This will be my 10th Ramadan — but I’ve never attempted 16+ hour long fasts. Certainly never while breastfeeding.
Every able Muslim is religiously commanded to complete the fast (no food, liquids, smoking or a/sexual relations). Those who are traveling, sick (taking medication or are chronically ill for example), people who break the fast by having sex (if you break your fast by accidentally eating or drinking, like licking the yogurt off your baby’s spoon while feeding her, you’re to think of it as a blessing… but having sex during daylight is a pretty conscious act), women on their menses or post-partum bleeding, and pregnant and breastfeeding women are exempt from the fast if they fear for the health of the baby. If you miss a fast due to illness and you’re not expected to get better, it is recommended that you provide a meal for a fasting person for each day you miss. Everyone else has to make up the fast.
Technically you’re supposed to make up these missed fasts before the next Ramadan. I once asked at an online Islamic forum for opinions from women who experienced missing entire months or more of fasting. If you missed a Ramadan due to pregnancy, and the second due to nursing, and a third due to a second pregnancy, and a fourth due to more nursing… did God actually expect you to fast 120 days or more? The answers I received were varied. Some women believed that you could “make up” a fast by feeding a fasting person. One woman commented that, “this is what menopause is for!” I guess saving up your fasts for a rainy day.
Ramadan is not only intended to be only a fast of the stomach. It’s a time of high spirituality, where you’re encouraged to spend your extra time performing additional religious tasks and acts of charity. You turn your mind toward God. You guard your tongue from swearing and backbiting. You guard your eyes and ears from worldly distractions. The fast can be very cleansing if you go into it with the intention of cultivating spiritual awareness.
The fast itself isn’t very hard. The first few days are rough — but by day 10, you don’t miss any of the garbage TV (if you choose not to watch), and you begin to look forward to the next day of fasting. Your metabolism slows right down, and you get what is known as “Ramadan belly” — a slightly annoying lump of indigestion, where the food sits heavy in a tummy that’s taking its time to digest. And when it’s around 4pm, and your head is hurting from lack of water, and your stomach has just simply gone numb and hollow, that’s when you can feel just an inkling of what it means to be malnourished, starving, sacrificing yourself so your children can eat. You’re supposed to, so you can become humble and feel empathy for the less fortunate.
I can completely understand how fasting can help develop feelings of heightened spirituality. Muslims traditionally break their fast with a date, pray the sunset prayer and then eat dinner. After fasting all day long, eating a 150 calorie, sticky, brown-sugaresque, medjool date absolutely floods your bloodstream with energy. It can be euphoric.
The Islamic calendar is based on lunar calculations — which means Islamic dates (not the medjool type) are always moving backward (28-30 days per month, the first of the month comes with the new crescent). When I first converted, Ramadan was in winter. We had 10 hour fasts and the cold kept things nice and fresh. Now it’s in the summer, and the heat really drags you down.
Last Ramadan went by very quickly, as Eryn was a brand spanking newborn. When you’re surviving on no sleep and still recovering from birth, those days fly by. I didn’t fast, or do many religious rites. I honestly wasn’t in the mood for anything other than sleep. But I had wonderful moments, when she would wake up at dawn. My MIL and Hubby would get up and eat the pre-dawn meal, while I nursed Eryn alone — watching the sunrise paint the sky. They were my very special and peaceful moments where I could thank God for giving me such a perfect baby, and in this way alone did I participate in Ramadan.
This year, even though I’m not obligated to fast, I’m going to attempt it. Babycentre Arabia has a great article on fasting and its effects on breastfeeding. Kellymom also has some good information. Both suggest that women should stay hydrated and break the fast if they notice themselves becoming too dehydrated. Another way to make sure baby is getting enough milk is to keep an eye on wet diapers.
Some things that I’ll possibly notice is the change in my milk. Apparently, after extended fasting, the amount of fat is slightly reduced in breastmilk — which means that Eryn may want to nurse more often.
Eryn will be a year old — so nursing is very well established. If she were 6 months or younger, I would probably rethink things.
I’ll be cooking up a storm over the next few weeks to make sure the freezer is stocked with our Ramadan break fast favourites: samboosa (a small meat samosa); daal (not a favouite, just really easy to make); coconut chicken; and goulash. I’ve also pulled out one of my favourite abayas and am altering it to make it more breastfeeding friendly — for the nights when we go the the mosque.
Now that we have breastfeeding covered, let’s just see how it’ll be trying to run after Eryn.