Ramadan for the Breastfeeding Mother

UPDATE: 

We have included the Women & Ramadan Booklet produced by MUIS for public reference at the end of the article.

By Khatim Hamidon
Vice-President, BMSG

With the coming of Ramadan tomorrow, many Muslim mothers would definitely feel the anxiety of managing fasting with breastfeeding. In this write-up, we will discuss how breastfeeding mothers can prepare themselves for Ramadan. We also acknowledge that there are concessions in Islam about fasting for the pregnant and breastfeeding mothers. We urge you to consult your religious teachers with respect to the rulings on fasting and paying back the fast for breastfeeding and pregnant mothers.

Counting Calories

On average, a woman needs about 2,000 calories a day. If she is exclusively breastfeeding a baby, she would need an extra 300 to 500 calories. If she consumes a lot less calories than this, her milk supply may be affected.

How many extra calories that she needs also depends on her activity level, body fat reserves, her nutritional status and the type of food she is eating (e.g. processed food is not calorie-dense and hence won’t help her store energy).

Furthermore, it also depends on the demand – how much her baby takes, how many babies she is feeding and if she is also pregnant. Of course, if she is tandem-feeding twins, she would need double the extra calories, which is 600 to 1,000 more calories. Do consider the age of your baby if you decide to fast.

As for water, it is important for the mother to take sufficient fluids. On average, we need to drink approximately 1 litre of water for every 20 kg of body weight. Breastfeeding mothers need about 3 litres of water a day. Some people erroneously believe that during confinement, mothers should avoid drinking a lot of water. This is untrue, as it may affect her milk supply.

Knowing the above facts, how then can breastfeeding mothers prepare themselves to manage fasting in Ramadan?

 

Preparing to Fast

Breastfeeding mothers must prepare adequately to start fasting for Ramadan: physically, mentally, spiritually.

Hopefully by preparing in terms of food intake, this may ensure that she has enough intake and milk supply to last throughout the day. Preparing to fast is only being fair to her body and her baby.

  1. Water is important to avoid dehydration. We often suggest to mothers to do water parades after the start of sunset, which is to drink at least a cup every half hour while she is awake, to avoid feeling bloated. She can also eat juicy fruits like watermelon and oranges, and soups, which account for the daily fluid intake as well.
  2. Aim for food that make you sustain more energy throughout the day. Take food with high fibre, low glycemic index and which are less or not processed. Instead of white rice, take brown rice.
  3. Fruits and vegetables remain an important part of your diet with at least four servings a day. Dates remain as important as ever for its high fibre content and complex sugars to sustain your energy level.
  4. If you can’t take rice so early in the morning for the pre-dawn meal (sahur), you can make power shakes, like mangoes with baby spinach and chia seeds, or yoghurt, honey and oats.
  5. Some mothers find that natural health supplements and lactogenic food might help them with energy levels and milk supply, such as habbatus sauda’ (black seed). Please note that supplements are just that: to supplement your diet and not a full substitute.
  6. Avoid foods and drinks that are overly processed, oil-laden and sugar-laden, as they won’t help you sustain yourself. These foods may also burden your digestive system since they are harder to digest.
  7. Throughout the day, try not to over-exert yourself if you can help it. Prioritise what you need to do to conserve energy.

Besides taking care of food intake, some moms acclimatise their bodies slowly to fasting, by having “test fasts” before Ramadan to see how they will take to fasting during the month. Some will find it helpful to take alternate days to fast – be it for the whole month, or for the first week. Some moms will attempt to fast the whole month and break their fast early if they get unwell or feel that they babies may benefit more from a mother who is not fasting.

When to break your fast during the day

Be in tune with your body and with your baby, so that you won’t miss the signs if you need to break your fast early.

 

Signs that you should probably break your fast:

  • Signs of hypoglycemia such as giddiness, cold sweat, shivering, pale face, fatigue
  • Signs of dehydration such as inadequate supply of milk, headache, dizziness, irritability, dry skin

Whenever you feel that any of the above impedes your function and your ability to care for your baby, it’s time to break your fast.

 

Signs of dehydration for your baby:

  • restlessness and being fussy at the breast (perhaps due to less supply or flow of milk)
  • less wet diapers than normal
  • listlessness
  • dried, chapped lips, mouth and skin
  • eyes and fontanelle (soft spot on baby’s head) appear sunken
  • sleepiness (due to less energy)
  • weight loss is a VERY late sign of dehydration

You do not ever want your baby to reach this level – be responsible. You are your baby’s source of food and comfort, so take charge.

 

Breaking Your Fast

So you have prepared for fasting, but for some reason you cannot continue for any of the reasons above – it’s okay. Every person is unique and has different strengths, threshold and limitations.

There is reason why women are given rukhsah (concessions or keringanan in Malay) to break their fast, when breastfeeding and/or pregnant. It is a rahmah (mercy) from Allah. He knows, in His infinite wisdom, that He made certain people with certain limitations, and wants them to take advantage of any consolation that He has awarded to special people – and that is perfectly normal and nothing to be ashamed of.

Continuing to fast despite all of the signs of extreme dehydration is harmful to you and/or your baby. What is important is what is happening at the present moment. If you can’t fast now, you can pay fidyah (the monetary penalty for not paying back missed fast by the next Ramadan) or pay back your fast at a different time later on in the future when you are more capable.

This is especially important for mothers whose babies are less than six months of age. During this period, an exclusively fed baby is recommended to take nothing but his mother’s milk, as per World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines.

Ramadan is not merely just for fasting; it is a month of ‘ibadah (worship). There are other acts of worship that a mother can do to attain the rewards of this holy month. In fact, with proper intention, taking care of yourself and your baby is an act of ‘ibadah as you are fulfilling an amanah (responsibility bestowed by God).

For more information on legal rulings of fasting for Muslim women, please refer to the following links. More links will be updated soon: