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Fertility treatment challenges for Muslim women during fasting holidays

In a recent interview, Shefali Mavani Shastri, MD, FACOG, physician partner at Reproductive Medicine Associates, discussed challenges Muslim women face when seeking fertility treatment during fasting holidays.

There are multiple racial, ethnic, geographic, and economic disparities impacting fertility treatment access and outcomes in the United States. Fertility knowledge also differs between racial and ethnic groups, and this gap is likely caused by economic and sociodemographic disparities.

This indicates a need to address social factors and bias to reduce disparities. When counseling women for fertility treatment, providers recommend having the best physical, mental, and psychological health status possible to reduce stressors.

Studies have indicated conflicting data about the impact of fasting on fertility outcomes. One study in Egypt reported fasting during Ramadan as a lower psychological stressor. However, an observant patient will likely ask if they should delay the treatment cycle until the fasting period is over.

Other patients may avoid fasting during treatment, but this decision may be associated with guilt from not following guidelines based on their religion. This indicates an additional struggle when deciding to undergo fertility treatment among Muslim women.

According to Shastri, doctors should be culturally competent to ensure equal access and outcomes related to fertility treatment. This includes understanding different stressors patients may be experiencing and openly discussing them.

Doctors should also reassure patients that they will receive support if they wish to undergo fertility treatment while fasting, and that they can safely delay the treatment for 1 month if they wish. Shastri believes it is important for physicians to be supportive and to communicate with their patients about this topic.

Shastri noted more work is necessary to reduce disparities. This includes further research, increasing knowledge among patients, and improving access to care for all patients.

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