During the month of Ramadan, Islamic religion involves fasting from sunrise until sunset, however breastfeeding mothers do not necessarily have to fast.
Muslim mothers who are breastfeeding do not have to fast. The child can continue to breastfeed as per usual. Once breastfeeding has stopped, missed fasts must be made up for by fasting at a later date, or fidyah. Muslim mothers can consult a scholar or a book of fiqh for more information.
[…] pregnant and breastfeeding mothers are exempt from fasting according to the Hadith.
Some cultures interpret the Hadith very generally and will not fast at all if breastfeeding. In other cases and in Arab cultures in particular, mothers will only miss fasts in cases of hardship. They will often continue to fast during breastfeeding unless it has a negative effect on them or their babies. If they do not fast at the appropriate time, they will have to “pay back” the fast when they are able. 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.
How can fasting affect my breast milk?
The intermittent style of fasting in Ramadan can provide enough time for a healthy well-nourished mother to eat and drink between dusk and dawn and is not thought to be associated with lowering the milk supply volume as a whole, however it may affect the composition of breast milk by altering the micronutrients:
Ramadan fasting had no significant effect on the macronutrient composition of the breast milk and consequently the growth of the infants. There were significant differences in some of the micronutrients such as zinc, magnesium and potassium. The nutritional status of lactating women was affected by Ramadan fasting. All of the nutrient intakes (except vitamins A, E and C) decreased during Ramadan. For these reasons, it would seem prudent to excuse lactating women from fasting during Ramadan.
Dehydration and milk supply
In certain situations and climates, a breastfeeding mother could be at risk of dehydration during fasting in the month of Ramadan. Severe dehydration needs urgent medical treatment and may reduce milk supply. Warning signs for dehydration are listed on the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) website1 and include dizziness, headaches, fatigue, dark concentrated urine, and dry mouth, lips and eyes.
If you produce very little or no urine, feel disoriented and confused, or faint due to dehydration, you must stop fasting and have a drink of water or other fluid. Islam doesn’t require you to harm yourself in fulfilling the fast. If a fast is broken, it will need to be compensated for by fasting at a later date.
To fast or not to fast
An article by Dr Naomi Mirza on breastfeeding during Ramadan notes that an important consideration in the decision whether a breastfeeding mother might fast or not is whether her baby is still exclusively breastfeeding:
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 six months) and is completely dependent on 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.
In a book about breastfeeding during Ramadan, author Latonia Anthony mentions partial fasting may be a possibility for a mother who really wants to fast, however she cautions against fasting in the following circumstances:
Women who have a baby less than six months old (whom make almost 1 litre of breast milk a day), live in hot climates, are low income, tandem nurse, have multiples e.g. twins and who are older than 35 years are most at risk of severe dehydration and should not fast until weaning has occurred. The same goes for women who have confirmed low milk supply, must supplement, have a child that is underweight (preemies) or ill, take medications or have health conditions that make it difficult to breastfeed. If a mother really wants to fast, she can do partial fasting—committing to two to three days a week.
Keep well hydrated
If a mother does decide to participate in the fast while breastfeeding she can ensure she stays well hydrated between sunset and dawn and try to rest during the day: