Balanced Nutrition, Key to Breastfeeding While Fasting

Fasting in Malaysia is synonymous with the Islamic month of Ramadhan. Breastfeeding women are exempted from fasting if it poses a risk to them or the baby. However, many who are healthy and able will perform this religious practice every year. Despite it being safe to fast if the mother is healthy (unless otherwise advised by your doctor), some new mothers still have concerns.

What Islam Says About Breasfeeding Women and Fasting

Allah says in the Qur’an (Al-Baqarah: 2:183): “So whoever of you sights (the crescent on the first night of) the month (of Ramadhan, i.e., is present at his home), he must observe sawm (fasting) that month, and whoever is ill or on a journey, the same number [of days which one did not observe sawm (fasting) must be made up] from other days.”

The Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “Allah has relieved the traveller of the obligation of fasting and half of the prayer, and He has relieved the pregnant woman and nursing mother of the obligation of fasting.” Narrated by al-Tirmidhi, 715; Ibn Maajah, 1667; classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in Saheeh al-Tirmidhi, 575.

Hence, according to both the Qur’an and Hadith, scholars conclude that it is permissible for you not to fast if you fear harm will come to you and/or your baby, in which case you would qualify under the category of “whoever is ill”. Likewise, if you think no harm will come to you or the baby, then you are obliged to fast.

Should I Fast If I’m Breastfeeding?

Yes, if you feel up to it. Scientifically, there is little evidence to suggest that fasting affects the nutrient quality of your breastmilk. Nevertheless, fasting is safer for you and your baby if you feel strong and well enough to do so.

Some studies do say that breastmilk supply may be affected, this is probably because mothers forget to breastfeed their infants as often as they would on normal days. This “reprogrammes” the breasts to produce less milk. Hence, if you do decide to fast, make sure you are able to feed your baby regularly or whenever he/she is hungry. You should also express and store your milk as usual. Remember, you’re the one fasting, not your baby.

Am I Harming My Baby When I Do?

As long as you eat well and nutritiously every day, you will continue to produce nutrient-dense breastmilk regardless of whether you are on a diet or are fasting.

However, if your baby is still very young (less than six months) and breastfeeds exclusively, you may want to refrain from fasting. It would be better to fast once your baby is already on complementary foods and drinks breastmilk occasionally. In any case, let a doctor assess your condition before you make a decision.

Did you know?

Breastmilk supply depends a lot on a baby’s demand. The more he nurses, the more milk the mother will produce. It’s called the ‘suckling stimulus’ factor.

Am I Putting Myself In Harm’s Way?

No, even though calories are used to produce breastmilk, your body will adapt to the demand of calories by using them more efficiently. This won’t have any direct long-term effects on your health.

Nevertheless, breastfeeding women are still subjected to the same physiological changes that occur in individuals who fast. The psychological and spiritual reward of fasting and breastfeeding transcends any form of physical hardship. It’s no wonder why many women find joy and satisfaction doing both simultaneously.

Reach out and learn from family members or friends who have gone through the experience before. Similarly, support from your spouse and other family members can help reduce some of the anxiety and stresses you may have.

What Should I Eat to Maximize Breastmilk Production & Quality During this Fasting Month?

The most important thing to remember is that you should eat a balanced meal containing a variety of foods from different food groups. You should also try:

  • Eating more complex carbohydrates (i.e. whole-grains, nuts, seeds, oatmeal, all kinds of green vegetables and pasta) because they release energy slowly throughout the day compared to other foods.
  • Reducing salty, oily and fatty foods.
  • Eating more whole meal breads, high fibre rice (e.g. brown rice), high fibre oats adds more fibre to your diet and is a good source of iron. Meanwhile, leafy vegetables (e.g. spinach, broccoli and cabbage) can also help supply you with folate.
  • Reducing sugary foods which make your blood sugar levels rise quickly and drop just as fast – you will feel hungry sooner!
  • Drinking plenty of water and avoiding sugary, carbonated and caffeinated drinks. These drinks make you lose water by making you urinate more often. This may cause you to dehydrate even faster, especially on hot days.
  • Eating well cooked lean meat, fish, poultry, and eggs. They are good sources of iron and omega-3 fatty acid. Make soup or gravy with them, that way you also get fluids in.
  • Your diet should include an average of 1 to 2 portions (200-300g) of fish like herring (ikan herring), canned light tuna or salmon per week to guarantee a sufficient concentration of DHA in your breast milk.
  • Consuming calcium-rich foods such as milk, yoghurt, yoghurt drink and soy milk or taufufa.

DHA ensures that the cells in the brain, retina, heart and other parts of the nervous system develop and function properly through all stages of life.

Tips To Sustain Energy Throughout The Day

  • Have a little snack 30 minutes before bed. Nothing heavy, a sandwich, a slice of cheese on a cracker, a small bowl of assorted fruits or something similar can help with metabolism.
  • Avoid stressful situations.
  • Practice beforehand for a few days leading up to the actual fasting day(s) to see how it feels like.
  • Express your milk at work as usual to keep up supply.
  • Drink plain water in moderation and to avoid feeling full.
  • Avoid heavy work or strenuous exercises which may dehydrate or tire you quickly.
  • Have plenty of rest and take naps between baby’s feed and whenever you feel tired. If you’re at work, you can nap during lunch time.

An educational collaboration with Nutrition Society of Malaysia.

Subscribe to our parenting newsletter.