Rabbi Elgazi on Breastfeeding, Fasting and Yom Kippur

'Glass of Water' photo (c) 2011, Sean - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/ In last week’s Matzav Haruach, Rabbi Ben-Zion Elgazi’s column is devoted to fasting on Yom Kippur. I liked his approach to breastfeeding so I am translating it here. You can find the original Hebrew text in this article I contributed to the blog of the Israeli Association of Certified Lactation Consultants.

Rabbi Elgazi teaches at the Kerem Be-Yavneh yeshiva.

The prohibition against eating and drinking on Yom Kippur is more severe than all of the other commandments. One who eats and drinks more than the amount determined by the sages, nullifies the inui and is liable for karet (excision). Therefore, the basic assumption is that pregnant and nursing women fast the entire day of Yom Kippur. (Shulhan Aruch O”H 617)

At any rate, the rabbinic arbiters ruled in the case of pregnant women for whom there is a question of damage to them or to the fetus during the fast, like a risk of miscarriage, or if there were previous miscarriages, in these cases pregnant women could eat and drink in shiurim (specified amounts at set intervals) according to advance consultation with a doctor and an halachic authority. So too breastfeeding mothers, as the Hazon Ish wrote (O”H 59): “A normal baby is endangered when he doesn’t get milk, and whenever there is a doubt that there will be an upset stomach with any constipation or diarrhea or fever whatsoever, by a change in his diet, this is possibly life-threatening, and for this we violate the Sabbath.”  We can apply this to Yom Kippur. If through fasting the mother’s milk will diminish or completely cease, and the baby would need supplements, it will be permitted for the nursing mother to drink.”

The most important thing for a pregnant or breastfeeding mother is to have a plan in case things go wrong, and not be stuck at home alone with one or more small children when she or the baby is feeling terrible. As Rabbi Elgazi suggests, there is no substitute for talking to your doctor and rabbi in advance. For mother and baby the rabbi needs to know your fasting history, age of the baby, whether or not the baby eats other foods or takes bottles, and any health issues of mother and baby including allergies.

See the links below for more information and tips.

Let me take this opportunity to ask forgiveness from any reader that I may have harmed through omission or commission. Please be in touch privately if that is the case.

Wishing all of you a safe and meaningful fast.

A Radical Ruling: Fasting and Breastfeeding on Yom Kippur (includes information on why supplementing on YK is not always a good idea)

Tips on Breastfeeding and Fasting on Yom Kippur

Fasting during Pregnancy

Fasting When 9 Av Is Postponed (2016)


  1. Pregnant women and especially breast feeding women: do not fast. Period.

    • Please do not urge people to do something that is an issur Kares.

    • ZUR:

      why not?

      with my own 2 children the doctors said not a problem to fast. iirc my wife wasn’t feeling well when pregnant with #2 and the rabbi i asked still urged her to fast. (with #1 i didn’t ask a rabbi once the doctor gave go ahead.) he said staying home and fasting was preferable to not fasting and coming to shul. he did say she should eat/drink if she felt necessary and he instructed me on shiurim, but definitely no blanket permission not to fast.

      something else i asked at a recent shiur (unrelated to pregnant/lactating moms) is whether there is really such a concept as breaking a fast. answer was no. eating/drinking once, whether by accident or necessity isn’t license to disregard the remainder of the fast.

      on a different issue, the rabbi of the shul i currently daven in announced prior to tisha be’av that pregnant women still had to fast even though it was really 10th Av. (contrary views circulated at the time.)

      • On another thread, Naomi Elbinger commented that the rabbis in Israel are more lenient. Perhaps because such a large population of pregnant women fasts on YK, the statistics on complications and premature birth are easier to come by.

        • It’s not just that. Part of it is that some areas in EY – such as Yerushalayim are far drier than most of the areas where large concentrations of Orthodox Jews live, outside of EY. (That may be changing as communities are developing and growing in some fairly arid areas in the US.) The lower humidity seems to cause a higher rate of dehydration, which is a real issue. Everyone understands the risk of premature birth, the question is how likely this is to happen. In drier climates, it seems to be more likely.

  2. I believe Rabbi’s in Israel are more lenient also because of the much hotter weather than in Europe (or presumably US)

    The best explanation I read to explain why nursing mothers should drink by shiurim is that of Rav Nevensal (Rabbi of old City), who explains also why formula is not a substitute for nursing etc.

    Many authorities relate to the mother’s health when discussing whether a nursing mother, or a mother after childbirth is able to fast. The interesting thing in the above sources, is the specific discussion of the health of the baby.

    Eating and drinking according to the small fixed amounts is still technically fasting, as you do not eat the amount that is counted as eating or drinking by the halacha.

  3. My point was that we say often nowadays that the generations have gotten weaker. Taking this into account and the fact that you can’t ask the baby how the fast of the mother is affecting him or her, I decided that pregnant women should not fast. And just because a woman feels she can fast means nothing to me. The baby still has to have a say in this. And though child birth is safer than it used to be, I still regard it as a highly volitale situation.

  4. Allan Katz says

    Preparation in advance, being organized with pumping can go a long way in helping to cope with disruptions to a nursing mother’s life