ABA has the following information for the benefit of people who are part of cultures or religions that fast and for others who are interested in knowing more about this.
ABA does not express a view on whether women should fast nor how they should do it.
Breastfeeding and Ramadan
Ramadan is a month-long religious observance by Muslims which requires fasting (no food or drink) from sunrise to sunset. The length of a fast can vary from 12 to 16 hours, depending on whether Ramadan falls in the summer or winter months. Fasting is necessary (although not seen as a hardship) for practising Muslims. Missed fasts must be made up for by fasting at a later date or giving an amount of money to charity. Therefore most practising Muslim mums prefer to fast.
Breastfeeding and Yom Kippur
Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is observed by Jewish people annually. It requires an almost 25-hour fast from food and drinks. Jewish mothers who are breastfeeding can consult a Rabbi or the Nishmat for more information about fasting for Yom Kippur.
Effect on breastmilk and baby - what the research says
Research has been done on the nutrient content of breastmilk of mothers while fasting and on how fasting affects a baby's growth. One study showed that fasting can result in some short-term changes to the composition of breastmilk. However the researchers noted that thousands of babies have mothers who fast for religious purposes each year without any undue effects. Another study found no significant differences in the major nutrients of breastmilk during and after a Ramadan fast.
Similarly no significant differences have been seen in the growth of exclusively breastfed babies when their mothers fasted for Ramadan.
Milk supply while fasting
While severe dehydration can decrease milk supply, breastfeeding research tells us that short-term fasting does not decrease milk supply.
What you can do
If you are breastfeeding and fasting, your baby will generally breastfeed as usual on the day of the fast, but might breastfeed more often the next day or two. For a Muslim mum, your baby may breastfeed more often overnight.
You may like to drink more fluids during the two days before the fast so you begin the fast as well hydrated as possible. Muslim mums may like to drink more fluids during non-fasting times.
You may like to decrease your activities and stay out of the heat as much as possible during the fast.
You can make sure your baby remains well hydrated by continuing to breastfeed as normal and checking their nappy output.
Healthy mothers are likely to cope well with short-term fasting. However, it’s always a good idea to check with your doctor before fasting.
ABA has the following information for breastfeeding mothers who are planning to fast for Ramadan.
This pamphlet was created with the support of the ACT Government under the ACT Health Promotions Grants Program.
© Australian Breastfeeding Association May 2022
1. Muslim Council of Britain 2007. Ramadan health guide. URL: https://mcb.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Ramadan-a-guide-to-health…; Accessed 4/07/2021
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. Bener, A., Galadari, S., Gillett, M., Osman, N., Al-Taneiji, H., Al-Kuwaiti, M.H.H., Al-Sabosy, M.M.A. 20001, Fasting during the holy month of Ramadan Does not change the composition of breast milk. Nutrition Research 21,859–864.
6. Khoshdel1, A., Najafi , M., Kheiri, S., Taheri, E., Nasiri5, J., Yousofi, H., Jafari, A. 2007, Impact of Maternal Ramadan Fasting on Growth Parameters in Exclusively Breast-fed Infants. Iran J Pediatr 17(4),345–352.
7. Haratipour, H., Sohrabi, M.B., Ghasemi, E., Karimi, A., Zolfaghari, P., Yahyaei, E. 2012, Impact of Maternal Fasting During Ramadan on Growth Parameters of Exclusively Breastfed Infants in Shahroud. J Fasting Health 1(2), 66–69.