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INTERMITTENT FASTING WHILE BREASTFEEDING – WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Has breastfeeding not been the weight loss magic that you’d heard it could be?

Are you getting frustrated with the slow rate at which you are losing your baby weight?

woman in white bra and panties holding a scale

If you have looked into the many different ways to lose weight, you have probably heard about this thing called intermittent fasting. It’s getting a lot of buzz these days.

Are you interested in experiencing the many benefits you have heard about this weight loss method but are worried if intermittent fasting while breastfeeding is safe?

Although I am not a breastfeeding mom, I did start intermittent fasting last year, so I have researched it. I have had a very positive experience with it.

It sounds like a dream diet. Eat what you want, just during certain times. Can you really lose weight doing that?

I know that many moms are anxious to get their body back to its best version but don’t want to put their baby or their own health at risk.   

I will try to answer the question is intermittent fasting safe for breastfeeding moms.

WHAT IS INTERMITTENT FASTING?

Intermittent fasting is a cyclic pattern of eating and not eating. You have a period of time where you don’t eat and a defined window of time when you do eat. 

Most people naturally have a fasting period while they sleep. With intermittent fasting, you extend that block of time.

INTERMITTENT FASTING WHILE BREASTFEEDING

Common questions about intermittent fasting and nursing include:

  • Can you fast while breastfeeding?
  • Is intermittent fasting safe while breastfeeding?
  • What unique concerns are there regarding intermittent fasting for breastfeeding moms?

What we know about intermittent fasting for breastfeeding mothers is primarily from anecdotal reports. There is, however, some research that also helps to guide us.

INTERMITTENT FASTING BASICS

  • It is often referred to as IF.
  • It has also been called time restricted eating.
  • There are no restrictions to foods or calories during your eating window.
  • Intermittent fasting can be combined with specific diets like low carb or keto.
  • While calories do not need to be counted and are not restricted, eating an excessive amount of calories will undoubtedly affect weight loss.
  • Individuals are encouraged to eat to satiety. This may sound simple enough, but it can take some time to learn the difference between satisfied and full for many. And if you’ve been part of the clean your plate club, you may need to get over that habit.
  • Most things that have calories will break your fast.
    • This includes infused water like lemon or cucumber, or fruit.
    • Breath mints, including sprays and strips, can break a fast.
    • Black coffee and black tea have a small number of calories, but most experts in the IF world considered them okay to drink during the fasting period.
    • Some IF experts think it is okay to put things like heavy cream or butter in your coffee or tea. Others believe this breaks your fast.
  • Artificial sweeteners can stimulate an insulin response. They should be avoided during the fasting period.
  • Flavored sparkling waters can have the same effects. 
  • For some sensitive individuals, even smelling food or scented candles can cause an insulin response. 
  • Many who practice IF call it a way of life as opposed to a diet.

An excellent and well-researched book on Intermittent Fasting is Fast, Feast, Repeat by Gin Stephens.

THE MOST COMMON INTERMITTENT FASTING SCHEDULES

  • 12/12 is considered the minimum fasting/eating window.
  • 16/8 would be 16 hours of fasting with an eight-hour eating window.
  • 18/6 is 18 hours fasting and six hours when you can eat.
  • 20/4
  • OMAD stands for one meal a day and may also be considered the same as 23/1.
  • 5:2 is where you eat normally for five days, and on two days of the week, you restrict your meals to no more than 500 calories. Alternatively, some people will fast entirely two days of the week.
  • 4:3 is like 5:2; only you have four days of regular eating and 3 of fasting.

As you can see, there are a lot of various approaches to intermittent fasting. Most people experiment to find what works best for them and their goals for IF.

WHAT DO I NEED TO CONSIDER ABOUT INTERMITTENT FASTING WHILE BREASTFEEDING?

There are primarily three things for a nursing mother to be aware of with intermittent fasting.

  • Milk production – calorie restriction can result in a decreased milk supply. Breastfeeding mothers are advised not to consume less than 1500 to 1800 calories each day.
  • Potential for release of toxins due to the fat breakdown that occurs with IF.
  • Can IF make a nursing mom feel even more tired during her fasting cycles?

IS IT SAFE FOR BABY?

One concern about intermittent fasting is the potential for toxins, and environmental pollutants could be released into the mother’s system and end up in her breast milk.

To be clear, breast milk is not free of toxins because every living being is exposed to them in our environment and through our diet. This includes cows that produce the milk from which formula is made.

