kept track of their health, the time when they delivered their children, and the birth weight of the infants at the time of birth.

"Overall, 21 women in each group gave birth before their 37th week of pregnancy, which is considered 'preterm,'" Seaman said. "Three fasting women gave birth before the 32nd week of their pregnancy, compared with one in the non-fasting group, but the researchers say that small difference could have been due to chance."

"The babies of fasting women also tended to be smaller than the babies of women who did not fast," he added. "On average, fasting women's babies weighed about 3 kilograms (about 6.8 pounds), compared with the babies of non-fasting women, who averaged 3.2 kilos (7 pounds)."