Breastfeeding plays a vital part in the growth & development of an infant. Breast milk is supplemented with the energy, essential nutrients & antibodies which helps fortify the infant’s immune system against some common childhood infections like pneumonia & diarrhea and certain chronic diseases which can manifest later in life. There is also evidence that breastfeeding aids in the promotion of cognitive development in children. Mothers who diligently breastfeed their children during the early years are supposedly at a lesser risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer at later stages in their life.
According to the UNICEF and WHO, newborns should be exclusively breastfed for at least the initial 6 months of their lives after which they can slowly be introduced to other foods. Exclusive breastfeeding entails the following:
- Exclusive breastfeeding means giving the child only breast milk as a source of nutrition without supplementing other foods, water included
- Initiating breastfeeding within 1 hour from birth
- Breastfeeding each time the child feels hungry or thirsty, day and night, on demand
- Not using bottles, teats or pacifiers as alternatives
According to different guidelines laid by various health organizations around the globe, anybody over the age of 12 years can get vaccinated against COVID-19 and can choose from amongst the different vaccines authorized for administration; this applies to pregnant and lactating women as well.
The different vaccine types available in the clinics include mRNA vaccines and inactivated vaccines which pose no severe threat to the vaccinated individual. Studies have shown that evidence for transmission of COVID-19 through breast milk does not exist; instead on vaccination (especially with a mRNA vaccine), the antibodies present in the mother’s blood may diffuse into the mammary glands and on breastfeeding can transfer to the baby and provide it immunity against the coronavirus.
The World Health Organization (WHO) does not recommend lactating mothers to stop breastfeeding on receiving their vaccine jabs because breastfeeding is essential for the physical and mental growth and development of the baby and cessation of the same ahead of time can seriously affect the health of the infant. Since even COVID positive mothers are also suggested to keep breastfeeding their babies, there is no evidence-based reason for vaccinated mothers to stop breastfeeding their newborns.
The upcoming sections mention some common changes observed in breast milk & lactation after COVID vaccination; also the characteristics frequently observed in infants on breastfeeding after mother’s vaccination are elaborated. These sections will help in comparing the benefits and the risks involved in vaccination of breastfeeding women and will help new mothers to make an informed decision on getting vaccinated against SARS-CoV-2
Effects of COVID vaccination on breast milk & lactation
According to an article published in NCBI (National Centre for Biotechnology Information), the following changes were observed in the breast milk & lactation pattern of some women under study:
- Some women who received a mRNA vaccine reported a temporary decrease in the supply of milk; the number of women reporting the same statistically increased after the second dose of the vaccine.
- The supply of milk returned to normal within 3 days in all the cases
- Certain groups of women reported an increase in the amount of breast milk produced after each dose of the vaccination
- A few women reported a change in the color of the breast milk to blue-green shade.
Effects of COVID vaccination on breastfed infants
According to the aforementioned article published in NCBI, following effects were observed in some infants under study:
- The infants of mothers who got vaccinated about 10 months postpartum showed no significant after effects but 4 babies developed fever after maternal vaccination & showed signs of upper respiratory tract infection.
- In a study of mothers vaccinated with mRNA vaccines; some mothers reported a group of common side effects in their infants especially after the second dose of vaccination. These include Irritability, Poor Sleep & Drowsiness.
- It is still not clear whether these side effects observed in the infants were indeed due to vaccination or if there exists any other reason.
- In a study conducted online, some mothers reported increased fussiness and sleepiness, with the frequency greater after the second dose of the vaccine.
- Some less frequently reported side effects in infants include fever, rash, diarrhoea, vomiting, changes in feeding frequency, and other miscellaneous symptoms.
- Another group under study (vaccinated using mRNA vaccine) showed that the breastfeeding infants had some minor changes in their sleeping patterns and minor gastrointestinal symptoms.
- In a study where mothers were vaccinated using inactivated vaccine, no adverse effects were reported in the infants.