Breastfeeding moms: To fast or not fast?

Breastfeeding moms: To fast or not fast?
Published : June 27 , 2016
Latest Update : July 04 , 2021
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By: Nadeen Haidar, Dietitian and Co-founder of Healthy Happy Us

Every year, when Ramadan approaches, breastfeeding mothers face a difficult decision: To fast or not to fast? A lot of questions are raised- Will fasting effect milk supply? Will it affect the quality of milk? What impact will it have on the health of mother and baby? The answers to each of these questions are, as always, it depends. It depends on the mother’s diet, what she eats when she breaks her fast as well as many other factors.

Here are 4 findings from research that will help mothers make a more informed decision about breastfeeding while fasting:

  1. Fasting will not necessarily decrease milk supply

Research shows that the quantity of milk produced is not effected by low food intake. In fact, women in extreme poverty have been known to successfully breastfeed. We know, however, that if a mother drops in weight suddenly it is likely to affect milk supply quantity. So, even though some women in extremely harsh conditions with very little access to food are able to breastfeed it might not be the case if the mother loses a lot of weight while to fasting.

  1. Severe dehydration can decrease milk supply

Breastfeeding moms should take special care in getting their fluids needs. 8-10 glasses of water is the recommendation. Some tips that usually work is setting an alarm to drink a glass of water every half hour or keeping track of the amount of water by drinking from a water bottle and refilling it. An easy way to monitor hydration status is to check the color of urine. If it ever looks dark yellow (like apple juice), this is a sign of dehydration and therefore it is advised that the mother rehydrates immediately- even if that means breaking her fast. In this case, the baby generally nurses, as usual, the day of the fast, but often needs to nurse more often the next day or two. Therefore it is advised that mom takes special notice of her baby’s hunger and satiety cues.

  1. Fasting does not have an effect on the macronutrient (carbohydrates, protein, and fat) content of breastmilk but it may affect the micronutrients (vitamins/minerals) content of breastmilk.

This means that despite the fact that the growth of the baby is not usually affected, he may develop some micronutrient deficiencies. So if a mom chooses to fast while breastfeeding, it is important to keep track of the baby’s nutritional status by visiting a pediatrician.

  1. If a mother’s diet is not balanced and nutritious, the nutritional status and health of the breastfeeding mother is likely to be affected

The breastfeeding woman’s body appears to make several metabolic adaptations during short-term fasting to ensure that milk production and quality is not affected. If a mother’s diet does not meet her nutritional needs, milk production may be at the expense of the mother’s nutrient stores.

It is advised that a breastfeeding mother ensures she has the following foods:

  • 5 portions of fruits and vegetables (1 portion of fruit is a handful, 1 portion of vegetables is 2 handfuls)
  • Wholegrain bread, pasta, rice, bulgur, quinoa, and freekeh
  • Plenty of fiber by enjoying some beans, lentils, chickpeas, whole grains, nuts, fruits and vegetables
  • Low-fat dairy, including milk, yogurt, and cheese
  • Plenty of fluids, mainly water, and low-fat milk.

Some mothers may feel like their body is strong enough to withstand breastfeeding and fasting and decide to give it a go. Others will feel like they want to be on the safe side and break their fast. The most important thing is to always put both mom and baby’s health as a priority.  It may sound like a drag to skip fasting during Ramadan to be able to breastfeed and feel the need to make the days up later on in the year. But, when making this decision, keep in mind why you chose to breastfeed in the first place. Remember how beautiful of a gift you are giving your baby and your body. Most importantly, remember to find support. There is a community of mothers, experts, and advocates who are here to support you on this breastfeeding journey; be it while fasting, or not. Every breastfeeding mom will need support at some stage of her journey, so if you’re ever feeling a hint of doubt, don’t hesitate to find a doctor, a dietitian or a lactation consultant who you can trust to guide you and support you.


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