One study confirmed that toxins can be released into your system but also that there was an increase in antioxidants (Souce). It should be noted that there were no breastfeeding mothers among the study participants.

Furthermore, the women in the study were only eating 1200 calories each day. That is significantly fewer daily calories than is recommended for a woman who is breastfeeding.

Because of the lack of research, no one can say for sure if there is a risk to a breastfed baby if her mother practices intermittent fasting. Risk can probably be minimized by shorter fasts and consuming the recommended minimum of 1800 calories a day.

This will result in gradual weight loss, which should minimize toxins being released into the fat.

Dr. Jason Fung is a trusted source in the intermittent fasting world. He wrote the book The Obesity Code. It should be noted that he does not recommend intermittent fasting for postpartum women who are nursing moms.

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS?

Proponents of IF extoll a long list of potential benefits. 

  • Weight loss
  • Lowers your insulin levels and may decrease insulin resistance.
  • It may have a beneficial effect on metabolic syndrome
  • May reverse Type 2 diabetes (Source)
  • Decreases inflammation (Source)
  • May have a beneficial effect on autoimmune diseases
  • People who practice IF have reported better focus
  • Increases autophagy, which is how our bodies get rid of damaged cells.
  • Many people report improved energy levels. 

I couldn’t find any research on it, but personally, my reflux has disappeared since I started intermittent fasting eight months ago.

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WHAT FASTING SCHEDULES CAN A NURSING MOM USE

Due to the lack of research, recommendation on the best intermittent fasting while breastfeeding schedule are based on best guesses and common sense.

You will want to start out with a short fasting period, and you can gradually increase your time fasting. Monitor your baby’s weight gain, your milk supply, your overall energy levels, and your weight loss to guide you.

Alternate day fasting schedules are not recommended. Severe calorie restrictions can result in decreased milk supply.

TIPS FOR INTERMITTENT FASTING WHILE BREASTFEEDING

If you want to try intermittent fasting while breastfeeding, you should wait until your milk supply is well established. For the average nursing mom, this will happen by six to eight weeks postpartum.

Having an established milk supply does not mean a woman won’t experience a decrease in supply. It just means that if she does see reduced milk production, she can make some changes to increase it relatively quickly.

Drink lots of water while you are fasting. It is essential to keep hydrated. Get a water bottle like the Hydracy Water Bottle With Time Marker to help you meet your hydration goals.

Plain water and unflavored sparkling water are both fasting approved beverages.

Make your food choices count by opting for foods that are a high quality source of nutrition.

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DOES FASTING AFFECT BREAST MILK PRODUCTION?

Severe restrictions in caloric intake can result in a decreased milk supply. 

Because IF does not automatically mean restricting calories. And it definitely does not require severely limiting calories, so intermittent fasting while breastfeeding does not have to have a negative effect on your milk supply.

WILL INTERMITTENT FASTING WHILE NURSING AFFECT MILK QUALITY?

The research that is out there indicates that the breast milk composition of macronutrients is not affected by fasting. However, micronutrient levels were impacted (Source).

WHAT DOES THE RESEARCH SAY ABOUT INTERMITTENT FASTING WHILE BREASTFEEDING?

Much of the research that has been published has looked at fasting by breastfeeding mothers during Ramadan. Ramadan is a month of fasting from sunrise to sunset. 

One study showed that Ramadan fasting did not have a negative impact on the growth of breastfed babies (Source). This would seem to indicate that this type of fasting does not result in a reduced milk supply.

As previously mentioned, there have been differences in the micronutrient composition of breast milk after fasting.

BREASTFEEDING AND INTERMITTENT FASTING FOR RELIGIOUS REASONS

Islamic woman breastfeeding a baby girl

Various religions practice some form of fasting. The rules for fasting vary depending on the faith.

However, most religions exempt breastfeeding moms from being required to fast.

  • Islamic Ramadan
  • Jewish Yom Kippur
  • Hinduism
  • Buddhism
  • Christianity

FINAL THOUGHTS ON INTERMITTENT FASTING WHILE BREASTFEEDING

Intermittent fasting appears to have many health benefits. The nursing mother should proceed with caution due to the lack of research on intermittent fasting and breastfeeding. 

If you want to give intermittent fasting while breastfeeding a try, I would recommend starting with a short fasting period. Keep a close eye on your baby’s growth and your milk supply. 

If you have tried IF as a nursing mom, leave a comment below and share what your experience was.

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