BfN peer supporter and Camden Baby Feeding Team member Zamzam Elmi talks about her experience breastfeeding 4 children through Ramadan, and the decision she made each time. She also explores how we can best support Muslim mums to breastfeed during Ramadan, whether they decide to fast or not.
Ramadan Karim! May we all have a fulfilling and blessed month.
Firstly, I would like to say that Allah is aware of what you can bear or manage and will not expect beyond that.
Deciding on whether to fast or not is a tough and spiritually challenging decision to make especially knowing how blessed/special the month is, but we are fortunate that we have been given concessions by his mercy.
Remember that breastfeeding is a form of worship if done with right intention, and taking advantage of the concession is God given right to protect us and our babies.
Listen to your body and keep an eye on your baby if you do decide to fast, speak to a health professional if you have any concerns or worries. Also take your prenatal vitamin as levels of nutrients such magnesium, potassium and zinc may be affected.
Every drop of breast milk is reward gained and you can still gain more spiritually by reading the Quran and doing your dhikr whilst breastfeeding or bottle feeding. This is a lovely time to bond with your baby as well as lifting you spiritually and emotionally.
With all my children I did different things depending on the situation.
- My first child was premature and I was expressing, so during his first few week of life I fasted some days and not others.
- With my second child, I could not fast at all as she feed frequently. I made up the fast later once she was weaned.
- As for my 3rd child, also exclusively breast fed, I managed to fast the full month with good preparation and knowing how to take care of myself whilst fasting.
- With my 4th, I also fasted most days, and I gave fidya [feeding the poor for each day missed].
Supporting Breastfeeding During Ramadan
As peer supporters, we have great duty in supporting mums to feel empowered to achieve their goals by giving information so their decisions are informed. Supporting mothers during Ramadan is no different to helping mums reduce factors that may have a negative impact on their breast feeding or supply.
Things to consider are:
- If a mum is fasting during the summer months (this usually an 18hr fast with 5/6hrs window to eat) she will need to drink little and often and during the times she is allowed to eat and drink.
- Mums will need to eat high nutrient dense food such as date, fruits and nuts to help replace the magnesium, zinc and potassium levels that may reduce during fasting.
- Avoid drinking too many caffeinated drinks and replace with water, fresh fruits juice, herbal teas and green smoothies.
- If a mum is fasting during the winter months which can fall between 10/12hrs of fasting, this is much easier as the sunset is much earlier and they have a longer period to eat and drinking during dawn. So really its like having a very late lunch.
If a mum is exclusively breastfeeding and has a baby of 0-6months, its highly not recommended she fast at all, this is because of the increased nutritional demand. As I have done on many occasions, mums can make up the fast later or feed someone poor as a compensation but to also feel the spirit of Ramadan.
Some of the questions mums may have during Ramadan will be around supply and how best to protect it. Also, just as a reminder feeding support will not differ as the same information will apply when it comes to protecting supply and breastfeeding. Success in having enough to feed the baby depends on staying well hydrated, reducing stress and keeping breastfeeding as close/normal to when they are not fasting. If a mum is mix feeding, it’s important to give the usual information on how bottle feeds can impact the breastfeeding, as well as the fact that she maybe more likely to increase the bottle feeds to help cope with demand. It’s important she has the facts so she is aware of the possible risks.
We must remember to keep giving mum a safe space where they feel they have permission to come and talk through their decisions without judgment or fear of being misunderstood. This will help you protect the well-being of both mum and baby. Another question might be how do I know if I or baby are dehydrated? When should I seek help? It’s important to make sure a mum feels safe to come for support if her decision to fast has had an adverse effect on their health.
Muslim mums know they may be able to fast if theirs or their baby’s health is not adversely affected during that period of fasting. It’s good to remember they are well experienced in fasting and they come from a place of having knowledge of what its like.
For peer supporters who are not Muslim or who may not know much about Ramadan, it is imperative to keep in mind that choice should always be at the forefront of any breastfeeding journey and the support we provide will very much be based on an individual case by case basis. It’s also okay to say I’m not sure and signpost/refer mums to other sources for more information.
For more information on breastfeeding during Ramadan, click here: https://breastfeeding.support/breastfeeding-during-ramadan/
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