Breastfeeding and vaccines. What are the ins and outs?
The questions on every expectant mother’s lips
While the rest of the world is making plans for the second they get the COVID-19 vaccine (a flight to Mexico and margaritas on the beach for us, please), pregnant women and new moms are being bombarded with information about vaccines and giving birth.
Everyone’s asking similar questions right now, and they’re all based around keeping yourself and your child safe while the world is a little weird. The best thing you can do is try and understand the science behind the decisions and advice.
Are there any real reasons women should avoid, delay or refuse any of the COVID-19 vaccines due to pregnancy or breastfeeding? The truth is, the data is continuously improving, so a lot of the advice is ‘cautious until the data proves with confidence.’ Still, this guidance is accurate as of December 2020 and all agreed by the USA, UK gov, CDC, and WHO. Take the power back and arm yourself with all the info you need.
What transfers to your child in your breast milk?
If you’re offered the COVID-19 vaccine while you’re breastfeeding, you can safely accept it according to advice from WHO and CDC. The only two vaccines that breastfeeding women can’t safely receive are the yellow fever vaccine and the smallpox vaccine.
And some more good news – your baby is likely to receive your antibodies through breastfeeding. This pretty much confirms what we’ve always known – breastfeeding is a superpower!
Though, it’s worth noting that vaccinations are poorly bio-available, so the levels that reach your breastmilk are minimal. This means it’s not the vaccine they’d receive but the anti-bodies you create in response to it. So, your baby gets the benefit but not the vaccine itself. Still with us? OK, good.
What transfers through the placenta?
So for breastfeeding mamas, the COVID-19 vaccine is A-OK. But what about pregnant women? Some vaccines, especially ‘live’ vaccines, should not be given to pregnant women because they can be harmful to the baby. At this point, we know these vaccines aren’t appropriate for pregnant women:
- Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine
- Measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine
- Live influenza vaccine (nasal flu vaccine)
- Varicella (chickenpox) vaccine
- Certain travel vaccines: yellow fever, typhoid fever, and Japanese encephalitis
OK, but what does this mean for the COVID-19 vaccine?
The short answer is that pregnant women should only be vaccinated if they have underlying health conditions putting them at added risk of infection or healthcare workers. Shout out to the doctors and nurses on the front line. 🙌
The early COVID-19 vaccines don’t contain organisms that can multiply in the body, so they can’t infect an unborn baby in the womb, and all the data collected so far in the trials haven’t raised any risks. But the standard to which the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) operates means there is insufficient evidence to recommend routine use of COVID-19 vaccines during pregnancy at this point. It’s probably fine, but we need a bit more proof to make it official.
Hopefully, that’s all pretty clear, but let’s hear it from the experts for a bit more peace of mind. Dr. Edward Morris, President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said, “this updated advice from the JCVI means that vaccination in pregnancy should be considered in women who are frontline health or social care workers or have underlying conditions that put them at very high risk of being infected with, transmitting or experiencing serious complications of COVID-19.” We support this risk-based approach until data exists to support routine vaccination in pregnant women. We also welcome the advice that breastfeeding women may be offered vaccination and that those who are trying to become pregnant do not need to avoid pregnancy after vaccination.” Thanks, Edward, all makes sense.
Right, let’s wrap up. Breastfeeding women can be routinely vaccinated, and pregnant women should only be vaccinated if they have underlying conditions putting them at risk or if they’re frontline workers.
Meanwhile, you can stay informed by checking trusted health websites, such as those mentioned above, and talking with your healthcare providers. Being informed means, you can spend less time worrying about the vaccine and its potential implications for breastfeeding and breast pumping and more time thinking about those post-pandemic margaritas.