Important questions on breastfeeding and fasting
Can a breastfeeding woman fast?
There is no unified answer to this important question. The answer depends on several factors such as:
A newborn baby requires frequent feedings during the day, sometimes as frequent as every hour and a half to two hours. This requires extra effort from the mother’s body to produce a sufficient supply of milk. Therefore, it is not recommended that a new mom fast during the first six weeks postpartum. If the infant is a little older and feeds every few hours, the mother’s fasting might be possible, depending on her health and the health of the baby.
2-The degree of dependency on breastfeeding
The mother’s ability to fast while breastfeeding differs depending on whether the baby is exclusively breastfed, or is also taking formula, or has already started eating solid food if the baby is not exclusively breastfed and taking some formula, or solid food, this might make it easier for his mother to fast.
3-The milk supply
Some mothers don’t have a sufficient milk supply, even before fasting, and their babies are not satisfied with the amount of milk they get. So, if a woman is trying to increase her milk supply, fasting in Ramadan is not ideal for her, as it might affect the milk quantity.
Babies go through several growth spurts, when babies need feeding more than usual, the baby might feed once every thirty minutes or every hour, which means the mother will need to produce more milk. Therefore, fasting will be very hard during this time.
Does fasting affect the milk supply and production?
Some women are affected when fasting while breastfeeding, while some are not, especially if they follow the expert’s advice and recommendation. So, again there isn’t one answer that fits all cases, each case must be advised individually without generalization.
Tips to ease fasting while breastfeeding
1-Watching for the mom’s dehydration
If the breastfeeding mother decides to fast after being cleared by her doctor and the breastfeeding consultant, she must watch for any signs of dehydration, such as excessive thirst, exhaustion, fainting, and dark urine. All these are indications that her body is dehydrated and needs water, which means she can’t carry on with fasting.
2-Watching for baby’s dehydration
The number one indicator that a baby is dehydrated is the decrease in wet diapers. A baby wets at least six diapers every day, if the baby wets fewer diapers, this means the baby is not getting enough breast milk. The decrease in the amount of urine in each diaper is also a sign that the milk may not be sufficient. Other signs of dehydration in babies include dark urine, and unusual discomfort and fussiness, these signs could indicate that the milk he used to get has decreased due to the mother’s fasting. It is noteworthy that in case the mother’s milk decreases. In this case, it is recommended for the mother to break her fasting and try to boost her milk supply by pumping and taking galactagogues.
3-Having an extra meal
A breastfeeding mother needs to have an additional meal to Iftar and Suhoor when fasting. A breastfeeding mother’s meals during Ramadan must be healthy, and rich with essential nutrients like proteins, carbohydrates, and healthy fats.
4-Following a healthy diet
A fasting breastfeeding mother needs to consume three liters of water between Iftar and Suhoor. I also recommend adding foods that help increase the milk supply such as dates, oatmeal, nuts, and fenugreek tea. It is very important also to reduce the consumption of sugary and salty foods like pickles, consuming these foods with great amounts causes thirst and will fill the stomach with unhealthy foods. I also advise breastfeeding moms to cut down on their caffeine consumption, when fasting during Ramadan.
It is essential that a woman who is breastfeeding not overwork herself while fasting to keep the energy she needs for breastfeeding.
I recommend pumping and storing breast milk before Ramadan, to use it in case of any emergency or sudden drop of milk supply while fasting.
My advice to a breastfeeding mother who wants to fast in Ramadan is to be very flexible about this, and not to rush into deciding whether she will fast or not fast. I recommend trying to alternate fasting and not fasting, to give her body a chance to recover and produce more milk, depending of course on her and the baby’s health.