Healthy Living: Q&A on moms and COVID-19 vaccine

Healthy Living

A closer look at the COVID-19 Pandemic and babies — does research show the vaccine is safe for moms and what can new moms do to protect their babies? Dr. Melanie Stone, MD, IBCLC of UPMC answers your questions.

Should postpartum women get the vaccine?

“Yes, I absolutely think it’s a good idea for all postpartum women who did not get vaccinated while pregnant or before they were pregnant to get the vaccine,” said Dr. Melanie Stone, MD, IBCLC of UPMC. “You should be vaccinated to protect yourself, your community, and your baby. There’s an added benefit for breastfeeding moms. When your body makes antibodies from being exposed to the Covid-19 vaccine, you can pass those antibodies to your baby.”

Antibodies have been found in breastmilk. Not the vaccine itself. So your baby will not get the vaccine but will get the antibodies.

What are antibodies? How do they protect children?

“They’re proteins our body makes to help us fight off disease,” Dr. Stone said. “When your body gets that information about this new virus, it can make antibodies and it can help your body be ready to fight the illness in the future.”

Even without COVID-19, breastfeeding is always helpful for your baby’s immune system. Breastfed babies are less likely to get respiratory illnesses, and less likely to get all GI illnesses because they are getting a jumpstart with their immunity from their mother.  As they get the breast milk, they get exposed to any new antibodies the mother has made from things she has been exposed to. 

How does a baby’s immune system build through the first year of life?

“It takes a while for their body to be really good at forming their own antibodies. That’s why when the baby is firstborn, we only give Hepatitis B before they leave the hospital,” Dr. Stone said. “If we did, they wouldn’t really amount to a good response because that’s still developing in the baby. That’s why breastfeeding is so important. It gives them that bridge, that helps them be immune going forward.”

As they get older, just like everything else is developing in them, their ability to form immunity improves. That’s also why babies need multiple rounds of vaccines, they need to be exposed multiple times to form an immunity. 

It is important because they’re so fragile when they’re tiny. Even a normal fever in a baby under 8 weeks old requires a really intense workup and a lot of testing because they could have some really serious infections going on that could be dangerous quite quickly.

Keep sick people away from your baby, wash your hands quite well and breastfeed if you’re able.

If breastfeeding is not part of your journey, what can parents do to protect babies?

“Getting the vaccine is still important even if you’re not breastfeeding. You want to create a circle of immunity,” Dr. Stone said. “You, your partner, your immediate family are the most likely to give your baby Covid-19 so anyone in the household or circle that’s going to be around the baby should be vaccinated in order to prevent you from being sick and possibly passing it onto the baby.”

Should pregnant women get the vaccine?

“I am recommending that everyone medically eligible for the vaccine, get the vaccine,” Dr. Stone said. “That includes people thinking of getting pregnant in the future, people who are pregnant right now, and people who are postpartum. I recommend everyone get the vaccine as soon as they can.”

The American College of OBGYN just came out with an additional, more strongly worded statement saying yes, all people should be vaccinated against Covid-19. 

Even if you get vaccinated early in your pregnancy and comes time for breastfeeding, you still will be making those antibodies that should be giving the baby some of the antibodies in the breastmilk. You do not have to wait to get the vaccine until you’re breastfeeding, do it as soon as you can.

Could a booster shot impact the antibodies the baby receives?

“It’s still all being followed,” Dr. Stone added. “Luckily there were women in the initial studies who got vaccinated and since became pregnant or gave birth so they are following those women and getting good data.”

If a breastfeeding mother gets COVID-19, do they need to stop breastfeeding? Will she give COVID-19 to her baby?

“They can not pass the virus in the breast milk.” It is a respiratory virus and can not be passed by breastmilk. The most important thing is if you have COVID-19 and are a mom, protect your baby,” Dr. Stone said. “Do really good handwashing and wear a mask if you’re in the same room. We still recommend you directly breastfeed your baby. As you have COVID, and your body fights it, you’re creating COVID antibodies and passing them to your baby.

Have there been pediatric cases of COVID-19? How have babies been impacted should they get the virus?

“Overall it seems like young children don’t tend to get it as badly. We’ve had a lot of Covid positive patients deliver and we haven’t seen babies badly affected by it. You still want to be careful. You don’t want your baby to be that one rare baby because it won’t matter what the statistics are, it will be 100% for your baby.“

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