Sunday, August 2, 2009

Breastfeeding and fasting

Hello, and a good week to everyone. I hope all my Jewish readers had an easy time fasting on Tisha B'Av last Thursday – I wanted to stop by before it and wish everyone an easy fast, but didn't have the opportunity. At any rate I hope this was the last time we fasted on Tisha B'Av, and that next year we can rejoice in a new, rebuilt Holy Temple.

As you might know (or not), Tisha B'Av and Yom Kippur are the only two fasts pregnant and nursing women are not matter-of-factly released from. Therefore I fasted, for the first time since Shira was born, and it was one of the most difficult fasts I ever had to go through. Nursing makes you lose extra liquids, and as soon as I sit down to nurse, I have an effect of violent thirst kicking in, making me want to gulp down a big glass (or two, or three) of water. Torturous! While normally I fast with no adverse effects (even while pregnant), this time I spent most of the day lying down on the couch, dozing in and out of weak sleep, and day-dreaming about everything I'm going to drink once the fast is over.

Needless to say, I felt a dip in my milk supply and could not nurse as much as I often do. So during the day we supplemented with a few bottles of milk I pumped during the previous week. My husband was a great help, taking over all the baby business, feeding and entertaining Shira. I couldn't have done it without him. I broke the fast about half an hour before it ended, because I felt too weak to even pick up my baby, and my husband was in synagogue.

We tried to seek counsel from a rabbi prior to the fast, but there is no rabbi we can call "ours" (meaning that we would fully trust his opinion in all matters), and there is a variety of rabbinical opinion on the subject – there are those who say a nursing mother may eat and drink as usual if she even thinks a fast might cause lower milk supply, and there are those who say a mother should give up trying to nurse that day altogether and feed the baby formula – and even supplement with formula the day before, to "make sure the baby will drink it".

It goes without saying, of course, that I'm incensed by the ignorant (I'm sorry, but I have no other word) advice of the latter, particularly when given to a young mother of a baby who is just a few weeks old, disregarding the permanent damage such practice may do – exposure of a very young baby to allergens like cow's milk or soy protein, disruption of the (perhaps fragile) nursing relationship, not to mention engorgement, plugged ducts and mastitis. As Mother in Israel once eloquently said, "I don't believe Judaism is about replacing a warm breast with a bottle." I don't like supplementing with bottles at all, even though it was my milk. Had we run out of pumped milk, or had I been unable to pump prior to the fast for some reason, I would have broken the fast as soon as I felt I'm not producing as much milk as usual.

When time comes to prepare for the next fast I must observe (which will be Yom Kippur, in two months), we can seek advice from a rabbi while informing him of how ill I felt during the previous. I suppose Shira will take more solids in two months than she does now, but I still expect her to nurse as much or nearly as much as now. Certainly I'm not supposed to be too weak to take care of my baby.

Fortunately, a one-day fast is not supposed to cause permanent damage to milk supply. After a day of plentiful liquids, food, rest and nursing, everything seems to be back to normal. If any of you ladies ever have to fast while nursing (for religious or other reasons), make sure to check out this page of excellent advice from KellyMom.


jAne said...

I've fasted (religious reasons) but my fast always included drinking water..didn't drink anything else and certainly no foods. But water, yes. Perhaps a Rabbi would approve of water once you explain your situation..? I'm praying the Lord brings the right Rabbi in your path, AnnaT.

Bless you,
jAne at

Sammy said...

I'm also a nursing mama, and my rabbi told me that feeding my baby is my first mitzvah and therefore fasting this year is inadvisable.

Kyle, Amanda, and Tobias said...

I'm Catholic and while I normally fast during certain days of Lent I chose to refrain while pregnant and breastfeeding. I had enough trouble gaining weight during pregnancy that my doctor would have been angry if he found out I fasted :) I also felt that my milk supply was always very dependent on me eating enough while nursing and chose to refrain this year as well. I've also considered doing a more moderate fast, such as allowing beverages but no food or shortening the time frame just a bit. Regardless, there are many other years when I will fast and I considered nursing to be my priority this year. There is a season for everything.

Judy said...

While I am not Jewish ( I am Catholic ), I would tend to agree with what Sammy's rabbi told her. G-d is well aware of how our bodies work, and what our babies need. As a Catholic, we are told that pregnant and nursing mothers are not held to the fasts - although now that my son is well over a year old and taking in plenty of nourishment from other sources along with my milk, I will keep fasts this year. Many of our Catholic traditions come directly from the Jewish faith, as Jesus, whom we believe to be the Messiah, was a devout Jew. I would think, that given the description of how very ill and weak and unable to care for your precious Shira you became during such a strict fast, that while she is still nursing that much you would be released from the obligation to observe it as strictly. Perhaps by taking water only, you may still participate in and receive the spiritual benefits of the fast without jeopardizing either your or Shira's health.

