What You Should Do If You Are Fasting While Breastfeeding Your Child
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 and 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 fasted 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 feeding a two-month-old baby water is harmful as 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, those women should not fast and if they do, they are basically endangering the health and life of their children. Kurji advises if a child is irritable due to hunger then the mother must start a complementary feed.
Breastfeeding, fasting and myths
Unfortunately, there are myths about breastfeeding and fasting. Kurji elaborates when a mother fasts she becomes micronutrient (zinc, potassium, magnesium) deficient, therefore, she must take special care of her balanced diet. For examples, she should increase her water intake and must consume two liters of water between sehri and iftar time.
Sharing a research, Kurji says if a mother takes a balanced diet and breastfeeds it will not have any negative impact on her child’s health.
Moreover, the mother must recognize signs of dehydration such as headache, dizziness and dark urine, she says. Kurji adds if the child doesn’t get proper milk he will be cranky. The mother must also check how many times the child passes urine and if the child is sleeping well, cheerful and his weight is maintained 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 the mother should not breastfeed during the fasting hours. She should give him table food and breastfeed after iftar.
Storing breast milk
If a mother doesn’t want to skip her fasts then she should extract her milk at night and store it in the fridge. “Breast milk should not be heated on a stove or microwave as it gets germs and harmful for the child,” Kurji warns and suggests the mother’s extracted milk should be indirectly heated. She suggests pouring warm water in a big bowl and then putting the feeder in it to warm milk.
A balanced diet, hydration
Talking about the diet Farooq says, women must increase their milk intake and should drink at least three glasses of milk, but if they are unable to consume this much milk then they must consume yoghurt and lassi. They should eat small portions between sehri and iftar and eating some fruits is a must, she says. They should also avoid eating spicy and oily food like pakoras and samosas at iftar time and eat proper food.
Kurji says the mothers must remain indoors and hydrated as the weather is hot these days.
Preparing for Ramazan
Breastfeeding is the child’s primary right and it should be the mothers’ priority. A mother can fast but she should not compromise on her child’s health. Before the month of Ramazan approaches, Kurji suggests that mothers should visit a lactation consultant and ask for guidelines for fasting.