Ramazan and Breastfeeding

Ramazan, the month of fasting, is starting or has already started based on where you live and who you believe. Since Amber is breastfeeding Michelle nowadays, what better topic to discuss for Ramazan than pregnant and breastfeeding moms?

Let’s start with some amusement from an Islam-Online chat.

Question: My question is : “Is it allowed for a woman to fast while she is breastfeeding”?

Answer: […] To the best of our knowledge, the fuqaha have agreed that breast feeding does not invalidate a fast. It is permissible to breast feed while fasting. On a counseling note, we would like to remind our sisters that breast feeding can be very exhausting on one’s system if one has not eaten well during the suhur. Some babies require being breast fed several times a day and this could be even more tiring for the mother. So if one intends to fast and breast feed, it is highly recommended to not skip the suhur. Finally, always check with your medical doctor regarding this issue because your particular case might warrant not fasting if your body is unable to withstand the burden of fasting and breast feeding.

Let me repeat a part of the answer so I can laugh some more.

Some babies require being breast fed several times a day and this could be even more tiring for the mother.

You don’t say!

So what is the ruling of Muslim scholars on whether breastfeeding women should fast or not? Here is Moiz Amjad.

[W]hether a feeding mother should fast or not is, basically, a decision regarding the fitness of the woman for fasting. If she feels and is declared to be fit for fasting, she may decide to do so. On the contrary, if she feels weak and is advised to refrain from fasting during these days, then the Shari`ah allows her to miss fasting, during the month of Ramadhan and then complete the number of missed fasts, when she is fit to do so.

Islam Online has a similar position.

As regards a pregnant woman or a suckling mother, if she is worried lest fasting should harm her, the majority of jurists are of the view that she is allowed not to fast, provided that she makes up for the fast-days she missed.

[…] Though jurists have unanimously agreed that a pregnant or a suckling woman who apprehends harms to her embryo or her new-born child is allowed to abstain from fasting, they have disagreed as to whether she must make up for the fast days she missed later, or feed one poor person for each day she missed or both. Ibn `Umar and Ibn `Abbas maintain that she is to feed poor people equal in number to the fast days she missed. The majority of scholars are of the view that she must make up for the fast days she missed. Others yet hold that she is to do both. It seems to me that only feeding the poor is enough on its own for a woman who is constantly either pregnant or suckling, so that she has not got an opportunity to make up for the fast days she missed. So it may be the case that a woman is pregnant this year and a suckling mother the next and pregnant again the following year, and so on. She is therefore unable to make up for the fast days on which she refrained from fasting. So if she is commanded to make up for those days, she will have to fast for several years incessantly, which is definitely going to be difficult, and Allah does not want His servants to suffer hardships.

The strict Salafi Islam Q&A puts it a bit more strictly as expected.

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.

It seems that a majority of scholars allow a breastfeeding woman to fast or not fast based on whether it’s hard on the child or the woman or not. My guess is that it is hard on a pregnant or breastfeeding woman to not eat or drink anything for 10-15 hours.

(Amber adds: If I don’t drink enough water, my milk supply goes down.)

The other question is what to do if a woman does not fast in Ramazan. Most scholars want her to fast the 29-30 days later when she can. That attitude shows the sexism of these scholars in my opinion.

Consider a woman who has one child. These same scholars recommend breastfeeding a child for 2 years. Add in the 9 months pregnancy and a woman would miss almost 3 months of fasting. That is a lot of fasting to make up. Plus she also has to make up the week of fasting she misses in Ramazan when she’s not pregnant or breastfeeding because of menstruation.

But most of these scholars are also against birth control. So a woman is likely to have 4 kids than one. Multiply 2 years and 9 months by four and you get 11 months of Ramazan fasts missed. Let’s ask one of these scholars to actually make up 11 months of missed fasts in addition to the month of fasting every year. It is not impossible but is definitely extremely hard.

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27 Comments.

  1. The Islam Online fatwa addresses the last issue and brings up the same point you did and it seems to take the most sensible view on the issue.

