Ramazan is the month of spiritual overhaul but most women who breastfeed are indecisive about fasting. Some fast and some don’t, such as Ayesha Parveen, who fasts but finds it quite challenging as she breastfeeds her one-year-old son Mohammad Tahir.
“I feel dizzy especially after 12pm and then it’s quite hard to spend the rest of the day. I have no energy to do anything and it’s impossible to lie down even for a couple of hours when you have three kids to take care of,” she says.
The 36-year-old says, this Ramazan she is fasting on alternate days, but she really wishes to know what sort of diet a woman can take that gives her energy as well as motivation to fast.
On the other hand, Saria Majid, who had a baby girl, Bareera Siddiqui, just two months ago, chooses to fast and she says it’s completely fine for her. “I intend to fast during the whole month as I did when my first child, Ali Siddiqui, was born three years ago,” she says. Majid adds Ramazan came when Ali was seven months old and she kept fast for all 30 days. But, she used to give Ali some table food. “I feel Bareera feels hungry as I cannot feed her more so I give her some water and she falls asleep. I am not sure whether I should feed her water or not.”
Islam and breastfeeding in Ramazan
Mufti Faisal Japanwala, who teaches Islamic Studies at Iqra University, says women are allowed to not fast for two years while they breastfeed. But, after two years they have to make up for their missing fasts. “If a woman thinks her child’s health is affecting negatively due to her fasts then she must stop fasting as the child’s health is more important than anything. Moreover, that is the matter of human health and life.”
Japanwala shares Islam also allows mothers to hire breastfeeders for their children, if they can afford, because children less than six-month-old should be breastfed exclusively.
According to Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey 2017-18, in Pakistan, 48% of children under the age of six months are exclusively breastfed. The median duration of exclusive breastfeeding is 1.6 months.
Exclusive Breastfeeding is defined as “only breastfeeding and no additional food, water or other fluids for the first six months of life,” as per the WHO definition.
Zohra Ashraf Kurji, who works as a lactation consultant and also teaches at the Aga Khan University, clarifies that feeding a two-month-old baby water is harmful as he/she can suffer from diarrhea if the water is contaminated. Children less than six months should not be given honey and water.
Clinical Dietitian Hira Farooq says breast milk contains all the nutrients a child needs in the first six months of life so the best thing is to feed the child only mother’s milk. Also, breastfeeding prevents infections, such as, diarrhea and respiratory illnesses.
Farooq explains a child till the age of six months completely relies on mother’s milk. Therefore, it is advised that women breastfeeding their child in its first six months should not fast and if they do, they are basically endangering the health and life of their child. However, Kurji also advises that if a child is irritable due to hunger then the mother must start a complementary feed.
Breastfeeding and fasting
Kurji explains that when a mother fasts she becomes micro-nutrient (zinc, potassium, magnesium) deficient, therefore, she must take special care of her diet.
For examples, she should increase her water intake and must consume at least two liters of water during the non-fasting hours.
Moreover, Kurji says if a mother takes a balanced diet and breastfeeds it will not have any negative impact on her child’s health. However, the mother must recognize signs of dehydration, such as, headache, dizziness and dark urine.
And as for the child, Kurji adds, if he/she doesn’t get proper milk he/she will be cranky. Therefore, a mother should check the child’s behavior along with checking how many times the child passes urine and if the child is sleeping well, is cheerful and his/her weight is maintained. If these things check out positive, then there is no need to fret over the child’s health.
As far as a one-year-old child is concerned, she mentions that the child can be given table food and thus the mother should not breastfeed during the fasting hours.
Storing breast milk
If a mother doesn’t want to skip her fasts then she should pump her milk at night and store it in the fridge. “Breast milk should not be heated on a stove or microwave as doing so will attract germs and will become harmful for the child,” Kurji warns, and suggests that the mother’s pumped milk should be indirectly heated. It should be heated through pouring warm water in a big bowl and then putting the feeder in it to warm milk.
Related: Breastfeeding Tips For New Moms
A balanced diet
Talking about the diet Farooq says, women must increase their milk intake and should drink at least three glasses of milk. If they are unable to do so, then they must consume yogurt and lassi. They should eat small portions of food during non-fasting hours, and eat fruits – something Farooq suggests should be a must for all breastfeeding mothers. They should also avoid eating spicy and oily foods like pakoras and samosas at iftar time, and eat proper food instead.
Moreover, mothers must remain indoors and hydrated considering the heat and humidity this season.
Preparing for Ramazan
Breastfeeding is a child’s primary right and it should be a mothers’ priority. A mother can fast but she should not compromise on her child’s health.
Thus, before the month of Ramazan approaches, Kurji suggests that mothers should visit a lactation consultant and ask for guidelines for fasting.
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