Are breastfeeding mothers or nurses required to fast?
Muslim jurists generally claim that breastfeeding mothers or nurses are required to fast during the holy month of Ramadan. However, there is no obligation of fasting upon them if the quantity of the milk that they produce is lessened as a result, as this can prove to be harmful to the child. Instead of fasting, breastfeeding mothers or nurses that produce little milk are required to make up for each fast they miss by observing a lapsed (qaḍāʾ) fast, along with paying a compensation, known as fidya.
There is disagreement amongst Muslim scholars on whether or not the obligation of fasting is lifted when a breastfeeding mother or nurse uses alternative supplements to breastfeed, such as infant formula or pasteurised donor breast milk, to feed the child. Some scholars say that she is required to fast, whereas other stipulate that she is still excused from fasting.
Breastfeeding mothers or nurses must only fast after seeking approval from a specialist obstetric team. If it is found that a breastfeeding mother or nurse is producing little milk, then she cannot fast and instead is required to give a compensation known as fidya. It is not necessary that she observes lapsed fasts for each fast that she misses. This consensus is only applicable to mothers or nurses that breastfeed a child with their own milk and do not use alternative supplements to breastfeed.
1. The Quran stipulates, “O you who believe, fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may be God-conscious. Fast for a specific number of days, but if you are ill, or on a journey, on other days later. For those who can fast only with extreme difficulty, there is a way to compensate – feed a needy person. But if anyone does good of his own accord, it is better for him, and fasting is better for you, if only you knew.”
This verse of the Quran clearly excuses any person who suffers from a health condition from observing obligatory fasts during the holy month of Ramadan, and instead prescribes that he or she can fast on another day (outside of the holy month of Ramadan), or feed the needy as compensation for not fasting.
However, the general verse of the Quran does not clarify what exactly is meant by “illness” and therefore, it can be interpreted in an unrestricted manner and indicate any kind of physical or mental health condition, which would include the mere fear of developing a health condition due to fasting.
2. There is a strong consensus amongst the mainstream medical opinion that breastfeeding offers numerous psychological and physical benefits to both the mother and the child. For instance, breastfeeding can significantly enhance the bond and attachment between a mother and child, provide the child with essential nutrients, and build his or her immunity as they grow.
In addition, the medical benefits of breastfeeding a child are supported by the traditions of the Prophet and his family - for instance, Imam Ali said, “For a child, there is no milk that has more blessings than the milk of a mother.”
Considering this, if, due to fasting, a breastfeeding mother or nurse produces less milk, then this can have detrimental effects on the psychological and physical wellbeing of a child.
3. There are numerous juristic maxims (qawāʿid al-fiqhiyya) that are derived from the Quran and the traditions of the Prophet and his family that act as meta-legal principles, which support the unrestricted reading of the aforementioned verse of the Quran. Amongst these juristic maxims is the maxim of ‘eliminating harm’ (nafī al-ḍarar). According to this maxim, causing any harm to oneself or to others is prohibited, and therefore if enacting the Sharia obligatory fast will cause harm to a breastfeeding mother or nurse as they produce less milk, then it is prohibited for her to do so.
4. In light of the verse of the Quran that states “ask those who know,” it becomes clear that the most qualified group of people who can assess and advise on the level of bearable or unbearable harm a breastfeeding child may experience due to his/her mother or nurse fasting is the obstetric team. Accordingly, it is necessary for a breastfeeding mother or nurse to consult her obstetric team prior to the commencement of the holy month of Ramadan.
 Quran 2:183-4
 Gartner LM, Morton J, Lawrence RA, Naylor AJ, O'Hare D, Schanler RJ, Eidelman AI, American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Breastfeeding: Breastfeeding and the use of human milk. Pediatrics. 2005 Feb;115(2) 496-506.
 Al-Kāfī, vol. 6, p. 40
 Quran 21:7, 16:43