COVID-19 Vaccine and Breastfeeding

Pregnant and breastfeeding women were largely overlooked during the trials for the COVID-19 vaccine. Because of this, many women are both wary of the vaccine and worried for the safety of their newborn. Molly Siegel, an obstetrician at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, with both a 7-month-old baby who is breastfeeding and the number of pregnant people with COVID-19 she treats regularly, is no stranger to these concerns. 

The exclusion of pregnant and breastfeeding people is a well-established norm for clinical trials, done to protect the safety of the child and the bearer. However, this also leaves them in the dark about what is the best decision to make for their health, the babies health, and the health of those around them. 

Seigel stated, “I certainly was frustrated that there weren’t studies on the vaccine in pregnant and lactating women — that as a group, they were excluded from the research[…]It made it really hard to know, as both the patient and the provider, how to think about the vaccine,” still she put her fears aside and decided that it would be best to get the vaccine, even without any information on how she could be affected. She could see no general risk, using the information on the COVID-19 vaccine now, and then donated samples of her breast milk to researchers who would analyze its contents. 

After the analysis, researchers found that there were no traces of the vaccine in her breastmilk and instead, they found antibodies. These antibodies were produced by the mother as she responded to the vaccine which could thus be passed on to the child and give them a level of protection. Researchers are looking into the amount of protection that could be offered from antibodies in breastmilk. 

Some vaccines, and medications, are off limits to breastfeeding individuals because it can pass through to the child via breastmilk. This can be seen popularly for live-attenuated vaccines but it is highly unlikely with the COVID-19 vaccine because there are no live strains of the virus contained in it. The technology of the vaccine is such so that the structure of the vaccine breaks down quickly, without the possibility of leaving the cell where it was injected—even less likely would it then be able to get into the bloodstream and reach the breastmilk. 

Kathryn Grey, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist at Brigham and Woman’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, decided to test the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines with her colleagues. They used 131 participants who were about to receive the vaccine and who were lactating, pregnant, or neither. The end of this small trial showed that the lactating individuals had the same strong immune response as those who were not. Overall, the vaccine benefited breastfeeding individuals as much as non-breastfeeding. 

The CDC and WHO recommend the continuation of breastfeeding, but to keep important protections in mind.

  1. Wash your hands carefully before handing the baby, especially before and after you pick up the baby or any bottles, blankets, pumps, or other baby items
  2. Wear a mask, even within the comfort of your own home. If you have any suspicion that you could have come in contact with COVID-19 especially, wear a mask if you are holding, changing, or talking to your baby to reduce the spread of droplets. 
  3. Clean and disinfect surfaces and anything that might touch your baby. 
  4. Pump breast milk and/or have another family member feed the baby if there is any suspicion of infection.
  5. Keep baby formula and sterile baby bottles on hand in the case of infection.