COVID-19 vaccinations during pregnancy and lactation
Posted on 14 October 2021
COVID-19 vaccination is strongly encouraged for pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers and women who are contemplating pregnancy.
The Vaccine Ministerial Advisory Committee (VMAC) continues to monitor the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccination during pregnancy and lactation.
“Pregnant woman are not more likely to catch COVID-19 than anyone else, but if you’re pregnant and get COVID-19 then you have a higher risk of severe disease,” says Aliné Hall, Clinical Quality Specialist: Mother and Child for Mediclinic Southern Africa. That means you have an increased risk of hospitalisation, ICU admission, oxygenation treatment, and death.
“You’re also at higher risk of preterm birth, and other adverse obstetric outcomes,” Hall explains. “Current recommendations are that COVID-19 vaccinations should be offered to women during any stage of pregnancy, and during lactation.”
I’m pregnant. How safe is the COVID-19 vaccination for me?
Data from the US and UK, where more than 200,000 pregnant women have had a COVID-19 vaccine, has not raised any safety concerns. COVID-19 vaccines are not “live” vaccines, so they can’t cause infection. Research from across six studies in four countries, involving more than 40 000 pregnant women, shows having the vaccine doesn’t increase the risk of miscarriage, preterm birth, or stillbirth. Neither does it increase the risk of a small-for-gestational age baby, or of congenital abnormalities. The SA National Department of Health and South African Association of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (SASOG) recommend that pregnant and breastfeeding woman should receive a COVID-19 vaccine.
How can vaccination against COVID-19 help my baby?
If you receive a COVID-19 vaccine during pregnancy, your body builds antibodies against COVID-19, just as it would if you were not pregnant. Antibodies made after a pregnant woman received a COVID-19 vaccine were found in umbilical cord blood. This means COVID-19 vaccination during pregnancy crosses the placenta and provides your baby with protection against COVID-19. However, more data is needed to determine how these antibodies, similar to those produced with other vaccines, may protect your baby.
I’m breastfeeding. Should I be vaccinated against COVID-19?
Yes. Vaccines are effective at preventing COVID-19 in breastfeeding mothers. In addition, recent reports have shown that those who’ve received COVID-19 vaccines have antibodies in their breastmilk, which could help protect their babies. More data is needed to determine what protection these antibodies may provide to the baby.
Will the vaccine side-effects be worse if I’m pregnant or breastfeeding?
No. Pregnant women have not reported different side-effects from those who are not pregnant after vaccination with a COVID-19 vaccines.
I’m still not convinced. What should I do?
If you have specific questions or concerns about your own health status and receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, discuss them with your healthcare provider.