Experiences and outcomes of maternal Ramadan fasting during pregnancy: results from a sub-cohort of the Born in Bradford birth cohort study

Background: Observing the fast during the holy month of Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam. Although pregnant women and those with pre-existing illness are exempted from fasting many still choose to fast during this time. The fasting behaviours of pregnant Muslim women resident in Western countries remain largely unexplored and relationships between fasting behaviour and offspring health outcomes remain contentious. This study was undertaken to assess the prevalence, characteristics of fasting behaviours and offspring health outcomes in Asian and Asian British Muslim women within a UK birth cohort. Methods: Prospective cohort study conducted at the Bradford Royal Infirmary UK from October to December 2010 comprising 310 pregnant Muslim women of Asian or Asian British ethnicity that had a live singleton birth at the Bradford Royal Infirmary. The main outcome of the study was the decision to fast or not during Ramadan. Secondary outcomes were preterm births and mean birthweight. Logistic regression analyses were used to investigate the relationship between covariables of interest and women's decision to fast or not fast. Logistic regression was also used to investigate the relationship between covariables and preterm birth as well as low birth weight. Results: Mutually adjusted analysis showed that the odds of any fasting were higher for women with an obese BMI at booking compared to women with a normal BMI, (OR 2.78 (95% C.I. 1.29-5.97)), for multiparous compared to nulliparous women(OR 3.69 (95% C.I. 1.38-9.86)), and for Bangladeshi origin women compared to Pakistani origin women (OR 3.77 (95% C.I. 1.04-13.65)). Odds of fasting were lower in women with higher levels of education (OR 0.40 (95% C.I. 0.18-0.91)) and with increasing maternal age (OR 0.87 (95% C.I. 0.80-0.94). No associations were observed between fasting and health outcomes in the offspring. Conclusions: Pregnant Muslim women residing in the UK who fasted during Ramadan differed by social, demographic and lifestyle characteristics compared to their non-fasting peers. Fasting was not found to be associated with adverse birth outcomes in this sample although these results require confirmation using reported fasting data in a larger sample before the safety of fasting during pregnancy can be established.