Should Pregnant and Breastfeeding Women Get the COVID-19 Vaccine?

pregnant woman and doctor with a syringe

Now that the COVID-19 vaccine is here, many pregnant and breastfeeding women are wondering whether they should be vaccinated.

The vaccines authorized for use in the United States were tested for safety and efficacy through clinical trials involving adults of different ages, ethnicities and medical conditions — but not pregnant women.

Because there is little data on this group, some women wonder whether they should consider vaccination. In Missouri, pregnant women are already eligible to be vaccinated.

Laura Morris, MD
Laura Morris, MD

Laura Morris, MD, a family medicine doctor who practices maternity care at MU Health Care, said there is no scientific evidence why the vaccine would harm the mother or unborn child or cause preterm labor. She said contracting COVID-19 poses a greater risk to pregnant women and unborn children than the vaccine.

The authorized vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna use mRNA technology that instructs the immune system to recognize a protein on the coronavirus and create disease-fighting proteins called antibodies.

“Since mRNA vaccines do not contain live virus, they should not affect the baby or the placenta,” Morris said. “After antibodies form, these can help protect the newborn since they are too young to get their own vaccine.”

Infants have a varied response to COVID-19. Typically some are sick with upper respiratory symptoms, some get very ill and others can be asymptomatic. Passive antibodies provided to babies through breastmilk might provide some degree of protection against infection but shouldn’t cause any side effects because babies’ immune systems aren’t activated by the antibodies.

Some people will experience temporary side effects after being vaccinated, but those are caused by the immune system ramping up and are not a symptom of infection. Pregnant people are likely to experience the same reactions or side effects that nonpregnant people are experiencing from the vaccine, such as fever, muscle aches or a headache. Pregnant women can use acetaminophen to treat fever. If any symptom is worrisome, it’s important to contact your doctor.

“Getting the COVID-19 vaccine is a personal choice for pregnant and lactating people,” Morris said. “A pregnant person or breastfeeding mom who wants more information should talk to their prenatal care provider, but it’s not necessary to get a doctor’s approval to get the vaccine.”

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