NEWS

The COVID-19 Vaccine Is Safe While Pregnant or Breastfeeding, Studies Say

African American woman receiving the covid-19 vaccine

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Key Takeaways

  • A new study shows vaccinated moms can safely breastfeed their babies.
  • The antibodies from the COVID-19 vaccine pass through the breast milk, but not the vaccine itself.
  • The studies are promising, but more research is needed.

 

Pregnant women and mothers who are breastfeeding had a lot of questions about getting the COVID-19 vaccine. They wanted to protect themselves but also needed to protect their babies. Now a promising new study may address those concerns.

Published in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, the study found vaccine-generated antibodies in the umbilical cord blood and the breast milk samples of vaccinated women. Signs of the vaccine itself were not present. The potential for passing on those antibodies may help put more mothers at ease with getting the vaccine.

The Study

Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard University, and Massachusetts General Hospital looked at reproductive-age women who had received one of the two COVID-19 mRNA vaccines. They tested samples from the 131 participants, which included women who were lactating, pregnant, and non-pregnant.

They found that vaccine-induced immune responses were the same in all three groups of women. Furthermore, antibodies were present in the umbilical cord blood and breast milk of the participants.

Marcos Mestre, MD

With the COVID vaccine, you produce the antibodies to the spike protein on the COVID virus, and therefore the antibodies are passed on to the baby, giving the baby some protection against COVID as well.

— Marcos Mestre, MD

The study results have not yet been peer-reviewed. However, the results are significant because the antibodies found help both the mother and the baby.

“With the COVID vaccine, you produce the antibodies to the spike protein on the COVID virus, and therefore the antibodies are passed on to the baby, giving the baby some protection against COVID as well,” explains Marcos Mestre, MD, Vice President and Chief Medical Officer, Nicklaus Children’s Hospital.

Growing Body of Evidence

Other studies support the safety of the vaccine for expectant and lactating moms. Research published in JAMA also found antibodies in mothers’ breast milk. Additionally, the study states that none of the mothers or infants experienced any serious adverse effects from the vaccine during the study period. Many of the mothers reported local pain after the immunizations—a common side effect—and four infants had upper respiratory tract infection with fever.

Another study from researchers at the University of California San Francisco also found that mRNA from the COVID-19 vaccine was not detected in breast milk. While these results have not been published in a peer-reviewed journal, they still provide hope.

More testing is needed to validate the findings. However, although the studies used small samples, the results from several studies seem to be a step in the right direction.

Antibodies Versus Vaccine

The COVID-19 vaccines have not been approved for emergency use in children younger than 12 years old. The concern lies in understanding what dosages are safe yet effective for children. When the vaccine is given, an individual’s body can exhibit a hyper-immune response, such as inflammation, including myocarditis. Because there are still many unknowns regarding this reaction, it’s important that children and babies don’t yet receive the vaccine.

The good news is that the vaccine itself is not spreading to the baby. Several studies have shown that the fetus and the newborn are only receiving the antibodies, which is an important distinction. The CDC notes that antibodies are proteins that can fight off infections.

These latest studies are critical to studying the effects of the COVID-19 vaccines on pregnant and lactating women, who were not included in the original vaccine trials. But with the latest findings, organizations like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the CDC are recommending the COVID-19 vaccines for women who are expecting, as well as women who are breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding Matters

Breast milk provides nutrients for a baby, as well as antibodies that the mother has acquired. It has the right amount of hormones and fatty acids like DHA for a baby to develop and grow. It’s also easy for an infant to digest. Numerous organizations recommend breastfeeding a newborn, if possible.

It’s important that lactating mothers understand that they do not have to stop breastfeeding because they receive a COVID-19 vaccine. Doctors have noted that the benefits of receiving the vaccine far outweigh the risks. And studies have now noted the diminished possibility of the baby having an adverse reaction to the mother’s vaccine.

Deciding What’s Right for Your Family

As with the COVID-19 virus, there are still unknown variables regarding the vaccines and their impact. Mothers can seek the advice of their healthcare providers to make an informed decision.

Krysten Johnson, RN

Knowing that there have been studies showing the importance and actual transmission of antibodies to infants via breast milk and placental transfer with other clinical conditions/vaccines—including Covid-19—should help to reassure a families’ decision to receive the vaccine.

— Krysten Johnson, RN

“Knowing that there have been studies showing the importance and actual transmission of antibodies to infants via breast milk and placental transfer with other clinical conditions/vaccines— including Covid-19—should help to reassure a families’ decision to receive the vaccine,” notes Krysten Johnson, RN, who specializes in labor and delivery.

Even with encouraging results from the studies, each person should do what’s healthiest and safest for their individual family.

What This Means For You

This study shows that the COVID-19 vaccine can not only provide protection for you but also help to protect your baby as you share the antibodies you have produced. As with anyone considering the vaccine, if you are concerned about underlying conditions or have other health questions, it’s important that you consult your physician to make the best decision for you.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

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3 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Gray KJ, Bordt EA, Atyeo C, et al. COVID-19 vaccine response in pregnant and lactating women: a cohort study. Am J Obstet Gynecol. Published online March 25, 2021. doi:10.1101/2021.03.07.21253094

  2. Perl SH, Uzan-Yulzari A, Klainer H, et al. SARS-CoV-2-specific antibodies in breast milk after COVID-19 vaccination of breastfeeding women. JAMA. 2021;325(19):2013-2014. doi:10.1001/jama.2021.5782

  3. Golan Y, Prahl M, Cassidy A, et al. COVID-19 mRNA vaccine is not detected in human milk. medRxiv. Preprint posted online March 8, 2021. doi:10.1101/2021.03.05.21252998