Are COVID-19 Vaccines Safe for Pregnant and Breastfeeding Mothers? An Expert Weighs In

We’re over a year and a half into COVID-19 and the presumed end of the pandemic has unfortunately been pushed back to sometime in 2022. Because of this, we know that we need to continue to do all that we can to protect pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, and their babies, from getting the virus. At this time, the COVID-19 vaccine is approved for those 12 years of age and up, and I suspect that there won’t be approval for the vaccine in infants less than 6-12 months of age for quite a while (if ever). 

Last fall it was unclear as to whether or not COVID-19 vaccination was a safe option for breastfeeding mothers. We now know that the COVID-19 vaccine is safe to get while breastfeeding and provides excellent protection to both mothers and babies from getting COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), and Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine (ABM) all recommend that breastfeeding mothers get vaccinated. 

How do we know the COVID-19 vaccine is safe during breastfeeding?

Dr. Thomas Hale, one of the world’s experts in breastfeeding medicine and founder of the Infant Risk Center, has recently published research on over 4000 women who were surveyed after being vaccinated while breastfeeding. The results of his study are very reassuring as he found that 98% of mothers reported no ill effects on breastfeeding after getting the COVID-19 vaccine.  

Can vaccine components pass through my breastmilk to my baby?

In a recent study, no mRNA vaccine fragments were found in mothers’ milk after vaccination. This is because vaccine components (nanoparticles) are broken down locally by muscle cells at the site of injection. If small vaccine fragments were to somehow enter into breastmilk (which we are pretty sure does not happen!) babies’ digestive systems would further break them down so they would cause no harm.  

Will the antibodies my body makes after getting vaccinated pass through my breastmilk to my baby?

Yes, researchers have found COVID antibodies in breastmilk samples of women who have received the COVID-19 vaccine. These antibodies bolster immunity and protect infants from COVID-19 infection.

Are certain COVID-19 vaccines recommended over others for breastfeeding moms?

Since the mRNA vaccines provide better protection against the delta variant of COVID-19 than the adenovirus-vector vaccines, I am recommending that breastfeeding mothers receive either the Moderna or Pfizer mRNA vaccines – both of these require two doses, about 2-3 weeks apart. COVID-19 vaccine recipients are considered to be fully immune two weeks after they receive their second mRNA vaccine.

Can breastfeeding mothers receive all vaccines, or are there any that are contraindicated while producing breast milk?

According to the CDC, all vaccines are safe during lactation except for the Smallpox vaccine and Yellow Fever vaccine (which are rarely given in the U.S.)

Is there anything else I should know about getting the vaccine while breastfeeding?

It’s common to feel somewhat lousy and experience symptoms (including fatigue, low grade fever, and/or aches and pains) for a day or two after getting the vaccine. This is normal and signals that the vaccine is doing its job in stimulating the immune system. Because of this, many people makes plans ahead of time to take off of work the day after receiving each vaccine dose. 

Jessica Madden
Dr. Madden is a board-certified pediatrician and neonatologist who has been taking care of newborn babies for over 15 years. She is currently on staff in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio. She also provides in-home newborn medicine and lactation support to new mamas and is currently working to become an IBCLC.

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