Vaccinated mothers’ breast milk could help shield their offspring from Covid – new study

Covid: Study on vaccine effectiveness released in UK

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There has been a concerted effort amongst prominent health bodies and celebrities alike to encourage pregnant women to get fully vaccinated in recent weeks. Hesitancy amongst pregnant women is understandable but misguided. The evidence should allay any safety concerns one may have – last month, Public Health England (PHE) reported that around 90,000 pregnant women in the US women had been vaccinated mainly with Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and no safety concerns were identified. On the contrary, a new study suggests getting vaccinated could even benefit your baby.

The breast milk of mothers who have received their COVID-19 vaccines contains a significant level of antibodies that may help protect nursing babies from the virus, a new study suggests.

The study was conducted between December 2020 and March 2021, when the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines first became available to healthcare workers in the US.

Researchers recruited 21 lactating healthcare workers who had never contracted the virus.

They sampled the mothers’ breast milk and blood three times – before vaccination, after the first dose and after the second dose.

There was a robust antibody response in blood and breast milk after the second dose, about a hundred-fold increase compared with levels before vaccination, the study found.

The data also indicates these levels are higher than those observed after natural infection with the virus.

Researchers are continuing to look at how breast milk containing COVID-19 antibodies gained through vaccination protects babies who consume it.

But the study researchers said they were encouraged by their initial results.

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The finding is particularly important because when babies are born, their underdeveloped immune systems make it hard for them to fight infections on their own.

They are also often too young to respond adequately to certain types of vaccines.

Joseph Larkin III, senior author of the study and an associate professor at the University of Florida, said: “Our findings show that vaccination results in a significant increase in antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that causes Covid-19 – in breast milk, suggesting that vaccinated mothers can pass on this immunity to their babies, something we are working to confirm in our ongoing research.”

Josef Neu, one of the study’s co-authors and a professor in the University of Florida’s College of Medicine’s department of paediatrics, division of neonatology, said: “Think of breast milk as a toolbox full of all the different tools that help prepare the infant for life.

“Vaccination adds another tool to the toolbox, one that has the potential to be especially good at preventing Covid-19 illness.

“The results of our study strongly suggest that vaccines can help protect both mum and baby, another compelling reason for pregnant or lactating women to get vaccinated.”

Pregnancy vaccine latest advice

According to PHE, Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are the preferred vaccines for pregnant women of any age who are coming for their first dose.

Anyone who has already started vaccination and is offered a second dose whilst pregnant, should have a second dose with the same vaccine unless they had a serious side effect after the first dose.

Why you should get vaccinated

Although the overall risk from COVID-19 disease in pregnant women and their new babies is low, in later pregnancy some women may become seriously unwell and need hospital treatment, warns PHE.

“Pregnant women with COVID-19 have a higher risk of intensive care admission than women of the same age who are not pregnant,” notes the health body.

It continues: “Women with COVID-19 disease are also two to three times more likely to have their babies early than women without COVID-19.

“Pregnant women with underlying clinical conditions are at even higher risk of suffering serious complications from COVID-19.”

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