Ramadan is a time for a spiritual high for many Muslims, but reality is that for moms it can be quite a challenging time. In the past 3 years, I was only able to fast for one of those years due to my pregnancies. In 2016, I fasted all 30 days while nursing my 11 month old baby. I won't sugar coat it - those fasts were challenging! Challenging but possible. Challenging but the best decision I made. I was able to fast while breastfeeding without compromising my supply. I was able to actively take part in the blessed month of Ramadan and for that I was grateful.
Today I want to share with you how it can be possible to fast during Ramadan as a Breastfeeding mom. Before we start, I just want to share a disclaimer that I am not an Islamic scholar. This post is not meant to serve as recommendation on if you should or shouldn't fast while breastfeeding. It would be best to speak to a scholar you trust before coming to a decision on whether you should be fasting while breastfeeding.
With Ramadan fast approaching, if you do choose to fast, these are guidelines to make it possible without compromising your milk supply and ensuring you and your baby remain healthy, inshallah!
The Benefits of Breastfeeding
Understanding what breast milk is and what it provides your baby with in terms of nutrients provides insight on the benefit of breastfeeding and why you should continue breastfeeding while fasting.
Human breast milk is meant to meet the nutrient needs of human babies. Breast milk provides babies with the three macronutrients:
For the first 6 months after the baby is born, it is recommended that the baby be exclusively breastfed and supplemented when needed (for example, babies who are exclusively breastfed require a vitamin D supplement in the form of drops). In the first 6 months, breast milk is highest in fat, and this declines slightly overtime as the baby grows past 6 months old.
Breast milk also contains micronutrients like vitamins and minerals, and most women have enough micronutrients in their breast milk to meet the needs of their baby without supplementing.
As all the nutrients are coming from the mom, breastfeeding does require women to increase their energy or calorie intake. Increasing calories in the form of a wholesome and healthy diet can ensure the health of both mom and baby.
While food is introduced generally after 6 months, breast milk continues to provide vital nutrition to the baby.
How Fasting Will Impact Breast Milk
The biggest concern that women face when deciding whether fasting while breastfeeding is right for them, is that they are unsure if fasting will impact their milk supply.
It's a valid concern since two of the factors that decrease breast milk supply are when the mother is not adequately nourished or hydrated. Ensuring that you are eating and drinking enough as well as consuming the appropriate types of food during suhoor and iftar will play a huge role in staying hydrated and healthy.
While there is limited research on fasting and breastfeeding, a few studies that have looked at nutrient composition of breast milk of fasting mothers actually showed no difference in fat or other macronutrients composition in the milk, before, during, or after Ramadan.
One study however, showed that fasting can have an effect on micronutrients in breast milk such as zinc, potassium and magnesium, and this was linked closely with the mother’s lowered intake of these nutrients.
Although many women have been able to fast with no impact on the amount of their breast milk production or nutrient composition, making sure that you know what red flags to look out for is really important.
Pay attention to your body: signs of dehydration include headaches, dizziness, and decreased urine with a darker yellow colour
Pay attention to your baby: signs that your baby is not getting enough milk include baby losing weight or not gaining weight, decreaed number of wet diapers, baby seeming unhappy after feeding, or seemingly overall distressed
Another consideration is whether your baby is younger than 6 months and exclusively breastfed or older than 6 months and eating table foods. It may be slightly easier to maintain your milk supply as your baby starts eating food but it is still important to focus on eating and drinking appropriately during non-fasting hours.
Now with this knowledge, if you're committed to fasting while breastfeeding, continue reading for nutrition and health tips.
5 Nutrition Tips for Fasting while Breastfeeding
1. Drink a LOT of water during non-fasting hours.
More than feeling hungry, you will likely feel very thirsty throughout your fast. Aim to drink 2-3 cups of water at suhoor and iftar. After iftar, keep a water bottle with you and try to get through at least 1 more water bottle. If you wake up in the middle of the night to attend to your baby, keep a water bottle at your bedside and have a few sips then too. Skip the sugary beverages all together so you can focus on drinking enough water.
2. Have a Suhoor Smoothie in addition to your regular meal.
It can be hard to eat enough calories in the middle of the night for suhoor. That's why I recommend ADDING a smoothie to your suhoor. That's right, have a meal AND a smoothie. It may be difficult to drink a whole glass, so try including at least half a cup. An example of suhoor might look like:
2 egg omelette with spinach + 2 slices of whole grain bread + 1 cup smoothie
While it is important to eat enough calories as a breastfeeding mom, overeating fried items won't give you the nutrition you and your baby require. How you eat at iftar is key to feeling more energized throughout the month of Ramadan. Instead, have a meal with protein, lots of veggies, and whole grain carbohydrates.
A few hours after iftar before bedtime is another opportunity to get in some extra nutrition and calories. My go-to snack are energy bites because they can be prepared in advance and have the perfect ratio of carbs, protein, and fat. Here are 3 different types of energy bites you can try:
I recommend all women that are of child-bearing age to have a prenatal supplement daily but it is especially important for breastfeeding moms during Ramadan. The prenatal supplement will help provide any nutrients that are missed from your limited meals and snacks while fasting.
IMPORTANT: Do NOT skip feeds.
It is very important to maintain your regular breastfeeding schedule to prevent any declines in milk supply. If you do have to be away from your baby, try pumping at the same time you would have fed him/her.