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Vaccines are a hot topic these days, and many breastfeeding parents have concerns over whether or not vaccinations could affect their babies. Vaccines usually contain weak (live) or inactive viral organisms that trigger a protective immune response in our bodies. There are also newly developed vaccines emerging called messenger RNA or mRNA vaccines that teach our cells how to make a protein that causes the same kind of bodily immune response. But if you’re lactating, is there a danger that viruses could be transferred to your nursing baby through your breast milk?
Inactive versus live vaccines
Generally, the answer is no (although there are exceptions that should be discussed with your doctor or IBCLC). Inactivated vaccines like your flu shot and hepatitis A vaccine don’t pose a risk for lactating parents or their infants, according to the CDC. In fact, getting an influenza vaccine while breastfeeding can actually provide protective antibodies to nursing children so they can avoid the flu, too!
Most common live vaccinations, from the measles vaccine while breastfeeding to the chicken pox or varicella vaccine during breastfeeding, are deemed safe for parents and babies, too. And although live viruses in vaccines can replicate to a lesser degree in the vaccine recipient (in this case, the parent), it has been proven that most live viruses are not excreted in breast milk. The exceptions to this, as outlined by the CDC, are smallpox and yellow fever vaccines. Neither should be administered to lactating people because of the possible risk of contact transmission from parent to child. (If you are traveling to an area where yellow fever is prevalent, though, read more here and talk to your doctor about your options.)
COVID-19 and breastfeeding
The COVID-19 vaccine is neither a live nor an inactive vaccine: it’s an mRNA vaccine that teaches the recipient’s cells to create a protein that will trigger an immune response and protective antibodies. The CDC currently cites that there is still no data on COVID-19 vaccine safety in lactating parents or on mRNA vaccines on breastfed infants, although mRNA vaccines are not thought to be a risk to babies. Lactating parents who are part of a group that is recommended to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, such as healthcare professionals, may choose whether or not to be vaccinated, so know your rights—there have been troubling recent reports of lactating mothers who were denied this choice . Talk to your doctor or IBCLC about the safest way to navigate your COVID-19 vaccinations.
When you’re a lactating parent, your body is so connected to your baby’s. Of course, you want to make sure that the measures you take for your health and safety are also safe for your little one. Stay informed from reputable sources like the CDC and WHO, and discuss any questions you have with your doctor or IBCLC. They’re here to help!