Diabetes Management

Covid-19 Vaccine & Mamahood: Should Breastfeeding Mothers Take the Jab?

Debjani M Arora ,
July 2021

The answer in a word is ‘YES.’ However, there has been a lot of speculation among masses whether the vaccine would be safe for lactating and pregnant women. Experts and doctors believe that the benefits of the vaccine far outweigh the side effects (if any). But, for the takers, some amount of fear still looms in their minds. The concerns aren’t something that we can brush off without giving it a second thought.

So, let’s delve deep into the matter to assure new mammas why it is necessary to get the prick.

Vaccination: The fight against COVID-19

In India, the vaccination drive to curb the COVID-19 pandemic started early in 2021, in phases, with doctors and healthcare staff being the first to take the jab. Followed by people over 60 years, then people above 45 with comorbidities, and now everyone above 18 years is advised to take the jab.

But one group of people consistently excluded from these phases were pregnant and lactating women. The reason: this particular group was not part of any of the clinical trials, and there wasn’t much literature to support the efficacy of the vaccines on them.

But this raised concerns among the healthcare bodies that act as a watchdog of women and child welfare. In fact, The Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights (DCPCR), a statutory body established under the Commission for Protection of Child Rights (CPCR) Act, 2005, moved to the supreme court for excluding pregnant and lactating women from the vaccination drives.

Even The Federation of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists Society of India (FOGSI) had long recommended that pregnant and breastfeeding women be considered for the jab being a vulnerable population subset.

In May 2021, the National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for COVID-19 (NEGVAC) announced that breastfeeding women could also take the COVID-19 vaccine. In addition, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has also released a press release regarding the same. However, despite the government bodies and major healthcare organisations supporting this move, some scepticism exists among lactating mothers.

COVID-19 vaccine for lactating moms: Everything you need to know 

According to The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and the National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for COVID-19 (NEGVAC) it is safe to administer the COVID-19 vaccine to lactating mothers. 

Which vaccines can breastfeeding mothers opt for? 

At present, the vaccines widely used in India are:

  • COVISHIELD – produced by Serum Institute of India (SII) in collaboration with Astra-Zeneca
  • COVAXIN – produced by Bharat Biotech Ltd 
  • Sputnik V – the Russian made vaccine

Lactating mothers can choose to have either of the vaccines mentioned above. Or take the jab depending on the availability of the vaccine at the centre. One can have a detailed discussion with the family doctor or the gynaecologist before taking the jab.

Are the vaccines safe?

Vaccine safety and efficacy have been in discussion among the masses and healthcare experts for too long. However, experts have reinstated that the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the side effects if any, many times. Also, it doesn’t affect breastfeeding or even the quality of milk produced. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention“Based on how these vaccines work in the body, COVID-19 vaccines are thought not to be a risk to lactating people or their breastfeeding babies.”

Is there any data available to confirm the same? 

According to a position statement prepared by the FOGSI –

The first study conducted on vaccination in pregnant and lactating women was published from the USA. The study showed that COVID vaccination generates a robust immune response in pregnant and lactating women, equivalent to the general population. Additionally, protective antibodies were also isolated in umbilical cord blood and breast milk, implying protection to the fetus and newborn. This data pertains to 131 women who were vaccinated with the mRNA vaccine. At present, there is no data on immunisation of pregnant and lactating women with Covishield or Covaxin. 

However, in India, the ICMR or the Indian Council of Medical Research had released a press statement on vaccine efficacy stating that the risk of infection after one or two doses of Covaxin or Covishield is 0.02% to 0.04% respectively. This represents an approximately 80% protection rate from infection.” 

Also, experts suggest that the fear of scepticism is futile as there is no data or studies to suggest that the vaccine can alter fertility, menstrual cycle or breastmilk production. (Note: There is no data on Sputnik to confirm such fears, yet.)

Will breastfeeding affect the production of antibodies or vice-versa? 

As mentioned earlier, the vaccine doesn’t affect the production of breastmilk. Still, there is some evidence that antibodies produced after the vaccine might be passed on to the baby through breastmilk, providing immunity to both the mother and the baby. Studies are still being conducted in this regard.

The takeaway message: A newborn’s health and well-being greatly depend on the mother, at least for the first six months, as the WHO recommends exclusive breastfeeding. A viral infection like COVID-19 during this period can impact the neonate’s growth and development, leading to a lack of proper nourishment, warmth, and care. So, a lactating mother must take the jab to protect herself and keep her baby safe. The side effects like pain, fever, and swelling commonly seen subside within a day or two.

Breastfeeding can be challenging and overwhelming too. If you are a new mother facing it all alone, don’t worry, give us a call. At Fitterfly, we have designed a Lactation Wellness Program for new mums to help them give the best care to their babies through our nutrition and counselling program. So, for any lactation support and queries, please pick up the phone and give us a call at 022 48971077 (Ext 4) or visit us at https://www.fitterfly.com/pregstar

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