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Breastfeeding and Yom Kippur

The fast of Yom Kippur is Torah obligation (Vayikra 16:29 and 23:27). Therefore, the rules of this fast are the strictest of any fast during the year. The halacha assumes that nursing women will fast on Yom Kippur.

For most healthy women, based on the limited medical information available, this practice is unlikely to permanently affect breastfeeding. Thus healthy women nursing healthy babies without problems must fast. If the woman is not feeling well, or the nursing has not been going well, a specific halachic question should be asked.

In the first week after childbirth, there is much more room for leniency. For the first three days after childbirth, a woman is a cholah sheyesh bah sakanah (an ill person who is at risk), and is not allowed to fast. For the next four days, she may only fast if she both feels up to it and her health care provider does not object. The exact calculation of these time periods is a matter of halachic debate (whether 24-hour days, or nightfall to nightfall). Therefore, in borderline situations, a specific halachic question should be asked.

Shiurim (Minimum Quantities)

The prohibition against eating or drinking on Yom Kippur extends even to tiny amounts. However, the penalty for violating this prohibition applies only if a certain quantity (shiur) of food or drink is consumed. Therefore, one for whom fasting is dangerous may sometimes be instructed to eat or drink less than a shiur at one time.

The shiur for drinking is half of one mouthful (measured before the fast by filling the mouth and cheeks with liquid, emptying it into a measuring cup, and halving that). If eating is necessary, a woman may eat up to 30cc at a time. Ideally, these quantities should be consumed at intervals of at least nine minutes; however, opinions vary and some authorities permit intervals as short as four minutes. A woman who needs to break her fast should have in mind while eating that she is fulfilling the mitzvah of "vechai bahem", living for the sake of Torah (and not risking life).

These are general guidelines. Halacha as well as medicine is case based. If a woman has some complication of childbirth, the baby is even mildly ill, or she is having difficulty breastfeeding, she should consult with her physician about his or her concerns with not drinking or eating for 24 hours and relay these concerns to her rabbi. It is important that the physician be sensitive to the seriousness of this fast and give a well thought out answer.

Practical tips for fasting and breastfeeding include:

  1. Drink plenty of fluids for a number of days before the fast.
  2. Consider pumping some milk a day or two before, so that you have some expressed milk to offer the baby if you are tired at the end of the fast and feel you are producing less milk.
  3. After the fast, breastfeed frequently, drink and rest. Your milk supply should return to normal within 1-2 days.
  4. Do not start giving formula at this stage. This will give your body the message that less milk is necessary, and is likely to diminish your supply. If you are concerned the baby is not getting enough, give your pumped milk.
  5. A baby who produces wet and dirty diapers is well nourished. 
  6. It is more important to stay home and fast and breastfeed than to break your fast and attend synagogue. It is also more important for you to fast than for your husband to attend synagogue.
  7. Discussion should take place prior to the fast about family arrangements (e.g., husband staying home a few hours, hiring a babysitter) that can help make it easier.

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Information for your Health Care Provider

 

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