Despite the promising news that everyone over the age of 16 is now eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, there are still some groups with unanswered questions about vaccine safety and efficacy. For example, expectant parents may wonder whether the COVID vaccine is safe for breastfeeding moms. While there are no concrete answers just yet, experts agree that breastfeeding women should feel comfortable getting vaccinated.
For starters, the currently approved COVID-19 vaccines are made a little differently than the vaccines you're used to. While most vaccines contain a small amount of a live virus, like influenza in the flu shot, Moderna and Pfizer created COVID vaccines using mRNA instead. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explained that mRNA vaccines basically teach your immune system to make antibodies against the coronavirus without ever exposing you to the virus itself.
For many, it's comforting to know there are no live coronaviruses in the vaccine. Even if there were, it may not necessarily affect breastfeeding. The CDC reported that live viruses have been found not to be excreted in breast milk. That means vaccines like the flu shot, which contain a little bit of the flu virus, are considered safe to get while breastfeeding and won't affect your baby.
So, all this vaccine formulation science aside, can you safely get the vaccine if you’re currently breastfeeding?
Doctors Think The COVID Vaccine Is Safe For Breastfeeding Moms
Elizabeth Ransom, M.D., executive vice president and chief physician officer of Baptist Health, tells Romper in an interview that the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) has issued vaccination guidelines for breastfeeding moms and moms-to-be.
“ACOG and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine came out pretty strongly that they believe pregnant and lactating women should have the vaccine available to them,” she says. “Pregnant and lactating women have been advised to take vaccines for a number of years. They did say, in the study, they didn’t actually recruit pregnant women as study participants, but with 44,000 people, there were people who became pregnant in that time, and ACOG did point out that there have been no indications of adverse events.”
Board-certified OB-GYN Marta Perez, M.D., who has a major following thanks to her educational Instagram stories, received her vaccine two weeks postpartum while breastfeeding. Her IG is full of both her medical opinion on the vaccine as well as her new mom opinion, and explainers on why she chose to get the vaccine while breastfeeding. It's a great resource for moms who are weighing their own vaccination decision.
Studies On Breast Milk & COVID-19
The CDC reports that the clinical trials of vaccines currently approved for Emergency Use Authorization through the FDA did not include people who were pregnant or breastfeeding. Because of this, the CDC cannot yet provide data on the safety of the vaccine while lactating, how the vaccine affects breastfeeding infants, or how it could impact milk production.
However, new studies on both the vaccine and COVID-19 have included people who are pregnant or lactating. During one study of 131 women published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Romper previously reported that the “researchers found no evidence for increased risk of side effects for pregnant or lactating women,” who received either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.
Additionally, some smaller and non-peer-reviewed studies have examined the presence of COVID-19 antibodies found in the breast milk of moms who have been infected or inoculated. As Romper previously reported, “researchers believe breastfeeding mothers who have COVID-19 could pass vital antibodies to their babies, effectively protecting newborns from the novel coronavirus.” Romper also detailed the findings of two studies of breastfeeding moms — which cumulatively included 1100 women — concluding that, “studies are showing that breast milk from infected or vaccinated moms offers our babies some protection against the disease.”
This research offers promising reassurance that those who do choose to get the vaccine while breastfeeding could in fact pass COVID-19 antibodies to their baby through their milk, though as The New York Times reported, this doesn’t automatically guarantee that your baby will be immune from the virus.
You Can't Pass The Virus To Your Baby Through Breast Milk
Most women’s concerns about getting the vaccine while breastfeeding revolve around one question: Can my baby get COVID through my breast milk if I get the vaccine? Short answer: no.
“I think there’s always a concern out there, ‘Can you get the virus from the vaccine, or will pregnant women give the virus to their baby?’ And the answer is no,” says Ransom. “The vaccine is based on mRNA, which is a small piece of genetic material, and the body develops immunity to that, so that’s how we become protected. There’s no live virus in it at all.”
“Because it is not a live virus, there is no virus to transmit with nursing,” says Kjersti Aagaard, M.D., Ph.D., maternal-fetal medicine specialist at Texas Children’s Pavilion for Women, in an interview with Romper. “Although about four in 100 people had a fever with the first dose of the vaccine in the trial, and 16 in 100 after the second dose in the trial, this did not mean that they became infected. These are anticipated responses to the vaccine, and clues that it is arming your immune system to fight the virus should you become infected.”
Ransom says the medical community is hopeful there will be “further study of pregnant and lactating women” receiving the vaccine. Until then, it’s best for any woman interested in being vaccinated to discuss it with her doctor. “I think if she is pregnant, having that conversation with her OB is a good idea. If she’s not pregnant, a primary care physician or obstetrician could help as well.”
Weigh Vaccine Concerns Against COVID-19 Risks
Aagaard adds that breastfeeding women who are trying to decide if they should be vaccinated need to know about the risks of getting the vaccine and the risks of getting COVID-19. This is especially true if you’re currently pregnant.
“The decision to receive the COVID-19 vaccine should be made with your provider about not only the vaccine's risks and benefits, but your risk of getting moderate or severe disease if you were to remain unvaccinated and get infected with the virus,” says Aagaard. “Specifically, pregnant women are up to five times more likely to be hospitalized, three to four times more likely to need to be cared for in an ICU, and two to three times more likely to require lifesaving measures, like a breathing tube or life support. Black and Latino women have an especially increased risk of severe disease and death from COVID-19.”
A recent study from the CDC found that even in rare instances where vaccinated individuals contract the disease, they have a much milder illness than unvaccinated people. You’ll be able to continue breastfeeding in those moments, too.
Keep Practicing COVID Precautions
If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, Aargaard explains you would receive the vaccine in the same amount and schedule as others, and you’ll manage side effects in a similar manner as well.
“Pregnant and lactating women can take acetaminophen — Tylenol — to help with the fever and muscle aches that might come with receiving the vaccine, and it won’t cause harm or lessen the effectiveness of the vaccine,” she says.
Ransom also encourages everyone — especially parents with young babies — to keep practicing their COVID precautions. “Having the vaccine is great news, and it really is uplifting, but nevertheless we’re also seeing numbers soar,” Ransom says. “We need to continue to be careful and vigilant, wear a mask, wash our hands, and maintain physical distance, even though we’re all so tired of it.”
While the CDC has updated their mask guidelines to reflect that those who are fully vaccinated can now go without a mask both indoors and out, children under the age of 12 are still not eligible. Whatever feels more comfortable to you is what you should do, and remember that if your baby is under the age of 2, no mask.
Elizabeth Ransom, M.D., FACS, executive vice president and chief physician officer of Baptist Health
Kjersti Aagaard, M.D., Ph.D., maternal-fetal medicine specialist at Texas Children’s Pavilion for Women
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