Often centred around community and togetherness, the fasting month of Ramadan will be a very different affair during this year’s Circuit Breaker as extended families are socially distanced from one another. Plus, nightly terawikh prayers at mosques will not be in practice due to closures.
For our May Mum of the Month, Syaza Mohd Sallehuddin, this is will indeed be a bittersweet Ramadan as she cannot have loved ones, apart from her own household, with her physically during iftar (the evening breaking fast meal). But she is determined to make the best of the situation and focus on meaningful ways she can spend the holy month, in addition to the ritual of fasting itself.
As a breastfeeding mother who in previous years had fasted while still nursing and even when pregnant, Syaza is certainly no stranger to facing things mind-over-matter.
Is it possible to fast when pregnant?
For the 31-year-old primary school teacher, the first time she made a decision to fast while still nursing was a leap of faith. She was a new mother and had not much experience at all with breastfeeding. “I had not read up much on breastfeeding and was even horrified when my milk came in and I started leaking profusely!” Syaza recalled.
The birth of her son Ikram, was an emergency C-section. Syaza had told her nurses that she wanted to latch her baby as soon as possible. When she woke up two hours after the surgery, they wheeled her to Ikram, who latched on well. “I was very fortunate that the nurses respected my decision to fully breastfeed so they did not feed him (formula) straight away,” she said, relieved. Her milk supply was sufficient for Ikram and she was able to fully breastfeed without supplementing.
Only ten months later, Syaza became pregnant again despite fully breastfeeding. While she was initially worried that continuing to breastfeed while pregnant might reduce supply and even induce early contractions, she persisted as she was determined to continue nursing her still young baby. About three months later, fasting month approached and Syaza decided to fulfill her fasting obligation.
“Everything proceeded smoothly and I had no complications,” said Syaza. “I managed to breastfeed Ikram while pregnant and complete a full month of fasting even though he was a heavy drinker who would ask to feed every two hours.”
Extra nutrition and mental preparation
Syaza took extra care to prepare herself for fasting month and watched her diet and water intake carefully. During fasting month, Muslims do not eat or drink from dawn until dusk. So she made sure to wake up for her pre-dawn meal and have enough sustenance during non-fasting hours at night. “I drank at least 3-litres of water daily and had wholesome protein-loaded meals to ensure my body gets the right nutrients,” explained Syaza. “And because I am a working mum, I would express my milk on a regular schedule. This helped to maintain my milk flow.”
She discovered that dates were a supplement for nursing Mums and would prep overnight oats with dates for easy Suhoor meals when feeling lazy. “I am actually not a fan of dates even though it’s a traditional food associated with breaking fast in Ramadan,” she confessed. “But then, I read that dates are really nutritious and gave me the energy to last the whole day.”
Apart from the physical challenge of not being able to eat or drink while nursing, it was also a mental test for Syaza. “I must say that the whole experience is more of a mind-over-matter game and I really psyched myself up to prepare for it,” she enthused. “I told myself to be mentally strong and positive during the fasting hours and that actually worked for me. My pregnancy was smooth and my milk supply maintained.”
With that experience, she was able to fast again the following year. This time it was slightly easier for her as she was not pregnant and was only nursing her daughter Sofya. “She is not a heavy drinker like her brother so even though my milk supply reduced slightly while fasting, it was still sufficient,” said Syaza.
The Hegen difference
When it was time to give birth to Sofya, Syaza decided to wean Ikram off slowly. “He had started to bite and being pregnant, my nipples were too swollen to withstand that kind of pain!” she recalled.
Hegen was her milk bottle of choice and she was relived when he accepted the transition and latched on well. “I love Hegen products. It is so fuss-free,” exclaimed Syaza. “I didn’t need plastic storage bags and could just express the milk straight into the bottle, close and store. Then the next day, the caregiver would just remove the lid and replace it with the teat.”
Ramadan in a time of COVID-19
Syaza is thankful to have had the opportunity to keep up her fasting obligation while nursing and pregnant but is equally supportive of Muslim Mums who are choosing not to fast because they're pregnant or breastfeeding.
“You do you!” she cheered. “In Islam, it is not an obligation to fast if you're doing it for your baby. And we know how important it is for nursing Mums to maintain that continuous flow.”