If you are a pregnant or breastfeeding mother you might be concerned about breastfeeding and coronavirus. It’s normal to have concerns about the safety of your baby.
Is breastfeeding recommended during the Covid-19 pandemic? And is it safe to breastfeed your baby if you become infected with the virus?
This article shares the latest information about breastfeeding with Covid-19.
Do pregnant women have an increased risk of coronavirus?
Pregnant women do not have an increased risk of contracting Covid-19.
However, pregnant women who contract Covid-19 are more at risk of severe illness or complications related to the virus, than non-pregnant women.
Pregnant mothers infected with the virus also have a higher chance of their babies being born early. Having your baby pre-term can cause health complications for your child.
There is currently no strong evidence to suggest mothers pass on Covid-19 to their babies during pregnancy.
You can read more about Covid-19 and pregnancy here.
If a woman is ill with Covid-19 during her pregnancy or at the time she gave birth, it’s still possible, and recommended, for the mother to breastfeed her baby.
World Health Organization (WHO) recommendation
The World Health Organization recommends mothers with Covid-19 should begin to or continue to breastfeed their babies.
Breastfeeding helps to protect newborns from illness. Breast milk builds a baby’s immune system and can offer protection from infection with coronavirus.
There is no evidence to show breastfeeding mothers who have been infected with the virus have passed the infection to their babies through breast milk.
The benefits of breastfeeding, therefore, outweigh the risks.
Breastfeeding with coronavirus
If you do become ill with coronavirus while you’re nursing, you should continue to breastfeed your baby.
Extra precautions, such as vigilant hygiene practices, should be taken to reduce the spread of infection to your baby.
- Wear a mask when breastfeeding
- Wash your hands with soap and water before and after touching your baby
- Wash your hands before and after touching any breast pumping related equipment
- Express milk and let someone in your household without Covid-19 feed your baby.
You might also take these precautions if you have been in close contact with someone who has Covid-19.
Breastfeeding with Covid-19 is safer than formula feeding with coronavirus.
How long are Covid-19 antibodies in breast milk?
Nursing mothers who have previously been infected with coronavirus will have antibodies in their breast milk.
The latest evidence suggests the antibodies can be present for up to 10 months.
Breastfed babies born to mothers previously infected with the virus will continue to receive antibodies for the same amount of time.
Providing breast milk to a newborn baby helps virus prevention.
Infants who have been exposed to antibodies to Covid-19 are more likely to have mild symptoms and have a decreased risk of complications related to the virus.
Covid vaccines and breastfeeding
The Therapeutic Goods Administration has not excluded women who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or planning pregnancy from getting the vaccine.
The Australian Health Department and other worldwide health authorities agree there are no concerns about the safety of Covid-19 vaccines for women planning pregnancy, and women who are already pregnant or breastfeeding.
If you’re still unsure, the Health Department has issued a comprehensive document: the COVID-19 Decision Guide for Women who are Pregnant, Breastfeeding or Planning Pregnancy.
For more information, you can access the document here.
To date, there is no information to show breastfeeding women are at a higher risk from side effects of covid vaccines than the general population.
We know higher levels of vaccination help to protect the vulnerable in our community, or children who are too young to be vaccinated.
Lactating women who receive a Covid-19 vaccine will pass antibodies to the virus to their babies through their breast milk.
Data based on results from clinical trials show that mRNA Covid-19 vaccines are highly effective in producing antibodies in pregnant and breastfeeding women.
As there is no currently approved Covid-19 vaccination for children under 12, breast milk can provide important protection for newborns.
Society for Maternal Fetal Medicine recommendation
The Society for Maternal Fetal Medicine recommends pregnant women and lactating women receive the COVID-19 vaccination.
This is in line with advice from the Centres for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) and other organisations representing maternal and public health.
Can I breastfeed after Covid-19 vaccine?
It is safe to continue to breastfeed your baby after receiving the Covid-19 vaccination.
All vaccinations currently authorized for use are considered compatible with breastfeeding. This includes the Pfizer, AstraZeneca, and Moderna vaccines.
The Covid-19 vaccines do not contain any live virus, so you can’t shed the virus and pass it on to your baby.
There are benefits to receiving vaccines while breastfeeding. The antibodies produced in the body in response to the vaccine will be passed on to the baby through breastfeeding. A baby who is fed expressed milk will also receive these antibodies.
Covid vaccine and breastfeeding study
To date, women who are breastfeeding haven’t been included in clinical trials for Covid-19 vaccines.
This doesn’t mean the vaccine is dangerous for mothers who are feeding their babies breast milk.
It means there is limited data available on the effects (if any) of the vaccine on breastfed babies, or the effects (if any) on milk production in nursing mothers.
Evidence suggests the benefits of passing immunity on to your breastfed newborn, infant, or child currently outweigh any risks.
One study of breastfeeding women who received 2 doses of the Pfizer vaccine showed anti–SARS-CoV-2-specific IgA antibodies in the breast milk. The levels of antibodies increased significantly at two and four weeks post-vaccination.
The antibodies discovered in the breastmilk showed strong neutralizing effects on the virus.
After reading this article, if you have any concerns about whether you should initiate or continue to breastfeed, talk to your doctor or healthcare provider.