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Breastfeeding and Ramadan

Ramadan is a time of joy, forgiveness and detox shared with friends and family. A special celebration when people join together to fast, reflect and deepen their faith. Women who are breastfeeding can choose to fast, or delay until a later date to avoid any negative health effects. (Australian Breastfeeding Association, 2018). With this in mind, it is important to look at the facts and key tips about fasting and breastfeeding, so that women can decide what’s right for them and their little ones.

Key Facts…

Current research on fasting and breastfeeding shows that women’s bodies are able to adapt to any diet changes to maintain a good milk supply. Rakicioğlu et. al. (2006) discovered that short term fasting while breastfeeding does not cause a significant reduction in milk supply (yay!) and the major components of breast milk (carbohydrates, fats and proteins), essential for growth and energy, remain stable. However, they also found that levels of potassium, zinc and magnesium, needed for a healthy immune system and bone development, may decrease if fasting for more than 24 hours (Ravindran, 2018, Gluckman et al, 2014).

Fasting Top Tips… 

If baby is less than 6 months old and is being exclusively breastfed, then on demand feeding is recommended, as they are fully dependant on breast milk for hydration, growth and other essential nutrients (Zimmerman, 2009). Babies older than 6 months can continue with their normal breastfeeding schedule, as they gain vitamins and minerals from both breast milk and solid foods. When fasting, it’s important to observe baby for signs of dehydration which can include; reduced feeding, sleepiness or a decrease in number of wet or dirty nappies. If any of these signs are spotted, then it’s probably a good idea to get baby checked over by a Doctor or Midwife for peace of mind (La Leche League International, 2021). It’s also useful to think about baby’s present health, as this could affect how well they cope with possible changes to milk contents or supply. To remain healthy, mothers should aim to drink lots of water and eat well balanced meals (proteins, carbohydrates and fats) during Iftar and Suhoor.This provides the body with the essential nutrients that it needs for healthy function and breastfeeding. Sweet treats such as oat based cookies may also be beneficial for extra energy and maintaining a healthy milk supply. Occasionally, some mothers may need to drink a small amount of juice or water during fasting hours if they are very thirsty, experience dizziness or if they notice any changes to their milk supply. (Tigas et al 2002). It may also be a good idea think about limiting exercise and avoiding high temperatures to prevent dehydration (Zimmerman et al, 2009). If a mother starts to feel unwell, then a trip to see a doctor may be needed and the number of fasting hours or days may have to be reduced. By introducing a few pumping sessions overnight and at dawn, this can also help mothers to maintain a good milk supply. Furthermore, this may help them to rest more during daytime hours, as baby can be given expressed milk by family or friends using a cup, bottle or syringe.

Additional Thoughts…

The decision to fast should be made with consideration to a mothers general health. If she has a chronic illness such as diabetes or high blood pressure ,then fasting may not be advised, due to the risk of serious side effects. It can be useful to discuss any specific concerns with a doctor, who can provide additional information and support . (Hamad Medical Corporation, 2021). There is no set rule for fasting and breastfeeding, therefore, mothers should always be encouraged to trust their instincts and beliefs and do what is good for them and their babies.