Many moms wonder how a COVID vaccine and breastfeeding go together. We’re getting questions like: Can I get COVID from the vaccine? Can I breastfeed as usual after my vaccine? Will it reduce my milk supply? How can I deal with muscle soreness and side effects? We give answers and share what to expect.
First, will I get COVID from a COVID vaccine?
There’s a lot of worry out there about this one. But the COVID vaccines approved by the FDA are not live vaccines and cannot give you COVID. They’re mRNA vaccines, which stands for messenger RNA. Even though this is a newer type of vaccine, the research has been around for about 10 years.
Unlike more traditional vaccines, mRNA vaccines do not actually have any virus particles in them. Instead, they work by giving our cells instructions. With the COVID vaccine, these instructions tell your body how to make part of the spike protein that’s specific to COVID. This piece of the spike protein sits on your cells, which signals your immune system to create antibodies.
Is it safe for me breastfeed after a COVID-19 vaccine?
One question on so many parents’ minds right now is: can I breastfeed after a COVID vaccine? Jennifer Abdul-Rahman, BSN, RN, IBCLC, and founder of Latched Eternal, says, “Lactating parents were not included in any of the currently released research. However, from what we know about similar vaccines, it is believed the risks that come with vaccination will likely be low for lactating parents and their babies.”
“While we wait for more research to emerge, each parent should have the opportunity to discuss their risk with their provider to make an informed decision,” Jennifer explains. “The risk and benefit of getting the vaccine should be weighed against your individual risk for getting COVID-19 as well as how well you are expected to tolerate the disease. Every person’s situation is different, and, therefore, each situation deserves individualized care and respect. Ultimately, the lactating person should have a choice in being vaccinated against COVID-19.”
OK, but should I stop breastfeeding if I get side effects after a COVID vaccine? Will the vaccine affect my milk supply?
You may not feel your best after a COVID vaccine. But having side effects from a COVID vaccine and breastfeeding anyway shouldn’t harm your breastmilk. But we understand sometimes things feel like they line up just right: you got a vaccine, and now your milk supply seems less.
The most likely culprit for this is actually stress. Physical, emotional, and social stress all affect our bodies in big ways–and the pandemic has given most of us a giant heap of added stressors. If you’re extra anxious about a COVID vaccine and breastfeeding, work, family, or something else, that amount of ongoing stress definitely can affect your breastmilk.
When you stress, your body releases a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol sends your body’s resources to your most basic functions and diverts attention away from everything else. That temporarily reduces and slows down the flow of your milk but shouldn’t pause it all together. Getting your menstrual cycle also affects lactation. When you’re on your period or ovulating, you might notice some flow changes, too. (If you are concerned about your milk supply, a lactation consultant is a great place to start.)
If I get the vaccine and continue to breastfeed, are there any benefits to my child?
If breastfeeding is right for your family, it could help provide some level of temporary immunity for your child to any number of viruses. In fact, research shows breastfeeding exclusively for six months reduces chances of an upper respiratory virus for your child by as much as 35%.
That means, if you choose to get a COVID vaccine and breastfeed, your body’s immune response to the COVID-19 vaccine could benefit your child. This happens through passive immunity. Passive immunity is short-term and occurs when you receive antibodies from another source. Once your body builds antibodies from the vaccine, those antibodies can be passed along in your breastmilk. Your body already does with antibodies to other pathogens.
What are some of the common side effects of a COVID vaccine and is there a way to minimize them?
Common side effects from COVID vaccines that have been reported by the FDA are temporary and include site pain and soreness, headaches, chills, fever, muscle pain, and feeling extra tired.
It’s common and natural to feel like your arm is sore and hard to raise for 24 to 72 hours after any vaccine, including the COVID vaccine. Physical therapist and health coach Dr. Sara Smith, DPT, RYT-200, CHC, explains, “Not all people who are vaccinated will experience arm pain. But those that do are experiencing an inflammatory response. This mimics a chain of events that would occur during a naturally occurring infection. The cascade of inflammatory response on a cellular level can create redness, swelling, pain or soreness. A process of vasodilation occurs at the muscular site of injection with redness, swelling and pain as the side effect.”
If I get side effects like muscle pain, what can I do to feel better and keep breastfeeding?
Think about which arm to have your vaccine in… and relax
Arm soreness can make it harder to pick your child or support him or her during breastfeeding. To help reduce this, Dr. Sara Smith says, “One of my personal favorites is to practice relaxing my arm prior to any vaccine, so I can be mentally and physically prepared to relax my arm when receiving it.”
Which arm you choose to receive your shot in is up to you. “During breastfeeding and pregnancy, ligamentous laxity and postural changes are common. If you are dealing with neck or shoulder tension/tightness, discomfort, tingling, or other pains that can come with these changes, it may be best to opt to have the vaccine in your non-dominant arm to avoid further soreness. This is just because it may affect the ability to easily carry your baby, child, or take care of any other tasks you are doing,” Dr. Smith adds.
But if you have felt your neck, shoulders, and back are strong, healthy without tension or discomfort, you may opt to choose your dominant arm. This lets you keeps using the arm and lessen further site soreness.
Reduce inflammation and soreness through your diet and with compresses
Dr. Smith also recommends drinking plenty of water and avoiding sugary foods, caffeine, or other potentially inflammatory foods or drinks. You can use a cold compress on your arm, with very gentle pressure. Prefer a warm compress? “Research varies on this. Warm and cold temperatures only penetrate so deep below the dermal [skin] layers,” Dr. Smith says. “But do continue to move and use your arm without overdoing it. It keeps all the site-specific inflammatory cells on the move and flushing out more quickly from the injection site.”
Can I stop wearing my mask after my first or second vaccine?
Making antibodies to a vaccine gets pretty complex and takes time. First, your innate immune system kicks in. This part of your immune system (which includes responses like body temperature, skin, mucus, and more) is always on alert to germs.
Your innate immune system doesn’t remember specific pathogens, or germs, though. You need it to signal your adaptive immune system for that. Your adaptive immune system has a big job and needs time to build immunity. Your body needs three to four weeks to build an immune response before you’re likely to have enough protection from COVID to think about going without a mask. That said, everyone’s different. You’ll want to follow CDC guidelines, your physician, and your local mandates on when to remove masks.
When can my child get a COVID-19 vaccine?
Right now, the vaccines approved by the FDA are not for children. Pfizer’s vaccine is for anyone age 16 or older. Moderna’s vaccine can be given to anyone age 18 or older. However, research has begun on the vaccine’s effectiveness and side effects in kids.