With vaccine rollouts underway across the country, many parents are finally breathing a sigh of relief (schools reopenings! Visits with grandma!). But as there is currently no vaccine available for kids under age 16, the question of how to protect young people from the potential effects of COVID-19 remains. Nursing moms in particular are wondering if they may be able to pass on the vaccine’s antibodies to their offspring through their breast milk. We reached out to Jessica Madden, MD, a board-certified pediatrician, neonatologist and medical director at Aeroflow Breastpumps to shed some light.
First of all, is it safe to get the vaccine while breastfeeding?
Yes, breastfeeding mothers can and should get vaccinated against COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control, Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine, and American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists all recommend getting the vaccine during lactation. “The currently available vaccines do not contain live virus, so it is impossible for mothers or babies to get sick from the virus after getting the vaccine,” says Dr. Madden.
Once vaccinated, can nursing mothers pass antibodies on to the baby?
Great news, moms: When a person gets vaccinated, their immune system develops antibodies that protect against COVID-19 and these antibodies are passed on to your baby in your breast milk and may protect your baby from getting infected, Dr. Madden tells us.
Awesome! Wait, remind me what antibodies are again?
Antibodies are special proteins made by the immune system to help fight infections (such as viruses). During nursing, the mother passes antibodies to her child through breastmilk. “The antibodies passed from moms to babies during breastfeeding help to protect babies from many infections, including COVID-19,” says Dr. Madden. “While they do not provide 100 percent protection, babies with antibodies are less likely to get sick from viral illnesses, like COVID-19, and more likely to have milder symptoms if they do get ill.”
And how long do these antibodies last?
“Most patients who get sick with COVID-19 have antibodies for at least four to eight months,” Dr. Madden tells us. “We unfortunately do not have enough data to say how long antibodies last after getting the vaccine, and we have even less information about how long the antibodies babies receive from breast milk actually last,” she adds. In other words, the antibodies that your body makes after being vaccinated are passed on to your baby in your breast milk but it’s unclear how long those antibodies will stay in your—or your baby’s—system. We should know more about COVID-19 vaccine-induced immunity in the coming months.
If you choose to get the vaccine while pregnant, does this also pass on antibodies to the baby?
Short answer: We don’t know yet but it’s very possible. Long answer: “We do know that antibodies that a mother develops after receiving the pertussis and/or influenza vaccines during pregnancy cross the placenta to protect her fetus. So, it’s entirely possible that this same process happens when a pregnant mother gets the COVID vaccine.” Again, we’ll know more about this in the coming months, as scientists are able to study data from women who have received the COVID vaccine while pregnant.