Fasting: Tips for Children and Breastfeeding Mumssasi2021-04-12T12:39:51+04:00
As Ramadan ensues, Dietitian and Eggs & Soldiers Eggspert, Jordana Smith, shares her advice on safe and effective fasting for children and breastfeeding mothers who may wish to practice the pillar this year
Q: Healthy Muslim children are usually expected to fast by the time they reach adolescence, but many are intrigued and keen to join their families in doing so at a younger age. Is fasting safe for children in your opinion?
A: Yes, in children who are old enough fasting can be safe, provided that nutrient requirements are met during the hours that eating is allowed. Fasting in younger children can be done, but I would focus on shorter hours, or practicing once per week and building up every year. If children start to lose concentration at school or show signs of dehydration, then I would always say you need to break that fast and react to the symptoms.
Q: What key factors should we look at as parents to assess whether our child is managing well while attempting to fast?
A: When looking at nutrient requirements, it is not only about looking at calories but rather focusing on where those calories are coming from. It is also important to consider activity levels of the child, to determine the appropriateness of fasting. If you are doing sports activities outside mid-afternoon, it may lead to dehydration so always keeping an eye on how the child is doing day to day is important.
Q: Do you have any advice on the best ways for a child to break each day’s fast? How can we help them steer away from overindulging/eating bad foods?
A: It is important that we break the fast with foods that aren’t going to rapidly cause glucose spikes, which can affect mood and physically how they are feeling. You need to also start slowly – gradually break the fast, and don’t rush trying to eat everything we can. If we break the fast with high sugar options, this means we want more high sugar, high fat options. Initially offering children a handful of nuts with 1 or 2 dates will be a good place to start. Follow this with a whole food meal. Another good option would be to have some Greek yoghurt with nut butter and some berries. This will level out blood glucose levels and then we don’t have the same craving for the less preferred foods.
Q: Is it safe for breastfeeding women to fast should they wish to in your opinion?
A: This all depends on where on her breastfeeding journey the mother is. If she is new to breastfeeding and we are still trying to establish breastfeeding, I wouldn’t be recommending it. However, if she is a few months into her postpartum journey and breastfeeding is well established, and if she feels okay, I would help support it. When we consider research, fasting doesn’t affect milk supply, provided mum is eating enough in non-fasting hours, however based on my experience I have had some mums say their supply has dropped dramatically.
Q: Will there be any impact on the milk she produces/nutrients the baby receives if a mother is fasting?
A: Provided mum is eating appropriately in non-fasting hours, there should be limited impact, however in reality I have certainly had some mothers say their supply has dropped. In terms of nutrients, the mum’s body will always protect baby first, so it would rather take nutrients from mum’s supply before allowing baby to suffer. So, mum might be affected, but her milk quality generally wouldn’t suffer.
Q: What are your top 5 choices for Iftar/Suhoor foods for breastfeeding women and why?
A: I would recommend foods that are going to maintain glucose levels, without causing any major peaks, which lead to rapid lows. I would always suggest that they include proteins and fat into the meal. Five great foods to include when breaking fast would be: almonds or walnuts at Iftar, eggs, good quality grass-fed meat, avocado and Greek yoghurt.