  2. Zack some babies do require to be fed greater umber of times than others.

  3. I think most of the times, relaxation from fasting, is to be with making up of the same in other days. It is quite natural.

    Besides 11 months in 40 years (mean value of life fasting can be done easily in, comes from 60-20, if 20 is the year she is married) is not so difficult to manage. Even if she goes by 3 days in a month, which is also “mustahibb” (is liked) by Prophet(SAW), it would make up more than one month per year and excluding ramadhan would equal to almost one month compensated per year.

    3 X 12 = 36

    Excluding one month still leaves you with 33 days per year giving you yet another month to be skipped if you like.

    Anyway Ramadan Mubarik and Happy raising Michelle :)

  4. Al-Muhajabah: The Islam Online guy’s position is definitely the most reasonable.

    Moiz: According to Webster, ‘several’ means more than one or two. While infants have varying feeding habits, I can assure you that all feed several times during the day. Bottle-fed babies are a different matter though; they feed fewer times.

    Asif: The reason of making up fasts is because most scholars treat pregnancy and breastfeeding like a short-term illness, which it most definitely is not.

    Regarding your calculations, if a woman marries at 20 and spends the next 11 years giving birth to and breastfeeding 4 children, she’ll start making up 11 months of fasting at age 31. Doing 1 month extra per year, she will be 42 by the time she’s done. This does not take into account any illnesses or other womanly factors. Your suggestion requires a woman to fast 2 months out of every 9 months she’s able to fast for more than a decade. Why make it so hard for women?

  5. :) thanks for your comment. And ofcourse you are free to choose out of the given fatawas.

    But I would like to correct that making up for the fasts is not my suggestion, it is suggested by great scholars of our as well as best times, though there exist differences of opinion as well.

  6. Zachary Stockton

    Happy Ramazan!
    there is no need for infants to fast. Girls 9+ should fast.

  7. Asif: you are free to choose out of the given fatawas.

    I think I have more freedom than that. I can ignore any or all fatwas if I like. :-)

    making up for the fasts is not my suggestion, it is suggested by great scholars of our as well as best times

    I didn’t mean to argue like it was your suggestion. However, those scholars were human and there are times they got it wrong. This, in my opinion, is especially true where the rights of women are affected.

    I am just saying that we should think about these issues instead of blindly following scholars, whether of best (?) times or of our times.

    Zachary: Thanks for the Ramazan greeting.

    Nobody is arguing for infants fasting. And why did you mention girls 9+? What about boys? And why 9+? I think fasting is an adult responsibility.

  8. Congratulations Zack and Amber!!!
    I am fasting and breastfeeding my 7 month old and its working out fine , so far. He is exclusiely on breast milk (though through a bottle since he is at child care during the day). But its working out great. I drink lots of water during the night. Check http://www.kellymom.com/nutrition/mom/fasting.html . Its a good resource for breast feeding.
    Once again congratulations

  9. Uzma: Thanks.

    There are definitely women who fast during breastfeeding. I guess it works for them. For others, it doesn’t. My point is that it shouldn’t be a requirement for all women.

  10. salam-o-alaikom.
    my question is whether beard is farz or sunnah can you please also give me the refrence where it says that it is farz.

  11. habibullah: I don’t know whether beard is farz, sunnah, makruh or haram. I don’t give religious rulings, so you would be better off asking some scholar you trust.

  12. Dear Zack and all the readers,

    As far as making up for the fast is concerned, please do not refer to the scholars and the ulemmas as sexist. If a women does not want to make up the missed fasts then she should not. In the end she does not have to answer to the scholars, but she must remember that she must answer to Allah. As long as she can convince Allah (on the Day of Judgement) that during the 220 months after menopause (11 months of no ramadhan/yr * 20 yrs avg lifespan of a women post menopause) she was too busy to keep fasts and she should be forgiven then more power to her.

    I am sure that it is easy for you to post this comment and refer to the scholars as sexist. But do remember that if any women heeds to your advice and decides not to make up for the fasts then on the day of judgement you will have to answer for it and there is no escaping that. And I guarantee you, it won’t be an easy answer.

    Salaams,
    Mansoor.

