Ramadan is the most sacred month of the year for Muslims all over the world. During this month, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, and go on a spiritual journey of prayers, Quran reading, and repentance. Ramadan is also a month of celebration and spending time with family and loved ones. But women who are in the nursing stage, often ponder if they should fast during the holy month. If you have a little one whom you’re breastfeeding exclusively, read this article to find out if you should fast during Ramadan.
Is It Obligatory to Observe the Ramadan Fast While Breastfeeding?
It is not mandatory for a breastfeeding woman to fast during Ramadan. It is up to the woman to decide whether or not she wants to fast while breastfeeding. If a woman fears that her health and her child’s health may be affected by fasting during breastfeeding, then she need not fast; but if the mother and baby are doing well, the mother can choose to fast during Ramadan.
A woman’s decision to fast while breastfeeding will also be guided by the age of her baby. If the baby is under six months of age and is exclusively breastfed, the mother should preferably not fast. However, if the baby is a little older, a-year-old to be precise, and has started on solids and drinks breast milk only a few times a day or at night, the mother can fast during Ramadan.
Impact of Fasting While Breastfeeding
Fasting is not obligatory for breastfeeding women during Ramadan. If a woman opts to fast during this time, she should know that the intermittent style of fasting in Ramadan will not affect her milk supply. The mother can eat and drink before dawn and after dusk, and there would be no significant changes in the nutrient composition (fats, carbohydrates, and proteins) of her breast milk.
However, many breastfeeding women find themselves worrying about their babies’ health and their milk supply should they happen to fast during Ramadan. Let’s try and understand if fasting while breastfeeding can have any impact on the mother and the baby.
How Does Fasting While Breastfeeding Impact the Mother’s Health?
A well-nourished mother who chooses to fast while breastfeeding during Ramadan will not experience any significant decrease in her milk supply. Neither will the fasting have an impact on the major nutrients present in breast milk. But fasting while breastfeeding can be hard for some women. If the holy month of Ramadan falls during the summer months (such as in 2020) and the fasting period is longer, women may find it difficult to fast. The milk supply may not get affected, but women may feel drained by the end of the day. Women who choose to breastfeed exclusively may also feel dehydrated.
Should you wish to fast in your nursing phase during Ramadan, you must make sure that you are doing well and that your baby is getting enough nutrition and feels full after every feed. You should also drink plenty of water before sunrise and after sunset to prevent dehydration and take ample rest during the day.
Note: If you fast consecutively for a few days into the holy month, and notice that you have lost weight considerably or are experiencing any signs of dehydration, such as feeling thirsty or faint or sleepy, have headaches, or have foul-smelling urine, then you may have to stop fasting.
The best thing you can do before you decide to fast consult a health care professional with regards to fasting during breastfeeding and avoid complications in the first place!
How Does Fasting While Breastfeeding Affect Baby’s Health?
Fasting while breastfeeding won’t have any ill effects on the baby. A woman’s body tends to adapt to the dietary changes and uses stored calories for making breast milk and maintaining breast milk supply. As stated above, the quality of breast milk is not affected if a woman chooses to fast while breastfeeding. The major components of breast milk will also remain unchanged, especially the fat content of the breast milk, as the body will use fat deposits should a woman decide not to eat. However, the levels of micronutrients like zinc, potassium, and magnesium in breast milk may decrease if the woman fasts for a while.
A baby’s nutrient requirements are most likely to remain uncompromised. Nevertheless, the mother should be vigilant and watch out for any signs of health complications in the baby. Some of the signs that the baby is not getting enough nutrition are given below:
- The baby cries incessantly
- The baby is irritated
- The baby has lost weight
- The baby is soiling or wetting fewer diapers
If you notice any of the above signs in your baby, consult a paediatrician immediately.
How Can a Nursing Mother Compensate If She is Not Fasting for Ramadan?
If you’re a breastfeeding mother, and you choose not to fast in Ramadan, you can compensate for the same by feeding a poor person for the number of days you don’t fast. In case you had been fasting but couldn’t continue with it because of an unwanted health complication or some other reason, you can compensate for it by fasting at a later time during the year before the onset of the holy month again.
Important Points to Remember In Case a Breastfeeding Mother Chooses to Fast During Ramadan
While fasting is not mandatory for a breastfeeding woman during Ramadan, if you’re in good health and feel up to it, you can fast, provided you follow these simple tips.
- Stay Hydrated.
Up your water intake while breastfeeding, more so if you’re choosing to fast during breastfeeding. Drink water, fresh fruit juices, or herbal teas at Suhoor or Iftar. Avoid drinking caffeinated drinks as they might dehydrate you further. Drink at least 2-3 liters of water while you can but save up some space for healthy food. You will need to eat before sunrise and after sunset to meet your nutritional requirements from food.
- Plan Your Meals.
While deciding a week’s menu for everyone in the family may be difficult for you, especially if you live in a joint family, but you may find yourself with a lot of time at your end if you do plan a menu for the week. You won’t have to spend time thinking about what to cook for Iftar daily. Planning your meals will also give you time to take adequate rest!
- Eat Healthy and Nutritious Foods.
If you’re convinced with the idea of planning meals in advance, there’s one more thing you can do: ensure that you only plan (and have) healthy meals. Your diet during Ramadan should comprise of carbohydrate-rich foods that release energy slowly, such as whole grains, low GI rice, dates, and other dried fruits. You should also eat fruits and vegetables during this time.
- Make Sure You Have Adequate Rest.
If you’re planning to fast while breastfeeding, it goes without saying that you need to get ample rest. Resting while you’re fasting will keep your energy levels up and your stress levels low, so find time to relax. In that time, you can reflect or pray; whatever you think will be good for you and your baby, practice that!
Breastfeeding a baby is important for his/her good health and if you’re a breastfeeding mother, you should enjoy this phase while your baby is still young. Although it is not compulsory for nursing moms to fast during Ramadan, you can fast if you think you can manage it and your baby’s health won’t be affected. You can also speak to a health care professional should you have any questions regarding the same. Once your doctor affirms that you and your baby are in good health, you will have nothing to worry about. Ramadan Kareem!