Although many rabbis and doctors have long recommended that pregnant women can fast for 25 hours on Yom Kippur as long as they drink a limited amount of water, new research at Soroka University Medical Center has found that doing so could carry a significant risk of triggering premature delivery.

According to the findings, pregnant women can fast at no risk of premature birth up to the 20th week.

Between the 20th and 37th week, however, it could be dangerous.

Prof. Eyal Sheiner, head of an obstetrics department at the Beersheba hospital who is on the faculty of Ben- Gurion University of the Negev, said women in their 37th week of pregnancy until the 40th (final) week need not worry because they were already approaching the delivery date.

Magen David Adom annually acknowledges that it brings a greater percentage of women to the hospital for delivery on Yom Kippur or a day or two later, but it has not specified whether they were at the end of their pregnancies or had been experiencing early contractions for months before the due date.

Preterm delivery, said Sheiner, is before the 37th week, and it constitutes more than three-quarters of cases of complications in the fetus or even fetal death, which occurs in 7-11 percent of premature deliveries.

A link between early contractions and fasting had not been determined, and many doctors and rabbis believed that fasting did not constitute a higher risk to the fetus.

Sheiner and colleagues compared a population of Jewish women who fasted on Yom Kippur and gave birth with non-Jewish women who didn’t fast .

The researchers, including Dr. Ro’i Shalit and Natalie Shalit, found that on Yom Kippur, between 1988 and 2011, Jewish women were at significantly higher risk – in fact, double the risk – of premature birth on the fast day than during the week before Yom Kippur. There were 745 births on Yom Kippur during this period, 52.1 percent Jewish, and 47.9% Beduin. The Beduin women, who did not fast, were not at greater risk.

Not eating for more than a day is an independent risk for premature birth, said Sheiner, “so we want to recommend that pregnant women do not fast a full day on Yom Kippur.

If pregnant women (or their husbands, doctors or rabbis) decide that she should fast on Yom Kippur, they should at least drink, and if pressure, contractions or back and stomach pains begin, go immediately for a doctor’s examination, Sheiner said.

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