  13. Mansoor: I am not a mufti and am not giving a fatwa, just my personal opinion. The question though is how do you know the will of God.

    And it’s easy for you to require extra fasts from women. I thought one of the points in scholarly discussion was that Islam does not put undue burden on Muslims. The requirement to make up so many missed fasts sure does sound like a burden to me.

  14. Salaam ‘Alaikum

    I’m a woman who is currently exclusively breastfeeding an infant, breastfed another past 24 months, and I don’t think it’s sexist. It’s fiqh. It’s not a bunch of nefarious bearded men sitting around twirling their moustaches while saying, “Let’s make things harder for the womenfolk! Mwah ha ha ha!”

    This is the problem, brother. You label the rulings of the ‘ulema wrt makeups as “sexist,” but you are advocating is, I’m sorry to say, chauvanistic. As if us l’il womenfolk can’t possibly be strong enough to “shoulder the burden” of the fast or making it up, therefore, we should be excused from it. It’s our “right” to be excused from it b/c we can’t handle the work. I can feel the headpat now.

    Anyway, Ramadan Kareem. I’ll just stop now.

  15. UmmZaid: You are welcome to differ from my opinion. And if you can fast with an infant, more power to you.

    Just being fiqh doesn’t automatically preclude it being sexist.

    It’s not a bunch of nefarious bearded men sitting around twirling their moustaches while saying, “Let’s make things harder for the womenfolk! Mwah ha ha ha!”

    True, but most of the fiqh did not actually consider the needs of women and was developed in a society which was very patriarchal. That definitely affected how these men thought.

    you are advocating is, I’m sorry to say, chauvanistic.

    I am not saying women cannot or should not fast. All I am saying is that the analogy the scholars drew between short-term illness and pregnancy or breastfeeding is faulty. Hence their conclusions are wrong as well. Women should be allowed the option of not fasting during these times. It’s not just for the women themselves but also for the infants (specifically exclusively breastfed ones). And if making up these fasts later is too difficult then other options should be considered. In fact, what I am saying is not too different from what the Islam Online fatwa in my post says.

  16. I see Zack’s point – he’s saying that the rules are such that you have to make up 30 days of fasting, therefore most women will ignore their health situation and their baby’s health and fast during Ramadan when they shouldn’t. For a normal person, fasting in Ramadan strengthens you, but it’s the opposite for a pregnant or lactating woman. You are already weak, and fasting weakens you more.

    After a child is born, most men even husbands cannot understand how taxing it is on the mother physically. Personally, I was very weak for a long time after having my child. While I was still nursing, I did fast during Ramadan, but not while expecting.

    I am still responsible for those missed fasts in addition to Ramadan fasts, and honestly, am not as healthy as I used to be due to the exhaustion of motherhood, my surgery (still having complications from it) and having a child that doesn’t sleep well.

    Now that I am expecting again, the issue has doubled and will be more difficult to fulfill. I don’t know why pregnancy is not considered an illness…personally I feel very ill for the entire duration and had to get IV from the hospital a few times the last time.

    This state is not considered a “permanent illness” so I am still obligated and I cannot pay the charity as compensation. There are a lot of women who keep track of their Saum debt and I will do the same with intention of making it up. All I am saying is that there should be more sensitivity out there for recognizing what hardships women go through. My husband lets me decide if I feel well enough to fast or not but other friend’s husbands and society in general are more strict and express disappointment when their wife chooses to abstain, no matter what their condition.

  17. mona: Thanks for your comment.

  18. i agree that u can pay for a poor person to eat 2 meals for every fast you miss when either pregnant or breastfeeding. i have been either pregnant or breastfeeding for the last 3 ramadan’s and i have paid for the missed fasts by feedig a poor person twice for each missed fast….how i wud make up 90 fasts after i finish breast feeding is beyond me and Allah does not want hardship on his creation.

