The Biden administration is pushing hard to reach its goal of vaccinating at least 70% of the adult population before July 4. A number of concerns are keeping some Americans away from vaccination sites, however, including worry over how the COVID-19 vaccine might affect pregnant and breastfeeding people.
Studies have shown that pregnant people have no need to avoid any of the approved COVID-19 vaccines, but some who are breastfeeding continue to harbor concerns over how the vaccine might affect their breast milk.
Early in the vaccine rollout, experts assured pregnant people that the vaccines are very unlikely to have any negative effect on their pregnancies. Pregnant people are at greater risk for extreme complications from COVID-19, however, including severe illness, preterm birth, and other adverse pregnancy outcomes.
The additional risks presented during pregnancy have influenced experts to urge pregnant people to get the shot. There is still limited data regarding the exact effects of the COVID-19 vaccines on pregnancies, but the risks are low enough—and the alternative risks high enough—that vaccines are considered the safer choice.
The same can be said for breastfeeding people contemplating the vaccine. Clinical trials for the vaccines have not yet included pregnant or breastfeeding people, so data is limited. Despite the limited data, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that “based on how these vaccines work in the body, COVID-19 vaccines are thought not to be a risk to lactating people or their breastfeeding babies.”
There may even be benefits for babies breastfed after their mother received a COVID-19 vaccine. Vaccinated mothers can pass a degree of COVID-19 protection onto their babies through their breastmilk, according to Healthline. For up to six weeks post-vaccination, breastfeeding mothers can pass “a robust secretion of antibodies” to their infants via breastmilk.
A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found a significant spike in anti-COVID antibodies present in breastmilk for several weeks following a vaccination. A few side effects were also reported, including four breastfeeding infants who experienced cough, fever, and congestion following their mother’s vaccination. Three of the cases resolved without the need for medication, and one was treated with antibiotics.
It’s hard to say how long antibodies will last in breastfed infants, but experts say any protection is better than none.