Breastfeeding and Fasting During Ramadan
Can you or should you still fast during Ramadan if you're breastfeeding? Get the facts here, so you can make the most informed decision for you and your baby!
The topic of breastfeeding is mentioned in the Quran, Islam’s holy book. According to LaLeche League International, mothers who are following the teachings of the Quran will often aim to breastfeed their baby until the age of two. During the month of Ramadan, when Muslims fast from dawn to dusk, this can present a unique challenge to a breastfeeding mom. According to the Hadith, a collection of traditions with the sayings of the prophet Muhammad, pregnant and breastfeeding mothers are exempt from fasting until the reason for which they are exempt, such as maintaining strong breast milk supply and production for their baby, has passed.
However, some breastfeeding Muslim women may still choose to fast, so long as it won’t pose a risk to their own health or their baby's health. If you are a breastfeeding woman and wondering whether or not you should fast during Ramadan, read on for valuable information that might help you make the best decision for you and your little one – whatever that may look like!
Can I Fast During Ramadan While Breastfeeding?
According to Dr. Naomi Mirza, M.D., MPH of New Jersey’s St. Joseph’s Health, if a fast is brief—for example, one that takes place between 5 a.m. and 7 p.m.—there should be no significant decrease in milk production. However, in parts of the world where the sun sets at 9 p.m., fasting for a breastfeeding mother can be very difficult.
Dr. Mirza recommends that if your baby is less than six months old and completely dependent on breast milk, it’s best not to fast. If your baby is over one year old and his or her diet is already supplemented with solid foods, fasting should not present a problem.
How Fasting Affects Breast Milk
A study performed by the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that fasting doesn’t typically affect the macronutrients in breast milk, but some micronutrients may be impacted. Those include zinc, magnesium, and potassium; however, these changes to breast milk composition were only seen in women who fasted for more than 24 hours. Additionally, the research shows that milk output stayed relatively constant.
That’s why it’s critical for breastfeeding moms who decide to fast to ensure they consume “sehri,” the morning meal eaten by Muslims during Ramadan before the sun has come up.
The fat content of your breast milk will remain unchanged during fasting, allowing your baby to continue to thrive. That’s because your body will use your own fat deposits if you’re not eating enough to acquire it from food.
Staying Healthy While Fasting and Breastfeeding
If you do choose to fast while breastfeeding, it’s essential to keep a close eye on your own health as well as your baby’s overall wellness. You may want to take supplements containing vitamin D with your pre-dawn meal. You should also consult your physician if you feel you’re losing too much weight or a lactation consultant if you believe your breast milk supply is affected.
Hydrating is critical, especially if the fast is taking place during the summer when temperatures are higher and the time between dawn and dusk is longer. Signs of dehydration include feeling excessive thirst, dark and foul-smelling urine, dizziness, sleepiness even when you’re getting enough sleep, and headaches. If you are experiencing those symptoms, you should speak to a doctor right away and consider breaking your fast.
Signs your baby may not be getting enough nutrition include constant crying, fewer wet diapers, greenish stools, lethargy, and weight loss. If you notice these symptoms in your baby while you’re fasting, you should speak with your pediatrician right away. He or she may recommend breaking your fast for the well-being of your baby. In addition to ensuring your little one’s safety, your pediatrician may also recommend taking a break from fasting this year because mothers may be more prone to give supplements to their baby during this time and it is actually not recommended to give supplemental foods and/or liquids (such as water or tea) to baby.
As always, if you’re struggling with breastfeeding or feeling unwell while fasting, don’t be afraid to ask for help from your doctor or a lactation specialist. Medela also has plenty of helpful resources on breastfeeding to help you through each stage of your parenting journey.