You may be surprised to know that certain individuals are exempt from all rules of fasting and abstinence during the season of Lent.

The good news is that there are some great alternatives if you fall into this camp.

First, it’s important to note what the Church says about who is obligated to participate in this Lenten practice and who is exempt.

According to Canon Law (1252):

“The law of abstinence binds those who have completed their fourteenth year. The law of fasting binds those who have attained their majority, until the beginning of their sixtieth year. Pastors of souls and parents are to ensure that even those who by reason of their age are not bound by the law of fasting and abstinence, are taught the true meaning of penance.
“The conference of bishops can determine more precisely the observance of fast and abstinence as well as substitute other forms of penance, especially works of charity and exercises of piety, in whole or in part, for abstinence and fast."

The USCCB elaborates on these guidelines:

"Those that are excused from fast and abstinence outside the age limits include the physically or mentally ill including individuals suffering from chronic illnesses such as diabetes. Also excluded are pregnant or nursing women. In all cases, common sense should prevail, and ill persons should not further jeopardize their health by fasting."

You can find our full illustrative guide on fasting and abstinence here.

So, if you are pregnant or breastfeeding and are not required to fast or abstain during Lent, what should you do instead?

The short answer is that you don’t have to do anything!

Pregnancy itself is a major sacrifice and breastfeeding is a lot of work.

Abstaining from food or going without food for an extended period of time can be harmful to not only you, but also your unborn child.

The Church acknowledges the hidden work and sacrifices women make during these periods of time.

However, you may feel a tug in your heart to take on something that does not include food.

For women who choose to honor the exception, there are many ways to participate in the sacrificial and penitential spirit of the Lenten season.

Among the many reasons for fasting during Lent is doing so as a means of spiritual growth, redemptive suffering, and self-discipline.

Below you will find two simple yet profound practices to incorporate into your life as a pregnant or nursing mother during the season of Lent.

1) Offer up your ordinary sufferings.

Whether it’s the nausea, aches, pains, and mood swings of pregnancy, or the soreness, emotional anguish, discipline, and time commitment of breastfeeding, you’ve been given a great opportunity to suffer! 

Make it a point to turn your eyes to the Passion and death of Our Lord during moments of anguish in your life.

2) Meditate on the words of Christ at the Last Supper: “This is my body, given up for you.”

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus shares the sacrificial nature of his passion at the Last Supper.

In Luke 22: 19, we read:

"Then he took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, 'This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me.'"

Very few opportunities are available for us to imitate the sacrificial love of Jesus here on earth. However, pregnancy and breastfeeding allow us to love like Jesus.

However you choose to grow closer to Christ during the season of Lent, remember that He loves you more in this very moment than anyone else could in an entire lifetime.

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