ABA has the following information for the benefit of people who are part of cultures/religions that fast and for others who are interested in knowing more about this but the Association does not express a view either on whether women should fast or how they should do it.
Ramadan is a time of significant community celebration and it is a joyful, inspiring time. Adherence to the Islamic religion requires fasting from sunrise to sunset throughout the month of Ramadan. Therefore, the duration of a fast can vary from 12–16 hours, depending on whether Ramadan falls in the summer or winter months. It is not usually seen as a hardship or hindrance, more a privilege — that one is healthy enough to fast and lucky enough to do so with their community. It is also an obligation for practising Muslims, and missed fasts must be made up for by fasting at a later date, or fidyah. Therefore, most practising Muslim mums would prefer to fast.
A woman who has fasted since she was old enough to do so is fully capable of making the decision whether to fast. If she feels fit on the day, she can decide to fast. And if she decided to fast and she or baby’s health are affected she can pause fasting until they are recovered, and resume as she sees fit. As a form of religious respect, non-Muslims should refrain from dissuading a Muslim mum from fasting. It's her decision and telling her she doesn't have to fast is a bit like saying to an elite athlete that they don't have to train while breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding and Yom Kippur
Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, requires an almost 25-hour fast. Jewish mothers who are breastfeeding can consult a Rabbi or the Nishmatfor more information about fasting for Yom Kippur.
While severe dehydration can decrease milk supply, breastfeeding research tells us that short-term fasting does not decrease milk supply.2,3
Nutrient content of breastmilk
Zimmerman et al (2009)4 studied the breastmilk of 48 healthy mothers who were exclusively breastfeeding a baby aged between 1 and 6 months and who fasted for close to 25 hours during Yom Kippur. This study found that fasting resulted in some short-term changes to breastmilk composition. The author of this study indicated that ‘The practical significance of these changes should be seen within the context that thousands of babies undergo this exposure yearly without reported clinical effects’. Breastfeeding mothers can help ensure their baby remains well hydrated by continuing to breastfeed as per normal and monitoring their baby's output (poos and wees). If the mother has any concerns about her fitness for fasting, she should seek medical advice.
Effect on baby
Rakicioğlu et al (2006)5 studied mothers with babies aged 2–5 months who fasted during Ramadan and found no effect of the fasting on the weight of the babies.
If a mother does not drink fluids for a day, her baby would generally breastfeed as usual the day of the fast, but would often breastfeed more often the next day or two.4
Effect on mother
Healthy mothers are likely to cope well with short-term fasting. However, it is always a good idea to seek medical advice prior to fasting.
Zimmerman et al (2009)4 recommend for breastfeeding mothers to ‘increase their fluid intake during the 2 days prior to the fast so they begin the fast as well hydrated as possible’. They also recommend for breastfeeding mothers to ‘decrease their activities and heat exposure as much as possible during the fast’.
1. NHS Choices. 2012. Ramadan health FAQs. URL: http://www.nhs.uk/livewell/healthyramadan/pages/faqs.aspx Accessed 30/7/2013
2. Neville, M.C., Sawicki, V.S., Hay, W.W. Jr 1993, Effects of fasting, elevated plasma glucose and plasma insulin concentrations on milk secretion in women. J Endocrinol 139(1):165–173.
3. Tigas, S., Sunehag, A., Haymond, M.W. 2002, Metabolic adaptation to feeding and fasting during lactation in humans. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 87(1):302–307.
4. Zimmerman, D.R, Goldstein, L., Lahat, E., Braunstein, R., Stahi, D., Bar-Haim, A., Berkovitch, M. 2009, Effect of a 24+ hour fast on breast milk composition. J Hum Lact 25(2):194–198.
5. Rakicioğlu, N., Samur, G., Topçu, A., Topçu, A.A. 2006, The effect of Ramadan on maternal nutrition and composition of breast milk. Pediatr Int 48(3):278–83.
The information on this website does not replace the advice of your health care provider.
© Australian Breastfeeding Association June 2017