Breastfeeding and fasting in Ramadan

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By Nishaat Jano Mukuddem from Back to Nurture Doula and lactation support services

Ramadan is the holy month where Muslims across the world abstain from food and water and bad habits from sunrise to sunset for 29-30 days.

Pregnant mom’s, breastfeeding mothers and the ill and elderly are exempt from fasting, although many moms feel that they are able to manage and would like to try. Hopefully this will be a helpful guide on how to navigate Ramadan as a breastfeeding and fasting mom.

It’s important to remember that for babies under one year old, that milk is their main source of nutrition and it is important not to compromise your milk supply. Moms and babies most at risk would be in the first 8-12 weeks after birth, your supply is still being established and your baby drinks quite frequently at this age.

Also at risk would be moms with premature babies, twins/multiples, babies with low birth weight, those struggling to gain weight, moms that are struggling with breastfeeding, including latch or supply issues, if you live in hot climates with long hours or low income moms and those who suffer from chronic illness.

Studies have shown that while macronutrients (fat, carbs or protein) in breastmilk are not affected by fasting, micronutrients may be – these are vitamins and minerals such as zinc and magnesium. It’s vital to continue with your prenatals and any supplements like Iron etc during this time. Dehydration is the most worrisome factor as this can cause supply to drop. 

Ideally the best time to fast would be for babies over 6 months and established on solids. 

For moms with babies under 6 months, they need to be more mindful of the risk to their supply and may want to try fasting alternate days instead.

Red flags if your supply drops or you feel dehydrated:

  • Feeling very thirsty, feeling dizzy, having headaches, fatigue, dark concentrated urine or dry mouth, lips and eyes. 
  • Baby cries constantly, has fewer wet diapers, passes green-coloured stool, or has weight loss or isn’t gaining. 

Please break your fast and see a lactation consultant if need be. 

Fasting Tips for breastfeeding moms 

Hydration is key but do not fill your stomach up with water. Aim for 2-3 glasses of water during the morning meal and try for a smoothie or milk/milk alternatives as well. At supper or iftaar time sip on fluids steadily from sunset/maghrib prayer time and keep a water bottle with you so you may continue to hydrate throughout the night.

In the mornings aim for a protein, complex carb and healthy fat on the plate. Eggs, fatty fish, lean proteins, grains, full cream yogurts, oats, fresh fruit, nut butters and avo are all good options. An ideal plate would be a spinach and cheese omelette with some fruit and a smoothie. If you cannot consume heavy meals try for fruit and yogurt or oats with some toast and avo or a smoothie.

Limit fried savouries, opt to use the air fryer if you can. Break your fast with dates and nuts and fresh fruit or prepare a mezze platter instead. You want to replenish the body so make sure you eat mindfully and include healthy fats, proteins, carbs and vegetables on your plate. Soup or bone broth is an excellent option and is hydrating as well as nutritious. Have small meals in the evening instead of one big meal, break up your meal dividing it into the night so that your body slowly makes up for what was lost in the day. Continue to sip on water as well through the night setting an alarm if needed. As much as you may want to skip the morning meal and sleep instead, you need the fuel for the day ahead. Skipping breakfast can make you ill and making fasting even harder. 

By eating and drinking through the night your body can make up for what was lost through the day. You may also find it easier to feed your baby through the night while being able to replenish fluids and calories. We often call this reverse cycling where a baby will make up for lost feeds in the day by feeding more at night.

Rest as much as you can where ever you can. Limit chores and cooking time, try to nap if you can. Remember that breastfeeding usually burns calories and fluids so you want to limit activity while you’re fasting as you are not able to replenish these till later. 

Try not to skip feeds especially if your baby is under 6 months. Frequent feeds will help keep your supply up. If you feel there is a slight dip especially towards the end of the day, try breast compressions as you feed. You can also add some expressing in your routine if you have the time to help keep supply up. You can use excess milk to top up or stash in the freezer. Only pump after your baby has fed. If you feel supply has dropped and your baby isn’t getting enough please discontinue fasting and do skin to skin and have a nursing day. Contact a lactation consultant if you need further assistance. 

Galactagogues are certain foods or herbs that can help increase supply. They cannot replace frequent feeds, the best way to keep supply up is by feeding often, but they are a helpful tool especially in Ramadan. Incorporate them in your diet to help boost supply. Examples of galactagogues are fenugreek, brewers yeast, turmeric, fennel seeds, nuts like almonds, garlic and ginger, wholegrains like oatmeal, dark leafy greens such as spinach. Some can be found in tablet form like fenugreek or you can get brewers yeast in powder form which is helpful to add in smoothies and oats. 

For older toddlers where milk supply is fully established and solids are the main source of nutrition, it’s OK to skip the occasional feed in the day if you’re feeling drained. Delay or distract baby from a feed with a toys, games, going outside or playing with them. Offer them a meal/drink/snack. 

Understand that with illness of a baby, its normal for them to drink more, your breastmilk will provide antibodies and comfort. They may not want food at this point and your milk is their main source of nutrition. It’s temporary and if, due to their excess drinking, you’re unwell or dehydrated and weak, take a break from fasting or fast alternate days until you’re both feeling better. 

If you feel sick and cannot manage, don’t force yourself to fast. Fasting is not meant to cause harm to the body. Take breaks when you absolutely cannot keep going or fast alternate days.

May you all have a blessed month.