Disclaimer: I am not a scholar of any level in the matters of fiqh or hadith or islamic sciences. Hence this is not a legal discussion. I will be merely quoting from authentic sources and thereafter sharing my own experiences and practical tips. Nor do I intend to give any form of medical advise.
Oh the dilemma many muslim women face as Ramadan approaches! Add to that the well meaning opinions of your family, friends, neighbors, and the lady in the supermarket queue, pregnant or nursing mothers are often confused as to if they should fast or not. And in most cases, they end up forgoing the fast and feel left out and miserable, guilt tripping themselves for not being able to offer the special ibadah at this blessed time of the year.
Five years back it was the last of my not-pregnant-or-nursing Ramadans. Towards the end I was a few weeks pregnant with my first. With the hyperemesis phase kicking in – I was unbelievably sick and dehydrated and ended up leaving the whole last week of fasting even though it was as if I am fasting as I could hardly keep down even sips of water. Fast forward to the next year and I was nursing a four month old infant and feared the end of the nursing relationship so much that I left 25 fasts that year. In hindsight, I think that was not the best choice for me.
Firstly we should realize that leaving the fast is a perfectly valid and sound exemption in case of necessity and not a straightforward optional exemption as many women believe, as explained in the following excerpt from IslamQ&A website.
Praise be to Allaah.
With regard to breastfeeding mothers – and also pregnant women – two scenarios may apply:
-1- If the woman is not affected by fasting, and fasting is not too difficult for her, and she does not fear for her child, then she is obliged to fast, and it is not permissible for her not to fast.
-2-If the woman fears for herself or her child because of fasting, and fasting is difficult for her, then she is allowed not to fast, but she has to make up the days that she does not fast. In this situation it is better for her not to fast, and it is makrooh for her to fast. Some of the scholars stated that if she fears for her child, it is obligatory for her not to fast and it is haraam for her to fast.
Click here to read the rest of the answer in detail.
Our bodies are amazing SubhanAllah! Pregnancy and breastfeeding is a miraculous thing women go through, yet they are part of our design. If you are having a healthy pregnancy or a healthy nursing relationship without any complication, it is unlikely that fasting would affect you negatively. Majority of the scientific studies in this matter also point out the same. In addition there is tons of anecdotal evidence of women fasting through pregnancies, exclusively breastfeeding and through hot summers even.
So let’s say you are complication-free, then how can you decide if fastig is for you or not? After factoring in other parameters like the daytime hours, the weather etc. (A 20+ hour fast is definitely something that would be out of question whereas a 12 hour fast during winters is without doubt much more easy), next step is to actually fast and see for yourself.
Coming back to my personal journey – my subsequent Ramadans (after the two mentioned above) I have been pregnant or nursing the next time around and Alhamdulillah I discovered that ease comes from Allah. With will, support from family and a good health, fasting is totally doable. On an average we had a 15 hour fast (the longest days go in this part of the world in blazing summers, but we have aircon so that was taken care of)
Here are a few pointers from my humble knowledge and experience.
Fasting during pregnancy:
1) First of all – consult your physician – that’s a no brainer. You should have the go-ahead from your doctor who knows your history, has examined you and knows your current condition. There can be a lot of complications – anemia, intrauterine growth retardation, gestational diabetes fear of premature labor – etc. in which fasting will be contraindicated. It’s best to take advice from a practicing muslim doctor as non-muslims are, generally speaking, may not be aware and may rush to write you off strictly against fasting.
2) Be aware of your health.
- If you are in the first trimester and not very sick, its likely that you will do fine. in fact, personally I feel, the more sick you are and the more you keep throwing up – the more its like you are fasting anyways.
- If you are in your second trimester, you are more likely to feeling comfortable and energetic.
- In the later stages, keep tabs on the fetal movements and keep an eye out for any contractions due to dehydration.
3) It doesn’t have to be all or none. If you feel weak, take a break in between consecutive days of fasting or fast on alternate days or anything that suits you well.
4) Rest more during the fasting hours.
- You may want to finish up the most important chores at the time when your energy levels are up but the rule of thumb should be as much less physical activity during fasting hours as possible. This will not work if you are expected to up on your feet all day and prepare elaborate iftar spreads for the whole family every day! Support from family is key and food was never the point of Ramadan anyways.
- I found that just breaking your fast with some fruit salad, juice etc., praying maghreb and then preparing for dinner worked best for me. This way I would be spending less than one hour in the kitchen during fasting hours including meals for kids.
- Freezing meals beforehand can be a lifesaver.
- Making more of one pot meals and keeping some things ready like (chopping up veggies, marination and refrigerating etc.) at suhoor time for the iftar that day would definitely help
- Eat healthy and calorie dense food when not fasting, superhydrate yourself overnight and diligently take your prescribed nutritional supplements.
- Eating suhoor would be absolutely mandatory if you undertake fasting during pregnancy.
- Avoid gassy or heartburn causing foods as you probably have your hearts content of those conditions already.
Fasting while breastfeeding:
Consider your case. If you are exclusively breastfeeding a young infant, probably that’s the only case which would require careful consideration. If your baby is taking supplemental formula or for an older baby who is eating solids, drinking water, etc. breastfeeding may no longer be an excuse.
For exclusively breastfed babies:
- There is no need to unnecessarily supplement with formula or anything else. But, just in case you cant help yourself, one way you can deal with your overly worrying parenting self (which will make you think about supplementing anyways) is to express and freeze the breastmilk everyday starting a few days before Ramadan. One extra feed per day from the defrosted stock should be enough to satisfy your baby and your paranoia.
- Whatever you do, DO NOT DECREASE the number of feeds even if you are supplementing with expressed breastmilk. In fact, increase the number of feeds per day. The most important thing women need to understand is milk production is a demand-supply cycle. To maintain supply its a must to keep the demand up by feeding more.
- Keep tabs on your baby’s health. The rule which many women fail to understand is that ‘input decides output’ The best way to know if your baby is eating enough is by an optimum number of wet and soiled diapers per day. Next in line would be a decrease in weight or an overly fussy baby which can indicate a dip in supply.
- The same rules apply here regarding diet and rest.
- Your day should consist of the bare minimum of housework, caring for baby (preferably with support from family), prayers and naps.
- Eating suhoor would be mandatory.
- Eating calorie dense meals, superhydration and completing all tasks during non-fasting hours.
Allah never wills hardship for us and this has been specifically emphasized when the command of fasting was given. If you are unable to do so, don’t beat yourself up and gratefully take the exemption Allah has given for you.
The beauty of Islam is that we ask Allah for help, even to help us worship him. So make sincere Du’aa that Allah makes fasting possible for you, strengthens the heart and accepts all our ibadaat.