My Vaccine Choice: I'm a Breastfeeding Ob-Gyn. Here's Why I Got a COVID-19 Vaccine.
Dr. Veronica Maria Pimentel discusses why she chose to be vaccinated as a nursing mom.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has fully licensed the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, also known as Comirnaty. This is a permanent approval that goes beyond emergency use status. Full FDA licensing shows that the vaccine continues to meet high safety and effectiveness standards. Read more about this update from the FDA.
Just a few weeks after learning I was pregnant with my second child, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic hit the United States. I watched closely while the world grappled with the virus.
The pandemic affected me both personally and professionally as an ob-gyn. As the medical community gathered more and more data, we learned that the disease posed serious risks to pregnant women. I continued to care for my patients, some of whom developed COVID-19. I did everything I could to protect myself and to avoid bringing the virus home to my family.
By the time the vaccines became available for health care workers in December, I was no longer pregnant. Instead, I was breastfeeding a 2-month-old baby boy—pumping at work and nursing my baby at home. Here’s why I chose to get a vaccine.
The beauty of breast milk
Breastfeeding is so meaningful to me. It is one of the major ways I care for and protect my baby. At the end of a hectic day, I get to spend precious time connecting with my son, providing both nutrition and comfort through breastfeeding. But I wondered how he would be affected if I got vaccinated. The short answer is that we believe the vaccines are likely to help breastfeeding babies.
One of the benefits of breastfeeding is to pass a mother’s protective antibodies to her baby. These antibodies help protect you and your baby from colds, allergies, and other illnesses.
When you get a COVID-19 vaccine, your body produces antibodies that fight the virus if you are exposed to it. The question I had is how many COVID-19 antibodies are present in breast milk and how much protection these antibodies might give my nursing baby.
When I was thinking about all of this, the COVID-19 vaccines had not yet been studied in breastfeeding women. Early studies are just starting now, so we’re still learning the answers to these questions. But a recent study supports our expectation that the antibodies pass through breast milk after vaccination, possibly allowing a mom’s vaccine to protect her baby from COVID-19. This is great news!
The other question is whether a mother’s vaccination could cause any harm to her baby. Based on how the vaccines work, we are confident that getting a COVID-19 vaccine is safe for breastfeeding women and their babies. The vaccines enter your muscle tissue in your arm but should not enter your blood stream or breast tissue. You can learn more about this science from the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
My hope is that by getting vaccinated and continuing to give my baby breast milk, I’m protecting my son from COVID-19 if he is ever exposed. In fact, I was literally pumping breast milk when I got my second shot. (I love my hands-free pump!) Such is life as a working mom.
Based on the available data, I was convinced the vaccine would protect me from COVID-19, and hopefully my baby. But I felt a responsibility to other people as well. I was still at high risk for getting the disease through my job as a health care worker. Without protection from the vaccine, I risked exposing my husband and toddler too.
I also risked spreading the virus to my patients, many of whom have health conditions that increase their risk for severe illness. I then considered the health of my childcare provider, who is an older woman. I felt I needed to protect her the same way I was protecting my family.
When I weighed the knowns and unknowns, I had no doubt that the best choice was getting vaccinated. I trusted the science. I was counseling women that the benefits of the vaccines outweigh the risks, and I was glad to lead by example. I got my vaccine doses in late December and early January. I felt only some arm pain that went away within one day.
The decision is yours
When my patients ask me about the COVID-19 vaccines, I proudly tell them I got the shots and that I was breastfeeding at the time. In fact, I am still pumping and breastfeeding my baby. Getting the vaccine was the right choice for me.
As you think about getting vaccinated, read up and bring any questions to your doctor. They can talk with you about the evidence and help explain why the vaccines are safe and effective.
Lastly, remember to still follow the current advice from health officials, like wearing masks when needed. We need to use all of the tools we have to fight the pandemic and help the people around us stay safe.
Published: April 2021
Last reviewed: April 2021
Copyright 2021 by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. All rights reserved. Read copyright and permissions information.
This information is designed as an educational aid for the public. It offers current information and opinions related to women's health. It is not intended as a statement of the standard of care. It does not explain all of the proper treatments or methods of care. It is not a substitute for the advice of a physician. Read ACOG’s complete disclaimer.