Are you currently breastfeeding and aren’t sure whether you are exempt from fasting during the month of Ramadan or not? We’ve put together a list of some of your most common questions to save you from googling around for the correct answer.
Please note, it is best to seek advice from a scholar from your own sect as this is written as a general guide to breastfeeding and fasting during the month of Ramadan.
Should I Fast?
The general consensus when it comes to breastfeeding and fasting is that if you are able to, you should fast during the month of Ramadan unless you feel like it may negatively affect yourself or your child. If you feel like fasting may have a detrimental effect on you or your infant, then you should abstain from fasting but these must be paid back at a later date.
This is outlined in Surah Baqarah [2:185]
“and whoever is ill or on a journey, the same number [of days which one did not observe Sawm (fasts) must be made up] from other days”
Many Islamic scholars believe that pregnant women and breastfeeding women fall under this “ill” category of people mentioned in the above Quranic verse and should be exempt from fasting.
You may choose to fast depending on the age of your child and their feeding needs. If your child is less than 6 months old and is dependent on your breast milk as their sole food intake, it is advisable to not fast and pay them back at a later date. If your child is older than 6 months and only has your milk a few times a day on top of their regular meals then you are able to fast.
You can also commit to partial fasting where you fast every alternative day or fast for 2-3 days with a day break in between. This can help you re energise and keep your milk supply strong.
Just remember, if you choose not to fast, you can pay these back later. Whether you do fidyah of feeding the poor is dependent on your sect so please do seek advice from a scholar.
Does Fasting Decrease My Milk Supply?
Although it may seem that fasting for so many hours will reduce your milk supply, studies have proven that fasting – whether for religious reasons or health (intermittent) – does not negatively affect your milk supply and your body will continue to make breast milk the same way it usually does.
According to several studies, the composition of the macronutrients and fats do not change in the milk of a breastfeeding mother who is fasting but there may be a slight change in the levels of the micronutrients in the milk, more notably in the levels of zinc, potassium and magnesium. These decreased micronutrients are not known to cause an effect on the growth and development of your child.
Dr Hessa Khalfan Al Ghazal, Director of the Executive Committee of the Sharjah Baby Friendly Emirate Campaign commented on the results of one of these studies that was carried out in the UAE and noted that “Breast-milk is incredibly resilient, and can retain its major nutrients even during fasting. It’s crucial to maintain the same breastfeeding pattern during Ramadan, to give the baby a sense of continuity and rhythm. If a mother chooses to fast, it’s vital that she replenish her nutrients with a balanced diet encompassing all the major food groups when she breaks her fast each day, and revert to her normal eating habits immediately after Ramadan”.
Does Fasting Harm My Child?
Your infant is likely not to be harmed by you fasting and are still able to take in all the important macronutrients – proteins, fat and carbohydrates – that they will need for growth and development from your milk.
A study carried out by Khoshdel et al (2007) on the effect fasting had on the growth of exclusively breastfed babies up to the age of 6 months found that there was no significant difference in the development of babies between the groups of mothers who were fasting and those who were not. The babies were routinely checked over a period of 6 months including during the month of Ramadan. They concluded that fasting during the month of Ramadan does not affect the growth of the child.
It is also advisable to keep an eye on your baby and their food intake and habits whilst you are fasting. You must cease fasting if you notice the following:
- A big difference in the number of wet and dirty nappies your child has in the course of a day in comparison to when you are not fasting.
- A drop in your child’s weight
- Change in your baby’s temperament
- Your child starts to feel unsettled and cries after feeds (usually with no tears)
- Green coloured stool
- Sunken head
How Should I Prepare For Breastfeeding Whilst Fasting?
Here are a list of things you can do to prepare for the month of Ramadan if you are going to be fasting and feeding:
- Do any exertive chores like food prepping or house projects before Ramadan begins so that you are able to take it easy for the month
- Try to nap when your child naps. This may seem easier said than done, especially if you have more than one child, but it can help to keep your energy levels up and reduce stress.
- Eat well-balanced and extremely nutritious iftars and suhoors that are filled with complex carbohydrates like oats, barley, beans, lentils and millet, as well as fruits, vegetables, monounsaturated oils and fibre.
- Once fast breaks, it is a good idea to drink lots of water until suhoor time to ensure you are fully hydrated before the next fast begins but be sure to have water intervals rather than drinking lots at once. It is best to avoid caffeine and fizzy drinks as these can cause more dehydration.
- Do not skip suhoor as your body will need these calories to give you the energy to fast
- Take a multivitamin to counteract any changes in the micronutrients of your milk.
- If you notice your child becomes fussier towards the end of the fasting day, try your hand at breast compressions when feeding to ensure the milk from the back of the breast is drained out. This will help satisfy the child faster.
When Do I Need To Break My Fast?
As we all know, both breastfeeding and fasting can make you feel thirsty. If the mother becomes dehydrated, this can be harmful to her and can cause a drop in her milk supply. If you are experiencing any of the signs and symptoms of dehydration (feeling thirsty, severe headaches, dark coloured urine and feeling faint or dizzy), it is best to break your fast so that you are able to rehydrate yourself. You should have water with sugar and salt or a dioralyte to help feel replenished and if you are still not feeling great after 30 minutes, please consult a health professional.
Fasting can also mean a dip in your blood sugar levels, especially if you have sugar metabolism problems, as you haven’t eaten for many hours. If you are starting to feel faint, it is best to break your fast.
If you notice you are losing a lot of weight in a short period of time e.g. more than 1/2kg a week then you must stop fasting.
- If you feel that you are able to fast without causing a detrimental effect on yourself or your child, then it is recommended to fast during the month of Ramadan.
- You may find it easier to partially fast.
- Fasting does not affect the macronutrients in your milk supply which is what aids the growth and development of your child
- If you are starting to feel unwell or you notice your child is losing weight or not feeling great, it is important to cease fasting.
- If you are unable to fast then the fasts must be made up at a later date and depending on your school of thought, fidyah may be recommended.
Disclaimer: It is always best to seek advice from a scholar for your particular sect in Islam as the advice may differ.
Breastfeeding in Ramadan: A Guide for Fasting Mothers, Latonia Anthony, 2016
IBFAN Policy statement Fasting of pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers
The Effect of Ramadan on Maternal Nutrition and Composition of Breast Milk, Pediatr Int, Rakicioğlu et al, 2006