Experts weigh in on the threat of contracting COVID-19 while pregnant, passing antibodies to babies and the best ways to keep them safe.
Having a child is an exciting, yet stressful, time in any parent’s life. The joy of giving birth also comes with concerns about keeping yourself and your baby healthy—especially now, during the coronavirus pandemic. Thankfully, the COVID-19 vaccine is widely available across the United States.
If you’re concerned that getting the vaccine might be unsafe for you and your child, you can feel confident knowing that several healthcare organizations — including the World Health Organization, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists, the American College of Nurse-Midwives, and the Fetal Therapy Nurse Network, among others — recommend that all pregnant and lactating people get the COVID-19 vaccine.
Here’s what those who are pregnant or breastfeeding need to know about vaccines:
The Threat of COVID-19 to Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
There is no evidence that the COVID-19 vaccine is dangerous for those who are pregnant or breastfeeding, however, there is widespread evidence that pregnant people who contract COVID-19 are at risk for severe health complications.
“About one to three in every 1,000 pregnant people who contract COVID-19 are at risk for ICU admission, intubation (a breathing tube) and severe complications, including death,” says Meredith Stein, a certified nurse midwife. Those especially at risk for complications, intubation or intensive care include pregnant people who have any of the following risk factors:
- Advanced age
- A BMI of 35 or greater
- A personal history of diabetes or heart disease
- Are Black or Latinx
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 139,000 pregnant people have been vaccinated in the U.S. “We’ve seen from the groups of pregnant and breastfeeding people who have been vaccinated so far that there is no increase in the baseline risk of stillbirth, birth defects or growth problems for the babies,” says Stein. “So you can rest assured that the vaccine is safe and effective at keeping you and your baby healthy.”
Passing on Antibodies
Not only is it safe for pregnant and breastfeeding people to get vaccinated, but also effective in passing antibodies to their children. Recent studies show that lactating people who have received the COVID-19 vaccine have had a boost in antibodies that fight off the virus in their breast milk. Additionally, those who get the vaccine while pregnant can pass on antibodies through their cord blood.
“We are still studying the volume of antibodies that can be transferred to infants via cord blood or breast milk, but we do know it’s there,” says Stein. “Getting vaccinated while pregnant or breastfeeding means that your child will have some level of protection against the virus as well. There is no evidence that any vaccine material is present in breast milk, meaning only the antibodies are being transferred to your child.”
Caring for Your and Your Baby’s Health
While some people may be wary of getting the COVID-19 vaccine, there is widespread evidence and support from healthcare providers that it’s the right thing to do—for your health, for your baby’s health and for the health of those around you. “The technology for this vaccine has been in development for quite some time, and it’s remarkable that we were able to get the vaccine to market so quickly,” says Stein. “I feel safe getting vaccinated against COVID-19, and I recommend the same for all of my patients.”
“This is a scary time in our lives, but I feel very fortunate to be living in a country where we have immediate and free access to this vaccine,” she says. “You should not delay getting vaccinated because you are pregnant, thinking of getting pregnant or breastfeeding.”