Can breastfeeding moms get the COVID-19 vaccine?

Mother cuddling with baby

Breastmilk offers many benefits for growing babies, and now there’s one more to add to the list: If a nursing mom gets vaccinated against COVID-19, her baby might get some protection against the disease.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), recent reports have shown that breastfeeding individuals who have received certain COVID-19 vaccines have antibodies in their breastmilk. These disease-fighting antibodies might then benefit baby.

Reassuring news from the research

The reports found that lactating people who had received an mRNA vaccine (such as the ones from Pfizer or Moderna) had measurable levels of COVID-19 antibodies in their breastmilk. This matters because, for now, infants can’t get a COVID-19 shot. Even though most babies who contract COVID-19 don’t have severe cases, getting a bit of mom’s protection could still give them a helpful immune boost.

This news should reassure breastfeeding women who are worried about getting their vaccine. While we need more data to learn just how much immunity a baby gets from the breastmilk antibodies, researchers don’t consider vaccination a risk to infants — it can’t hurt, and it may even help.

However, vaccination will protect mom, and she can resume breastfeeding immediately after the shot.

“The information about vaccination during pregnancy and breastfeeding is all very reassuring,” said Dr. James T. Christmas, medical director of women’s and obstetrics services for HCA Healthcare’s Clinical Operations Group. “Both are considered to be safe, with a neutral to beneficial impact on the fetus. Since we know that pregnant women and recently pregnant women tend to get sicker from COVID-19 than non-pregnant women, vaccination is something I encourage.”

Even though the mRNA vaccines were the ones that showed antibody transmission in breastmilk, Dr. Christmas’ advice extends to all currently available vaccines, including the Johnson & Johnson shot. However, do be aware of the rare but increased risk of blood clots for women under 50 with this vaccine.

Still, according to Dr. Christmas, “there’s no scientific reason now to believe that one vaccine would be more or less preferable than the others.”

Currently, none of the available vaccines contain a live virus, so they do not pose a danger to breastfeeding individuals. This is also why it’s considered safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women to get certain other vaccines, such as the flu shot that contains a killed (inactivated) version of the influenza virus (not all flu vaccines are available for those who are pregnant).

Mother with her newborn child

Always talk with your doctor

If you book an appointment for a COVID-19 vaccine and find yourself with cold feet on that day, you will likely have some resources readily available to you. Some mass vaccination clinics have nurses or physicians on-site to help address last-minute concerns or questions about the COVID-19 vaccine and breastfeeding, or other topics. If you get your shot at a drugstore, the pharmacist can help too.

Most importantly, be sure to talk with your doctor. They’re your best source of information, and they want to help. Providers like Dr. Christmas get these kinds of questions all the time from pregnant and recently pregnant people, and they want patients to feel empowered and informed about their healthcare choices, so ask as many questions as you need to feel confident in your care plan. After all, this virus can be particularly puzzling. Doing all you can to protect yourself and your family from its mysterious and potentially severe impacts can make all the difference.

“It’s just wild,” Dr. Christmas said. “When you look at who gets sick and who doesn’t, it’s really frightening because this virus causes such a diverse response in different people. I’ve had patients who were gravely ill and also people who tested positive and felt completely fine. But we do know that generally, COVID-19 can be unkind to pregnant and recently pregnant people. Making sure you protect yourself, your family and others is critically important.”

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About HCA Healthcare

HCA Healthcare, one of the nation's leading providers of healthcare services, is comprised of 183 hospitals and more than 2,300 sites of care, in 20 states and the United Kingdom. Our more than 283,000 colleagues are connected by a single purpose — to give patients healthier tomorrows.

As an enterprise, we recognize the significant responsibility we have as a leading healthcare provider within each of the communities we serve, as well as the opportunity we have to improve the lives of the patients for whom we are entrusted to care. Through the compassion, knowledge and skill of our caregivers, and our ability to leverage our scale and innovative capabilities, HCA Healthcare is in a unique position to play a leading role in the transformation of care.

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