Bethany Hudson said...

This is very interesting to me. I am called to fast several days of the year as a Catholic, but fluids are permitted, which makes a huge difference, and pregnant and nursing mothers are exempted from all fasts in my faith. I wonder, what did nursing mothers do before breastpumps and formula were available? Were rabbis more lenient in their allowances for nursing mothers and pregnant women then?

Anonymous said...

Fasting is one thing, but NEVER go without drinking water while nursing. If anything, drink MORE water during fast. I would certainly hope any rabbi, priest, minister, etc. would tell you the same. Honoring one's religious principles is admirable, but even the Lord wouldn't want a baby (or its mother) to suffer because of a religious legality. If you don't take care of yourself, you can't take care of the baby.**And for heaven's sake, never cave in to the world and feed your baby formula! Why people want to feed their babies fake food, I'll never understand.

Anonymous said...

Although I am concerned with fasting from all liquids and foods for a religious holiday, my main concern comes in the reason behind it. I am sorry to be critical, but isn't the purpose of fasting to put your focus on something besides yourself and not eating that day and thus having to cook frees up more time to "ponder".

Anonymous said...

Hello, Anna....I'm happy you're back to your regular routine now. Certainly this fast sounds as though it was very difficult for you. Honestly, I have to incline myself with Mrs. Hudson's & Anon.'s comments regarding liquids during fasting. You simply must have enough to keep your body well enough to make milk.


Inca said...

You should really make it a top priority to find a Rabbi to call "yours". (Of course, you must trust him in all areas). If there is a particular topic that you need rabbinic advice on, and you feel there is a lot of specialized info that 'your' rabbi may not have, you should discuss 'that' with 'your' rabbi, and follow his advice; he will often be able to direct you to the proper person. Once the rabbi is 'yours', it should be possible to discuss your misgivings with him, should they arise. But it is not advisable, in my opinion, to go shopping for religious opinions according to what you would like to hear, depending on the situation....regardless of what your religion is.

Audrey said...

I am not Jewish (OR Catholic, I am pentacostal Christian), but when we fast (usually before big events... mission trips, retreats, etc., along with personal reasons... big job decision coming up for the husband, needing spiritual clarity on a matter, etc.), pregnant and nursing mothers are exempt, along with those with weak immune systems and certain chronic illnesses. However, I personally have found that while everyone else goes without food, I can do the "Daniel fast" (Daniel 1:8-14). I first discovered the Daniel fast before the last US presidential election, when every church in town did it for 40 days prior, so we could pray over the election. I did my own research on it, and have decided that when everyone else is fasting, while pregnant or nursing, I will do the Daniel fast.
That is a list of foods that are "permitted" during the Daniel fast. It seems like a lot, but with all the processed, sweetened foods out there, it's tough to stick to.

Mrs. White said...

From my understanding of Jewish Law, those who are ill are not required to fast. Also, babies and children are not required to fast. As a nursing Mother, if you fast, you are not able to feed the baby. (Both you and the baby could become dehydrated - which is particularly dangerous for the baby!) I haven't had a baby in such a long time, but if I can recall correctly, I believe pregnant and nursing mothers are also exempt.

Please check out

They are committed to faithfully publishing literature for Traditional Judaism. (Note:Their website is closed on Shabbat.) I am sure you could find a book from them that will help you know what to do in these types of situations.

Yes, Yom Kippur is coming upon us very quickly. I pray you can get this question answered in plenty of time.

Mrs. White

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing. I found it interesting that you had a hard time finding a religious leader you could trust--seems that is becoming a bigger and bigger problem all over the world! Hoping you and your husband find the guidance you need, and glad your fast is over! I really respect your desire to do the right thing in honoring God.

Mrs. R said...

Hello Anna,
I am not Jewish but I have fasted for various lengths of time from part of a day, all day & a 4 full days. But at no time was the elimination of water a part of them. I do understand that there are some fasts of a limited time that also include not taking in any liquids or solids. I would have to add my cautions about doing any fasts without water for you, based on your experiences with this last one. And for a Rabbi to encourage a breastfeeding mother to give her infant formula during a fast seems to me to be much more of a legalistic tenure than one of a religious observance in obedience to the Lord. I have not seen anywhere in the Word of God that we should neglect the care of our family (husband and children) over a ritualistic observance. Even Hannah was released from going to Jerusalem for quite a number of YEARS (3 - 5) until she had weaned Samuel. Samuel grew to be a very godly prophet of Israel, though the raising of his own children was one of his weak points. His great appetite being the other. God blessed Hannah with more children and He blessed Samuel as His prophet. That wouldn't have been the case had the Lord considered her "neglecting the annual feast in Jerusalem" as a sin!

