Ramadan & Breastfeeding
In an earlier article I discussed the options for a pregnant Muslimah in Ramadan. Now let’s look at a nursing mum. When a mother is fasting, will it affect the quantity and the quality of her milk? Definitely, the quantity will be affected. What about the quality? I cannot comment on this as I do not know of any studies that have been done to clarify this issue.
If the baby is still fully breast feeding and has not been weaned yet, the baby will depend wholly upon the breast milk produced by his/her mother. A fasting mum would produce less milk which might affect the growth of the baby. On the other hand, if the mother insists upon fasting, she might want to stop breastfeeding or she may want to combine feedings of breast milk and formula, but this is not encouraged. The World Health Organization (WHO) has stated that babies should be exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months to achieve the full benefit of breastfeeding. A mum who continues fasting would be doing so at the expense of her baby being introduced to cow’s milk /infant formula which is less healthy for the baby. A baby who is denied full breastfeeding will be at a higher risk for infection when compared to one who is fully breastfed. On top of that, breastfeeding mums who fasted reported feeling lethargic and excessively hungry which was probably due to dehydration.
So, should a breastfeeding mum fast?
According to the ulamas, the term, “those who can fast with difficulty . . .” here includes nursing mums. Although she can fast, it will be with a lot of difficulty since the baby will require being breast fed every few hours and this in turn will make the new mum dehydrated and lethargic.
My baby daughter was only 4 months old when Ramadan rolled along. I remember fasting and breastfeeding her. The quantity of milk produced was less but I made sure that I drank lots of fluids, juice, water, and milk between Iftar and suhoor. I ate lots of fruits too. I do encourage breastfeeding in Ramadan as long as mums maintain healthy eating habits and more than adequate hydration. Also, play it on day to day basis, especially for mums whose babies are less than 6 months old and wholly dependent upon being breastfed. If you find it too tiring and the baby is not getting enough nourishment, then consider not fasting or end the fast earlier if you need to. Islam values life above all else. For mums whose babies are being weaned, the question of inadequate milk supply doesn’t come into play as much since the baby has alternative sources of food and fluid.
May Allah Bless all mums in Ramadan.