Breastfeeding and not sure if you should take the Covid-19 vaccine? A local doctor explains
After living with a pandemic for over a year now, all of us just want Covid-19 to be over. So naturally, many of us got excited when a vaccine was ready to be rolled out! But when it came time to actually taking it, many mamas started asking around, “Hey, are you taking the vaccine?” particularly on whether fellow mamas would take it while still breastfeeding. Will the vaccine change the nutritional value of the breastmilk? Will it affect breastfeeding babies? According to the Breastfeeding Mothers’ Support Group, some people have shared experiences of being denied the vaccine when they told doctors and nurses that they’re currently breastfeeding and would continue to do so after taking the shot. Can we really be denied the vaccine? We chat with Dr Foong Tsin Uin of Osler Health International to find out more.
1. What is the general consensus on breastfeeding after taking the Covid-19 vaccine?
The COVID-19 vaccines have been developed in record time. Normally vaccine development takes many years (even decades) therefore we cannot put our ‘knowledge’ in front of the science and time. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that breastfeeding women can take the vaccine, as the potential risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19 is considered more harmful than any potential risk to the mother or infant. It is worth nothing that WHO recommendations are for a worldwide audience, and Singapore currently has a low exposure risk to COVID-19.
Ministry of Health (MOH)’s directive is that women who are breastfeeding can be vaccinated. However, they’ve also advised, “Out of an abundance of caution, women can consider suspending breastfeeding for 5-7 days after receiving the vaccine. If a woman feels she is unable to suspend breastfeeding and still wishes to get vaccinated, she can be vaccinated.”
The general consensus is that getting vaccinated when breastfeeding is safe, however each individual may weigh up their attitude towards potential risk and benefit.
2. Is it true that I can be denied the vaccine if I disclose that I choose to breastfeed after taking the vaccine, without taking a break from breastfeeding for 5-7 days?
This should not be the case as outlined by MOH (see Q12) “If a woman feels she is unable to suspend breastfeeding and still wishes to get vaccinated, she can be vaccinated”.
3. Are there different exceptions depending on which Covid-19 Vaccine one takes?
No. The same recommendations are in place for the mRNA-based vaccines: Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna (both of which are being distributed by the Singapore government).
4. Should I wait until more studies have been done before I take the vaccine?
Unfortunately, no one can make that decision but you. We cannot be ahead of science and time, therefore unless you are at high risk of contracting COVID-19 and are planning travel, you may feel more comfortable waiting.
5. Is there any other information you can provide to help breastfeeding mothers make a decision on what to do in regards to the vaccine?
As a doctor, I would always want to minimise anxiety for a breastfeeding mother. If getting the vaccine is going to be stressful and you will worry about it, maybe press pause and do it in a few months? If you have weighed it up, and know you will be more anxious NOT having the vaccine, perhaps get the vaccine now. This is a personal decision, but I hope we have laid out the facts here so you feel you have a clearer picture. You may find the analysis from the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine of value in your decision making as well.
Dr Foong is an experienced family GP who has worked with the international community of Singapore for many years. Dr Foong is based at Osler Health International. www.osler-health.com