NEWS

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

African American woman receiving the covid-19 vaccine

AndreyPopov / Getty Images

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

Key Takeaways

  • A growing body of research shows vaccinated parents can safely breastfeed their babies.
  • The antibodies from the COVID-19 vaccine pass through the breast milk, but the vaccine itself does not.
  • The CDC and ACOG recommend vaccination for pregnant and lactating people.

 

Pregnant people and breastfeeding parents may have a lot of questions about getting the COVID-19 vaccine. They want to protect themselves but also need to protect their babies. A growing body of evidence addresses those concerns.

Multiple studies published in 2021 confirmed that the COVID-19 vaccine produced antibodies (proteins that fight infection) in umbilical cord blood and breastmilk samples but did not pass the vaccine itself. In addition, there is no evidence of adverse effects from vaccination on parents, fetuses, newborns, or breastfed babies.

“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 at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami, Florida.

Research on Vaccine Safety

Multiple studies have confirmed the safety of the COVID-19 vaccine and benefits for pregnant and lactating parents.

In one, researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard University, and Massachusetts General Hospital looked at reproductive-age people who could get pregnant and had received one of the two COVID-19 mRNA vaccines. They tested samples from the 131 participants, including those who were lactating, pregnant, and non-pregnant.

The study, published in March 2021 in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, found vaccine-generated antibodies in the umbilical cord blood and the breast milk samples of vaccinated people. However, signs of the vaccine itself were not present. The potential for passing on those antibodies may help put more parents at ease with getting the vaccine.

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

Antibodies in Breastmilk

In April 2021, research published in JAMA also found antibodies in parents’ breast milk. In addition, evidence of antibodies in breastmilk was found in another study that was published in November 2021.

The latter study found breastmilk antibodies in those who acquired immunity through infection and those who received immunity through vaccination. In both groups, the presence of antibodies lasted three months after infection or vaccination.

Adverse Effects and Side Effects

Additionally, researchers have found that none of the parents or infants experienced any serious adverse effects from the vaccine during the study period. In the JAMA study, many parents reported local pain after the immunizations—a common side effect—and four infants had upper respiratory tract infection with fever.

No Vaccine in Breastmilk

Another study from researchers at the University of California San Francisco found that mRNA from the COVID-19 vaccine was not detected in breast milk.

Due to the ongoing nature of the pandemic, the results of this study, like many others, were published before peer review so that researchers, the medical community, and the public can have access to the most current data. The results are significant because the antibodies detected help both the parent and the baby.

A growing body of research demonstrates the benefit of vaccination while breastfeeding. Multiple studies have now confirmed the presence of COVID-19 antibodies in the breastmilk of parents who received the vaccine. This information is promising, as it could potentially protect infants who cannot get vaccinated.

Antibodies vs. Vaccine

The COVID-19 vaccines are approved for emergency use in children older than 5. However, they have not yet been approved for infants or children younger than 5 years old. Researchers are still trying to understand what dosages are safe and effective for very young children. Because research is not yet complete on the vaccine for kids under 5, they should not receive it.

The good news is that the vaccine itself does not spread to babies through the placenta or in breastmilk. Several studies have shown that the fetus and newborn only receive the antibodies, which is an important distinction.

With the latest findings, organizations like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend the COVID-19 vaccines for pregnant and breastfeeding people.

In addition, the CDC recommends vaccination for everyone over 5 years old because the risks of COVID-19 complications outweigh the risks of rare vaccine reactions.

Breastfeeding Benefits

Breast milk provides nutrients for a baby and antibodies that the parent has acquired, including those from COVID-19 vaccination. 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.

Lactating parents must understand that they do not have to stop breastfeeding because they receive a COVID-19 vaccine. Health organizations recommend vaccination for lactating people because the vaccine's benefits far outweigh the risks.

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 family’s decision to receive the vaccine.

— Krysten Johnson, RN

In addition, multiple studies have confirmed the beneficial antibodies passed through breastmilk following vaccination and the diminished possibility of a baby having an adverse reaction to the parent's vaccine.

COVID-19 Risks in Recently Pregnant People

People who are pregnant or were recently pregnant are at increased risk of severe complications from COVID-19, including needing to be hospitalized, receive intensive care, or require ventilation to help them breathe. Pregnancy causes changes in the body that make you more susceptible to becoming seriously ill from respiratory viruses.

That's why it's crucial for those who recently gave birth to protect themselves from COVID-19. The best way to prevent infection is to get vaccinated. And if it has been more than six months since your second dose, the CDC recommends that you receive a booster shot.

“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,” says Krysten Johnson, RN, who specializes in labor and delivery.

If you are concerned about COVID-19 vaccination, seek the advice of a healthcare provider so you can make an informed decision.

What This Means For You

Pregnant and recently pregnant people are at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19, and vaccination is the best way to protect yourself. Therefore, the CDC recommends that all people over age 5, including those who are pregnant and breastfeeding, get vaccinated against COVID-19.

A growing body of research has found that COVID-19 vaccination is safe during pregnancy and lactation. In addition, it may offer benefits to breastfeeding infants, as COVID-19 antibodies pass through breastmilk after vaccination.

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.

Was this page helpful?
9 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. 2021;225(3):303.e1-303.e17. doi:10.1016/j.ajog.2021.03.023

  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. Young BE, Seppo AE, Diaz N, et al. Association of human milk antibody induction, persistence, and neutralizing capacity with SARS-CoV-2 infection vs mRNA vaccination. JAMA Pediatr. Published online November 10, 2021. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2021.4897

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

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID-19 vaccines while pregnant or breastfeeding.

  6. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Practice advisory: COVID-19 vaccine considerations for obstetric-gynecologic care.

  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Myocarditis and pericarditis after mRNA COVID-19 vaccination.

  8. March of Dimes. Breastfeeding is best.

  9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Pregnant and recently pregnant people.