I don't want to be in a position of "teaching" your husband. But this is an issue of your physical ability to care for the family you have been given by the Lord. If you feel that badly in attempting to observe this fast, then I think that would be a clear sign, from the body God designed you with, that you should NOT fast while pregnant or breastfeeding.

I will be praying that your dear husband and you will find a Rabbi that will give you Godly advice that is not also mixed with 'worldly' UN-wisdom (like formula feeding!) and that you will have a complete peace in that decision.
~Mrs. R

L.H. said...

I was fasting while nursing my first child and was driving around town so weak disoriented that I hit a parked car. That was the end of that.

I'm glad it went well for you though. I know other mothers who fast while nursing and do pretty well.

CappuccinoLife said...

Anna, how interesting to read about how you deal with fasting as a nursing mother.

I'm afraid I would totally wimp out with that kind of fasting. :/ Like Audry, we have done a Daniel fast, and even that was difficult for me as a nursing mother who's not used to completely vegan food preparation.

Mary at Civilla's Cyber Cafe said...

For ANYBODY to tell you that you must fast (especially liquids) while pregnant or nursing, or with a chronic illness, is spiritual abuse, in my book. Same with feeding your child foods you disapprove of. (I would be different in the Biblical Queen Esther's case, where everybody was going to die anyway if the people didn't fast causing God to step in.) I would think you would be ok using your common sense here, and not having to ask anybody.

Anonymous said...

Anna, I have nothing to say about the breastfeeding / fasting issue but can I ask you about another matter?

You mentioned about a new Holy Temple being built by next year. Do you have a trustworthy link to information about that? I must live under a rock, because I didn't know this was happening. This would be something major wouldn't it? Amazing how we just don't hear about somethings ~ especially important things like this.


Mrs. Anna T said...


No one started building the Temple yet; furthermore, it is banned by our secular, ungodly government. But, one must always hope.

Anonymous said...

Dear mrs. R.

It was not Samuel who had a problem raising his sons and with his appetite. It was Eli the priest, who spoke to his mother Hannah.

Mrs. S

OSM said...

yeah. If you find an orthodox rav who lets you break a yom kippur or tishabav fast instead of giving a bottle, you let us all know, would ya?

Halacha is much more strict with fasting on those two days than the other fast days, it's very very difficult to get a heter not to fast, you pretty much have to be in danger of death. Halacha also doesn't care if you feed your baby with formula.

Analytical Adam said...

I hope you had an easy fast and I hope the day comes then we don't have to fast and people understand that the ways of the G-d of Israel is relevant to all nations and is a way of life and prosperity for all not just a few.

That is very interesting on breastfeeding as I did not know any of this and it is sad that the religion doesn't pay enough attention to the women who want to develop that special bond that only a mother can give which is partly through brestfeeding which is very healthy for the child.

I did though just want to comment on just contacting Rabbi's. Sad to say I am not very happy with the behavior of many (although not all) Rabbi's but even if all Rabbi's were G-d fearing this idea you should have ONE RABBI to ask everything really is not appropriate. Just to give the example with a doctor. If you go for a major medical situation you get a second or third opinion as even the best doctor may have some conflict of interest so you try to get more then one opinion and read up about it. This is even if you have tremendous respect for the doctor but you realize he is still human and you need more then one opinion to help make a decision. The same thing is with any Rabbi. Even a great Rabbi is still a human being that may have a slight conflict of interest that color's his judgement so you should get at least one or two other views to balance this out. This idea of turning a Rabbi into a G-d really is an idea from some religions that did this. BUt this really isn't Judaism and I think in general whenever you have a question you should read up on it and get a few views on it simply because any one Rabbi will have some conflict of interest simply because they are a human being.

Anonymous said...

Hi Anna,

Interesting to read this post - I am worrying about fasting this YK as I have done every year for the past 10 years, as now I am in the first months of pregnancy. I am dreading asking my rebbetzin about fasting as I'm pretty sure the answer will be yes, I have to. This will mean instead of spending the day meaninfully davening in shul I will be unable to leave my house for weakness and nausea!

However, I understand that many orthodox rabbis here in the UK sanction some sort of limited water consumption for breast feeders - really you should ask as I think the position is more lenient that you fear!

Shabbat shalom


Anonymous said...

I fast (yom kippur) once a year while pregnant or nursing without fluids and have for the last 4 years without problems, I spend most of the day resting in bed just tending to the baby and resting.

This year will be the first year i am pregnant AND nursing so i'm a bit nervous but i feel that if it was intended for pregnant or nursing women NOT to fast at this time it would have been clearly stated.

Anonymous said...

I have only been a practicing Jew for about 7 years now, but I was under the impression that, in both the Orthodox and Conservative movements, pregnant and nursing mothers were not required to fast.