A patient recently asked me if it is safe to take the Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech, or J&J COVID-19 vaccine during pregnancy? While this is far outside my area of expertise, I took the opportunity to research the matter further and discuss the findings with local pediatricians, Dr Anders Nelson and Dr. Stanley Blondek. They are both strong supporters of vaccinating nursing mothers.
According to the CDC, no safety concerns were found in animal studies: Studies in animals receiving a Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech, or Johnson & Johnson (J&J)/Janssen COVID-19 vaccine before or during pregnancy found no safety concerns in pregnant animals or their babies. Human studies supported these findings. In fact, in one study, vaccine-generated antibodies were also present in all umbilical cord blood and breast milk samples taken from the study, showing the transfer of antibodies from mothers to newborns.
Moreover, in humans, in the largest study of its kind to date, researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT and Harvard have found the new mRNA COVID-19 vaccines to be highly effective in producing antibodies against the SARS-CoV-2 virus in pregnant and lactating women. The study also demonstrated the vaccines confer protective immunity to newborns through breast milk and the placenta.
Long before COVID-19, breastfeeding has always demonstrated many benefits for both mother and child. Expectant mothers typically do all they can to ensure their baby’s health. A wholesome diet, regular exercise and avoiding harmful habits like smoking are all important things a woman should do during pregnancy. However, there is something additional mothers can do AFTER their child’s birth that can be equally, if not more, important and has been around as long as human life itself… breastfeed! While far from new, it is has been rediscovered for it tremendous benefits and gaining popularity.
Nursing your baby immediately after birth helps solidify the bond between you and your baby. Moreover, the health benefits to baby begin right away. That’s because your breasts produce colostrum beginning during pregnancy and continuing through the early days of breastfeeding. Colostrum precedes breast milk and has plenty of antibodies to help keep your baby healthy. Colostrum is extremely easy to digest, and is therefore the perfect first food for your baby. Also, as the La Leche League (LLL) tells new mothers, “Colostrum has a laxative effect on the baby, helping him pass his early stools, which aids in the excretion of excess bilirubin and helps prevent jaundice.” Jaundice is common in newborns and is usually treated by placing the baby under special lights. LLL also points out that the concentration of immune factors is much higher in colostrum than in mature milk, which comes in after about two weeks.
The positive effects continue for both mother and baby as the child grows from newborn to infant. Breast-fed babies are, for example, less prone to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), an unexplained death of a healthy infant while sleeping. The peak incidence of SIDS occurs when a baby is about three months old. It is an unspeakable tragedy that affects entire families. While we must be very clear that breastfeeding is not a guarantee against SIDS, newer studies have shown that infants who were never breastfed may have two to three times the risk of dying of SIDS. Although the actual mechanism is unknown, some theories are that breastfeeding may provide defense against SIDS because it lowers a baby’s risk of infection through antibodies passed on by mom or because human milk is ideally equipped to nurture human brains -- and the brain controls sleep cycles.
Are there ever reasons why either mother or baby should not breastfeed? While extremely unusual, there are contraindications for breastfeeding. Mothers who must take certain medicines may be unable to nurse. There are also some conditions in newborns – some treatable – that may limit or prevent breastfeeding. Your physician (obstetrician/gynecologist or pediatrician) or midwife should be consulted before you take any medications, vitamins or herbals.
It is recommended that you exclusively breastfeed your baby for the first six months and continue for at least the first year. After that, it’s up to you. It’s also important to know that every baby is a unique individual. Don’t become alarmed if your child doesn’t seem to adhere to what the textbooks say. Instead, turn for support to some reliable and trustworthy: your physician, midwife and the La Leche League.
SOURCES: Le Leche League is an international nonprofit organization that distributes information on and promotes breastfeeding. www.lllusa.org; Centers for Disease Control (CDC); Harvard Gazette
Contributor: Kathryn N Swatkowski, CNM …has been a Certified Nurse Midwife for 20 years, taking care of women throughout their life-span from adolescence through menopause
This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquiries related to this topic email: email@example.com
Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at GCSOM.
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