How Fasting Affects Breastfeeding...or does it? Happy Ramadan!
Spoiler alert...it doesn't! There are a few safety rules, but generally speaking it is not known to have a negative impact on a healthy mom or baby, milk supply or composition. You can fast while breastfeeding, but you may also find alternative solutions or choose to abstain this year.
Allah states in the Qur’an, “Mothers shall give such to their children for two whole years, for those who wish the suckling to be completed…if after consultation, they choose by mutual agreement to wean the child, it is no offence for them…” (Al-Baqarah: 233).
During the month of Ramadan, Islamic religion involves fasting from sunrise until sunset. Also, according to Islamic Law, breastfeeding mothers do not necessarily have to fast. Breastfeeding mothers can also make up any missed fasts at a later date. If you choose to fast while breastfeeding that is also OK. Keep reading below to learn more about breastfeeding during Ramadan.
Muslims scholars and imams known as “Ulama", have been discussing breastfeeding while fasting for decades and still going. Ramadan is the most holy month of the year for Muslims. During the month, those who follow Ramadan abstain from eating, drinking, and sexual intercourse between sunrise and sunset. Also included in this is the practice of being extra patient, kind, and generous throughout a period of four weeks. Ramadan is right around the corner, this year it takes place from the Evening of Wed, Mar 22, 2023 - Evening of Fri, Apr 21, 2023.
As an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant®, it is very important to me to understand how to best provide guidance to Muslim families with regards to cultural and religious observances, like Ramadan, because it can have an impact on breastfeeding.
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Cultural & Religious Beliefs on Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding is important for different reasons to many people. Many Muslims view breastfeeding as the God (Allah) given right of the child according to Islamic law, as it is mentioned in the Qur'an/Koran, the holy book of Islam. If you follow the teachings of the Quran, you might strive to breastfeed your baby until the age of two years. However, it is not mandatory to breastfeed a child for two years if both the parents agree to wean the baby for a legitimate reason.
1. "Mothers shall breastfeed their children for two whole years, and for those who wish to complete the term" (2:233).
2. "His mother carried him, in weakness upon weakness, and his period of weaning is two years" (31:14). In a similar verse, Allah says: "His mother carried him with hardship, and gave birth to him in hardship. And the carrying of the child to his weaning is a period of thirty months" (46:15).
In some cultures extended breastfeeding is frowned upon. For example, in the sub-Indian cultures it may be acceptable for a girl to be nursed for longer, but not for a boy.
Many women around the world from various religions -- Muslims, Jews, Christians and Hindus -- choose to fast as fasting has not shown significant decrease in milk production if the hours are short, for example, between 5am and 7pm.
Should I fast while breastfeeding?
The decision is between you and Allah (God). An important factor to consider when you are thinking of fasting is the age of your baby. If your baby is still very young, less than 6 months old and therefore is solely dependent upon breast milk, then you should not fast.
If your baby is more than a year old, already on complementary foods and drinks breast milk only a few times a day, or only during bedtime, then you may be able to fast with little or no discomfort.
Fasting is not recommended while a baby is being exclusively breastfed.
How can fasting affect my breast milk?
Intermittent fasting is not thought to be associated with decreasing milk supply or a change in the major nutrient composition (fat, carbohydrate, protein) of breast milk. However intermittent fasting may affect the micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) in breast milk, such as zinc, magnesium and potassium.
Your body adapts to the changes in your diet by more efficiently using your calories and maintaining breast milk production. Research on breastfeeding mothers who had fasted shows that though there were very little changes in the amount of breast milk produced, it did change a little in composition.
The fat content of breast milk will remain unchanged during fasting. This is because your body will use your own fat deposits if you are not eating enough. Your baby's weight and growth rate will most likely remain unchanged if you are breastfeeding during Ramadan.
How do I know baby is getting enough?
Watch for these signs:
Weight gain 4-7oz a week / 0.5 - 1oz per day
Good diaper output; 5-6 wet or more and 1+ poo diaper per day
If you are worried your baby is not getting enough, signs of concern would be baby crying constantly, fewer wet diapers, weight loss, green stools, you should break fast and immediately contact your doctor and lactation consultant for a plan of care.
Missing Fast & Partial Fasting
Yes, missed fasts can be made up at a later date, but some breastfeeding mothers may prefer to fast with the rest of the family rather than fasting at a later date. If this is the case, and the baby is exclusively breastfed, it is recommend to discuss fasting with your primary care provider first to avoid complications. If you still want to fast, speak to your doctor about partial fasting for 2-3 days a week
[…pregnant and breastfeeding mothers are exempt from fasting according to the Hadith--sayings of the Prophet].
Some mothers with children spaced very close together will choose to make up the fast after all of their children have weaned. Some scholars say that instead of making up the fasts, these mothers can pay a compensation by feeding poor people a meal for the number of fasts missed.
You should not fast if you:
have a baby less than six months old
live in extreme hot climate
have multiples e.g. twins
at risk of severe dehydration
confirmed low milk supply
have a child that is underweight (preemies), ill, or takes medications or has a health condition that makes it difficult to breastfeed
Some helpful guidance tips for nursing during Ramadan or fasting period:
STAY HYDRATED: Daily water intake is very important to keep the body sufficiently hydrated. It is recommended to drink bit by bit throughout the permitted time, from sunset to early sunrise. Drinking too much just before fasting will just fill up the bladder and gets urinated out soon after, resulting in the mother feeling thirstier for the rest of the day.
EATING WISELY: It is very important to be well hydrated by drinking lots of water between Iftar (breaking the fast at sunset) and Suhoor (starting the fast at dawn). Make sure you eat a nutritious Iftar and Suhoor meal.
BREAKING THE FAST: As the fasting day ends, mothers should break her fast as early as possible, by eating natural high-energy foods, to quickly regain energy. A common option among the muslim community (which is also culturally recommended) are black dates. Mothers can opt for creative preparations such as blending the dates with milk. It's delicious & nutritious!
HANDS-ON BREASTFEEDING: For mothers who are breastfeeding directly throughout the day, some will notice that their baby became a bit fussier at the end of the fasting day, as the mother’s body is impacted by the fast. Breast compressions while feeding will help with improved milk transfer, which can satisfy the baby faster.
EXPRESSING MILK: Expressing milk can be a varied experience. Some mothers find no change at all in terms of the quantity of expressed milk, especially in the first half of the day. However, some may find that the yield of milk collected at the end of the day is lower compared to earlier in the day. When the amount of body liquid reduces as part of the effects of fasting, the quantity of breast milk can be a bit lower than the usual, and mothers will find that their milk at this point usually looks thicker.
It is your right and the right of your child to breastfeed.
Speak to those around you, friends and family and ask them about how they fasted.
If you fear that your child's health or your own health may be affected by fasting then you need not fast.
If you are breastfeeding and you choose to not fast in Ramadan, you are expected to compensate by feeding a poor person for the number of days you have not fasted.
Do not fast if your baby is exclusively breastfed or under 6 months old
Do not fast if you have confirmed low milk supply
Enjoy Ramadan, lean on support, prayer and stay nourished and hydrated before sunrise and after sunset.
Salam Alaykum Peace and Blessings to you and your family this Ramadan!
This blog was peer reviewed for cultural accuracy by Sister Fatima Muhammad, Doula / Lactation Educator
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