Is it ok to get the COVID-19 vaccine when breastfeeding?
More people are getting the COVID-19 vaccine each day, bringing us closer to the much-anticipated herd immunity. Some individuals, though, have been uncertain about the vaccine’s safety due to their specific circumstances – among them, women who are breastfeeding.
In short, it is recommended that new parents receive the COVID vaccine, even when breastfeeding.
Dr. Tiffany Kimbrough, pediatrician and medical director of our Mother-Infant Unit, answers some of the most common questions she receives from new parents about the impacts to their baby if mom gets the COVID vaccine. It’s also important to take precautions to avoid being exposed to the virus.
Can breastfeeding women receive the vaccine?
Absolutely! The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine (ABM) both recommend that COVID-19 vaccines be offered to lactating individuals, similar to non-lactating individuals, when it becomes available to them.
While lactating individuals were not included in the vaccine clinical trials, it is not recommended to withhold the COVID vaccine from breastfeeding women who otherwise meet the criteria to receive it. We also have a history of strong data from other vaccines that tells us the likely benefits certainly outweigh the theoretical safety concerns. Of the many approved vaccines in modern medicine, only the ones for smallpox and yellow fever are not recommended for lactating women.
In fact, ACOG advocates that anyone who is pregnant get the vaccine as well.
Will the vaccine negatively impact my baby's health?
There’s really no plausible way for the vaccine to have a negative impact on baby's health through breastmilk, but there is a strong likelihood that it will help!
It’s highly unlikely the components of either the mRNA (Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna) or the Johnson & Johnson vaccine would leave the bloodstream from the arm muscle, travel to the breast tissue, enter the milk ducts, make it to the baby and then survive the GI tract where the acidity of the stomach would digest it. There’s a small pre-print study with six lactating women and no mRNA was found in their breastmilk after receiving an mRNA vaccination when tested at different time points – helping to confirm what we already suspected.
Will the vaccine help boost a baby's immunity by passing down antibodies through breastmilk?
We have mounting evidence of antibodies, called IgA and IgG, that are detectable in high levels in breastmilk as soon as seven days after the initial dose. This is really exciting and important, as these antibodies are what helps prevent infection from the coronavirus.
If a breastfeeding mom has already had COVID, should she still get the vaccine?
We absolutely recommend that all people, including those who are breastfeeding, get the vaccine if they meet the criteria – even if they’ve had prior infection.
One small study showed that lactating women had a higher antibody response after vaccination than after natural COVID-19 infection, and another found that more women had detectable antibodies from the vaccine than from natural infection. Both results point to the benefit of receiving the COVID vaccine when it's your turn – even if you've had COVID-19 in the past.
Can the vaccine impact milk supply?
This is a common question. No, we don't expect there to be any impact to the supply of breastmilk. This is based on what we’ve seen so far with the COVID vaccine, as well as other vaccines which do not reduce supply.
Will my baby feel any symptoms after a breastfeeding mom gets the vaccine?
Another great question – no, we don't have any reports of breastfeeding babies experiencing side effects from mom’s COVID vaccines and we don't see impacts in infants whose mothers receive other vaccines.
Do moms need to pump and discard their breastmilk for a period following the vaccine?
I've heard rumors suggesting this and I want to stress that it’s not recommended. For a lot of moms, having to throw away some of their milk is a stressful thought! Let me reassure you that there is no need to “pump and dump” milk after receiving the COVID vaccine. If you receive advice contrary to this, it is not evidenced based and you should continue to breastfeed your baby.
Is it okay to take your baby with you to get the vaccine?
This really depends on where you’re receiving the vaccine. Check with your vaccination site to find out their specific policy and prepare to make childcare arrangements if needed.
Can mom and baby be around others once mom is fully vaccinated?
The latest CDC guidance indicates that fully vaccinated people do not need to wear masks or practice physical distancing when visiting with other fully vaccinated people indoors or unvaccinated, low risk people from a single household. This is great news for families who may want a vaccinated grandparent, for instance, to help with the new baby.
Everyone should continue to wash hands thoroughly and often – and especially before handling the baby. This is particularly important not only in preventing COVID-19, but to protect newborns from other germs and illnesses as well. Newborn fevers are a cause for admission to the hospital, so stay vigilant so you can stay home with your bundle of joy.
Get the latest COVID vaccine updates for your family