  19. I hate fasting. Really do, but I force myself anyway hehehe. Anyway, I had three kids in a row, (I should have done something about that) but I love kids so (don’t u dare judge me :P) I’ve missed three years of fasting, it was a wonderful time :) and now I’m exclusively breastfeeding. Honestly, I do get lightheaded and dizzy…I’m wondering is that reason to break a fast anyway? I fast on and off, the breastfeeding does make you tired…I’d do anything pray a lot whatever, I just absolutely one hundred percent dislike fasting. Which is weird because I really like religions like Islam and Buddhism. Maybe I’m a lazy scholar, cheers!

  20. Salaams all

    This is an interesting topic

    I just want to add a few things, nothing scholarly though!

    Zach – ive read you biography and you are a highly qualified engineer. my question to you is – if a lay person, uneducated in your field came to you to give you advice on egineering principles then what would you say to him? your reaction would most likely be – that how dare he/she give me advice, or i can’t believe this person – he/she does not know anything about this field so how can he give advice on something.. Again if you became ill you would not go to a lay person and ask him for medical adfvice. You wouldnt even try to figure it out yourself due to you lack of medical knowledge, even though there is alot of information on the internet.

    So shouldnt the same apply to religion? Yes religion is simple, but who are you or anyone else who is not educated in religion, by educated i mean a proper qualification. Do you know arabic (grammar), do you understand tafseer of the quran (not the english version you can buy), do you understand the principle of hadith and fiqh. The answer is no, so then how can you decide what to do in certain religious matters. That does not mean we do not question the scholars on their fatwas etc, we need to ask, otherwise we are blindly following.

    Regarding breastfeeding and fasting – majority of the scholars do say you should make it up, but as the religion of islam does not burden, then in certain circumstances a person can pay e.g. when they have too many fast to make up. Then again circumstances come into play, if you can’t even afford that, then i am sure a fatwa can be given to you be a QUALIFIED SCHOLAR to even alleviate you of that duty. this is my point, fatwas are from individual circumstances and sometimes cannot be applied as a general fatwa, so you need to enquire with a learned religious scholar, not just turn upto a website, whereby people who are uneducated in that field are giving you answers.

    Sorry for the essay. Just remember, everyone will stand before Allah(swt) and be accounted for, so the best thing is to account yourself before its too late. Wasalam

  21. Waj: What you are proposing is the idea of clergy being the ultimate arbiters of religion. I reject that since if religion encompasses all of our lives (as you would argue too) then leaving everything to be decided by clergy who study religion professionally is not the right thing to do. I do understand the value of knowledge and expertise in this field. However, I have a brain and a conscience and am free to use both to come to my own conclusions about religious matters.

  22. I think it’s interesting to note that while it’s easy to complain that it’s sexist for women to have to make up their fasts, men are obligated to do them anyway. Breastfeeding and pregnant women, if they feel too tired to do them in Ramadhan are exempt.

    So, basically, it’s the same number of days for both sexes, it’s just being able to choose when to do them. For women who do miss a large number of days, it is hard. My sister had three children (the first just before Ramadhan, so she had post-natal bleeding for the whole month) and did miss a few days with each child whilst nursing them. She now tries to make up some days during the winter months but if Allah does not give her a long life, it’s been narrated in the hadith that it is possible for a person to fulfill the obligated fasts of their parents on their behalf after they have passed away.

    While your math makes sense, it’s time men have already spent fasting and we are encouraged to fulfill as many nawafil fasts as possible. Many women do not miss the whole month of Ramadhan while nursing (and some while pregnant as well) so if later in life, when a woman has no more small children and insha allah is in better health, why should she not fulfill her obligation to Allah? I’m not saying all in one go, but reviving the Sunnah of fastings Mondays and Thursdays is really not all that difficult. The days missed from menstruation are recommended to be made up before the next Ramadhan, but it’s my understanding that the days missed from nursing and pregnancy have no time constraints.

    Fasting, when done properly and with all it’s requirements, strengthens ones connection with Allah and purifies ones body. The health benefits are amazing.

    This is just some food for thought. I’m currently nursing my second child, a four month old and it’s Ramadhan. I can totally relate to the relevance of this post, but I see my husband working from 7am ‘til 5:30pm, coming home covered in sweat and remarkably he’s having patience, yet he’s the one insisting that I break my fast if I think it’s too hard because I have an excuse. Undoubtedly, he’s strengthening me.

