By Dr. Rebecca Rose
In these uncertain times, new moms have unique questions and concerns related to COVID-19 — not just about themselves, but about their babies. Here are a few of the most common questions about COVID-19 and infants that new moms ask their healthcare providers.
WHAT IF I GET COVID-19? CAN I STILL BREASTFEED?
Absolutely — and you are encouraged to do so. You do need to wear a mask when around the baby and ensure you wash your hands immediately prior to nursing or holding your baby. If it is possible, try to have the majority of the baby’s care handled by someone else.
WHAT ABOUT THE COVID-19 VACCINES? ARE THEY SAFE FOR MY BABY?
We want new moms to get the vaccine to help protect their babies. There have been no reports of babies having any reaction to the mom getting the vaccine while breastfeeding. There are also no reports of long-term decreased milk supply post vaccine. Some moms may experience a one-or two-day slight decrease after vaccination, but their milk supply will return to normal with proper hydration and nutrition.
HOW DOES MY COVID-19 VACCINATION HELP MY BABY?
With many other diseases or vaccines, the mother’s immunity can be passed to the baby passively by antibodies in the breastmilk. Some early studies indicate that this also may be true for COVID-19 vaccinations or natural immunity following COVID-19 infection.
When our bodies are exposed to a virus, certain cells in our body will identify the virus as an intruder. These cells will target specific parts of the virus and create antibodies to them. For COVID-19 vaccines, the antibodies our bodies make target the spike protein of COVID-19. This is the pointy part on the surface in the images you see of the virus.
Antibodies work to neutralize the intruder and make it ineffective, sort of like the locks police might use on the wheel of an illegally parked car to prevent it from being driven. When a mother receives a COVID-19 vaccine, her immune system recognizes the inactive spike protein the vaccine creates as an “intruder” and gets to work making the right kind of antibodies to neutralize it. Once her body has made the right antibodies, these antibodies get passed along to the baby in the breast milk.
Researchers will continue to look at the effectiveness of this passive immunity babies can receive from breastmilk from vaccinated mothers. However, for now, you can be confident that the low-risk vaccine you get as a breastfeeding mother may be your baby’s best chance of having his or her own immunity to COVID-19.
By getting the vaccine or by continuing to breastfeed if you are infected, you are giving your baby a big leg up in the fight against COVID-19.
Dr. Rebecca Rose specializes in family medicine. Visit WeAreMemorial.com or call (228) 865-3200 to learn more.