HEALTH PLUS MEDICAL CONSULTANT
You have waited nine months for your newborn to arrive. You ate well, navigated the anxiety of being pregnant during a pandemic, took your prenatal vitamins, attended appointments, and did your best to keep yourself safe and healthy. Now that your baby has arrived, how do you keep him or her healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic?
You are concerned about the risks of vaccination as the “Pandemic of Misinformation” overwhelms all media platforms. How do you decipher through the cloud of misinformation?
HEALTH PLUS did the research for you, and these are the FACTS.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that breastfeeding mothers be vaccinated. This is supported by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) and the International Federation of Gynaecology and Obstetrics (FIGO). In addition, the CDC and the UK Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation all issued supporting statements.
Declared on the RCOG policy document, updated frequently, as recently as July 19, 2021, the following questions were answered.
Q. Can I have a COVID-19 vaccine if I am breastfeeding?
COVID-19 vaccines are recommended to breastfeeding women. There is no plausible mechanism by which any vaccine ingredient could pass to your baby through breast milk. You should therefore not stop breastfeeding in order to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Q. Is the Vaccine passed on through breast milk?
For many new parents, a key concern around COVID-19 vaccines is whether the vaccine could be harmful to their breastfeeding child. The Sinopharm jab - does not contain any live virus. The good news is that there is no evidence that the COVID-19 vaccine passes on any harmful substances through breast milk.
Additionally, a recent study by University of California, offers the first direct data supporting vaccine safety during breastfeeding and could allay concerns among those who have declined vaccination or discontinued breastfeeding. The paper appears in JAMA Pediatrics.
Q. Are there COVID-19 antibodies in breast milk following vaccination
There is one type of particle that scientists are eager to see in breast milk following a vaccine: COVID-19 antibodies.
Dr Kathryn Gray, a maternal–fetal medicine specialist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, and her colleagues decided to test how well the COVID-19 vaccines work in this group. They recruited 131 participants who were about to receive vaccination and who were lactating, pregnant or neither, and found that the lactating individuals generated the same robust antibody response as did those who were not lactating. In other words: the vaccine is just as beneficial for breastfeeding mums.
Researchers have long known that newborn babies don’t effectively produce antibodies against harmful bacteria and viruses; and it can take three to six months for this kind of protection to kick in. To help in those early days, a mother’s breast milk overflows with antibodies capable of staving off potential threats, inclusive of SARS-CoV-2.
When Gray and her colleagues checked the blood and the breast milk of lactating mothers who had received a COVID-19 vaccine, they found high levels of COVID-19 antibodies in every sample.
“This process is so magical,” says Dr Galit Alter, an immunologist and virologist at Harvard Medical School in Boston, who worked on Dr Gray’s study.
What happens once antibodies reach the baby, however, is just enigmatic. Antibodies in the breast milk do not make it into a baby’s bloodstream, but coat the mouth, throat and gut before they’re ultimately digested. Nonetheless, these antibodies seem to provide protection. It could be that they work at the body’s entrances to fend off infection before it takes root.
“It’s very nice after this past year to have a tiny bit of good news,” says paediatric immunologist Bridget Young at the University of Rochester Medical Center. And it’s a particularly exciting finding given that babies are not currently eligible to receive any of the available vaccines (although both Pfizer–BioNTech and Moderna have started trials of their COVID-19 vaccines in children as young as six months).
Breast Milk is more than nutrition, it is medicine
Though COVID-19 is often mild in younger populations, babies less than two years of age who contract the disease are hospitalized more often than older children are. That’s because the bronchioles, the passageways that deliver air to the lungs, are much smaller in babies. In addition, babies and children can also develop a severe illness known as MIS-C (multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children), in which different parts of the body become inflamed after the child contracts COVID-19.
“This is why vaccination in lactating mothers is so crucial. Breastmilk is a portal for antibodies to babies. It’s specifically designed by Mother Nature, to provide the child with the child’s first vaccine,” says Dr Kathryn Gray, maternal–fetal medicine specialist “Breast milk by itself is more than nutrition, breast milk is medicine.”
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