Theoretical concerns regarding the safety of vaccinating lactating individuals do not outweigh the potential benefits of receiving the vaccine
Posts with alarming headlines about breastfeeding babies having adverse reactions because of their mothers being vaccinated are spreading unchecked on social media platforms. One such post elaborates that upon analyzing Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) data, one can find that two babies have allegedly died of blood clots and inflamed arteries a few weeks after their mothers received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine (“vaccine”).
At the outset, VAERS is a passive reporting system and anyone can report an adverse event on it. VAERS accepts and analyzes reports of possible health problems—also called “adverse events”—after vaccination. Prima facie information cited on VAERS is unconfirmed and unassessed. Specifically, a report to VAERS does not mean that a vaccine caused an adverse event. VAERS is not designed to determine if a vaccine caused a health problem, but is useful for detecting unusual or unexpected patterns of adverse event reporting that might indicate a possible safety problem with a vaccine.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the vaccine for all people, 12 years and older, including those who are pregnant and breastfeeding. CDC advises that the COVID-19 vaccines cannot cause infection in anyone, including the mother or the baby, and the vaccines are effective at preventing COVID-19 in people who are breastfeeding. It states that recent reports have shown that breastfeeding people who have received mRNA COVID-19 vaccines have antibodies in their breastmilk, which could help protect their babies. However, since the clinical trials for the vaccines did not include breastfeeding women, there is currently limited data on the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines on breastfeeding women. That said, there is growing scientific consensus on there being little biological plausibility that the vaccine will cause the breastfeeding mother and child any harm.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine (SMFM) also recommend vaccinations for those who are pregnant and breastfeeding. ACOG advises that theoretical concerns regarding the safety of vaccinating lactating individuals do not outweigh the potential benefits of receiving the vaccine. It states that there is no need to avoid initiation or discontinue breastfeeding in patients who receive a COVID-19 vaccine.
The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine (ABM) also does not recommend cessation of breastfeeding for individuals who are vaccinated against COVID-19. It advises that individuals who are lactating should discuss the risks and benefits of vaccination with their health care provider, within the context of their risk of contracting COVID-19 and of developing severe disease. In fact, ABM advises that it is unlikely that the lipids present in the vaccine would enter the bloodstream and reach breast tissue during lactation. If it does so happen, it is even less likely that either the intact nanoparticle or mRNA present in the vaccine transfer into milk. In the unlikely event that mRNA is present in milk, it would be expected to be digested by the child and would be unlikely to have any biological effects. The IFE Core Group, UNICEF, and the COVID-19 Infant Feeding Working Group based on guidance by World Health Organization (WHO) Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE) have similarly advised that as the vaccine is not a live virus vaccine and the mRNA does not enter the nucleus of the cell of vaccinated individuals and is degraded quickly, it is biologically and clinically unlikely to pose a risk to the breastfeeding child or child receiving expressed human milk.
Dr. Veronica Maria Pimentel, an expert Ob-Gyn, discussed her choice to get vaccinated with the ACOG and was quoted as saying “My hope is that by getting vaccinated and continuing to give my baby breast milk, I’m protecting my son from COVID-19 if he is ever exposed. In fact, I was literally pumping breast milk when I got my second shot. (I love my hands-free pump!) Such is life as a working mom.”
It is implausible that the world’s most reputable scientific organizations and entities comprising experts who have spent their entire lives dedicated to studying women and their bodies are hatching a conspiracy to convince women to do something that is so harmful and dangerous. In fact, it is worth questioning who profits from questioning the advice of doctors, experts, and science in general. Headlines such as the ones in the claim are extremely misleading and have real-world consequences.
The COVID-19 pandemic has given rise to a lot of potentially dangerous misinformation. For reliable advice on COVID-19, including symptoms, prevention, and available treatment, please refer to the World Health Organization or your national healthcare authority.