  23. Ok, the Islamic scholars are not being sexist… if a man is sick or recovering from surgery, etc, or if he is travelling, he doesn’t have to fast either… BUT he is required to make up the days he fasted before the next Ramadan comes around. SO it is so much easier on a woman… if she cannot fast due to being pregnant one year and breastfeeding the next, she can feed a poor person instead.. I think Islam is very fair in all matters, and you don’t know what you are talking about.

    And I don’t know WHERE you read that in Islam birth control is not allowed… birth control is completely allowed, except for the morning after pill, which is controversial. Even at the time of the Prophet Muhammed (pbuh), he allowed his followers to practice coitus interruptes (withdrawal before ejaculation) as a form of birth control, at the same time noting that if the woman DID get pregnant when they didn’t want a child yet to remember that every child is from God and He will provide sustenance for that child. The Catholic religion is the one that doesn’t allow birth control, so before blindly accusing Islam, look it up first as well as the rules in the Christian religions.

  24. From my understanding I interpreted that one has until the next year before the next fast to make up for not fasting. If you can’t then you need to feed someone for the amount of days missed from the previous year. It does not accumulate over years.. Also I feel as a breastfeeding mom wether you choose to or not is a personal decision that should not be taken lightly.. I also feel that Allah would not want us to harm ourselves or our babies by fasting and should be done responsibly under medical supervision. In response to some ridiculous comment about answering to Allah if one does not fast that is just petty.. So in essence if you can manage to fast and keep you and baby healthy then its great.. If you feel you can’t then Allah understands as long as your heart and intentions are in the right place!!

  25. Assalam o alaikum Zack,
    Please let me know, that a breastfeeding mother can fast during the holy month of ramadhan. If she has the capacity to fast and breastfeed, Is it right according to shariat. Please let me know at the earliest.
    Khudahafeez

  26. Hi Zack,

    I am a mother of two girls, 2 1/2 and 1 yr. I have been missing my fasts for the past 3yrs and thus decided to fast this year even though I am breastfeeding. I would agree it gets a little difficult and thus I take a break of a day or two in between. But it is really not that a big deal!!! I know my milk production is sufficient for my baby so I know she is not affected either.
    I plan to keep up the three months of fasting that I have missed, during the winter season when the fasts only last till 5p.m. I think that would be much easier than the summer fasts (that my husband and many other men/women are keeping right now) that go beyond 8p.m. Also, I will have Inshallah my whole life to keep up those fasts so It just doesn’t worry me at all.
    I find it amusing that a lot of people in the West see fasting as ‘torturous’. I, like many Muslims have always waited for the month of Ramadan. Ever since I was 11, I would fight with my parents to let me fast. Fasting to Muslims is a very spiritual process. The scholars who you are regarding as sexist probably fast all the time. My mom, for example, is fasting all the time, throughout the year. Just because she wants to!!!! They are not compulsory fast. It just makes her feel good. My husband likes to do all the non-compulsory fasts as well throughout the year. Whats the BIG DEAL!!! I know a lot of Muslim men and women who fasts every Tuesday and Thursdays, as was the practice of our Prophet (P.B.U.H). They don’t have to but they do!!! I’m certain any true Muslim who fasts finds the month of Ramadan as a spiritual event. I, like any Muslim mother, miss not being able to fast. I, like other Muslims, miss the month of Ramadan, when its over.
    I am a Muslim Canadian, mother of 2 and an electrical engineer. I don’t think there is a religion more fair and more respecting of women than Islam. Unfortunately, some Muslim extremists and some non-Muslim ignorant people, who know zilch about Islam, are spoiling the name of this beautiful religion. I agree there are scholars that talk according to what fits them better. But we have a lot of scholars (most of them men) who are bringing forward the rights of women, which were given to us centuries ago by our Allah. These rights have been have taken away by cultural influences, not religious. I hope you see my point of view and rethink what you have written in your post. You can never feel the blessing of what you have never experienced!!