How Ramadan fasting affects breastfeeding mothers

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A review of several studies undertaken worldwide to investigate the effects of Ramadan fasting, has unearthed some fascinating lessons to help breastfeeding mothers keep themselves and their babies in optimal health.

In one such study conducted in the UAE at Muwajihi Primary Health Care Clinic, milk samples were taken from healthy breastfeeding mothers, during and after Ramadan. It was discovered that fasting did not significantly affect the level of “macronutrients”. These are nutrients needed in large quantities for growth and energy – namely proteins, carbohydrates and fat. Fasting did affect the level of “micronutrients” – but these are by definition only needed in small quantities, such as magnesium, zinc and potassium.

Commenting on these results, Dr Hessa Khalfan Al Ghazal, Director of the Executive Committee for the Sharjah Baby Friendly Emirate Campaign remarked: “Breast-milk is incredibly resilient, and can retain its major nutrients even during fasting. It’s crucial to maintain the same breastfeeding pattern during Ramadan, to give the baby a sense of continuity and rhythm. If a mother chooses to fast, it’s vital that she replenish her nutrients with a balanced diet encompassing all the major food groups when she breaks her fast each day, and revert to her normal eating habits immediately after Ramadan.”

However, medical experts were quick to caution that mothers should not fast if they are taking medication, or suffer from serious conditions like uncontrolled migraines, blood pressure problems, diabetes and more.

Dr Hessa Khalfan Al Ghazal added: “It’s absolutely vital that breastfeeding mothers stay hydrated, by ensuring a regular intake of healthy fluids. Once babies get used to a feeding pattern, the mother should avoid upsetting that pattern. Therefore they should ensure their milk volume and feeding frequency is as close to normal as possible, by consuming plenty of fluids and a healthy diet.”

The upshot of all the studies is that breastfeeding mothers who are fasting during the holy month should compensate by paying extra attention to their dietary intake – and avoid fasting if they have medical conditions.

The Sharjah Baby Friendly Emirate Campaign was initiated in March 2012 under the generous patronage of Her Highness Sheikha Budoor bint Sultan Al Qasimi, Chairperson of the Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq), President of the Campaign and Honorary President of the Breastfeeding Friends Association. The campaign encompasses four initiatives: Breastfeeding-Friendly Nurseries, Mother and Baby-Friendly Public Places, Mother-Friendly Workplaces and Baby-Friendly Health Facilities. The campaign is sponsored by Sharjah Islamic Bank.

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