Vaccine Presents Dilemma for Pregnant, Nursing Women — and Misinformation Isn't Helping

“There’s a lot of pressure on me to make the decision especially, because I’m a health care provider”

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There are so many questions and concerns on the minds of new and expecting mothers. For some this year, weighing the relief of a coronavirus vaccine in the midst of a pandemic with the desire to nurse their babies is high on the list. 

That's especially true of frontline workers who are in line to be vaccinated, like Valerie Goodman. 

She works at a neighborhood health center and is nursing her 4-month-old daughter.

Her biggest question is, “If got the vaccine, is there any risk to her?” Goodman said. “There’s a lot of pressure on me to make the decision especially, because I’m a health care provider.”

She’s not alone. As the vaccine begins to be more widely distributed, many women will be making the same decision. Health care worker Allie Keach, who is pregnant with her third child, said making a decision to get the vaccine and then decide if she’d nurse her baby next month was not easy. 

“You’re growing a human. It’s nerve-wracking. You’re worried about what you’re eating,” Keach said. 

The FDA’s Dr. Peter Marks said Saturday that pregnant women should consult their doctor before taking the Pfizer vaccine, given that pregnant women were not part of the clinical trials for the emergency use authorization. “The provider and individual can make a decision about whether the benefits outweigh the risks,” said Marks. “[Taking the vaccine is] not something that we’re recommending at this time. That’s something that we’re leaving up to the individual.”

Another issue was all the misinformation she was finding about the issue, leading her to do the legwork of researching herself. 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance says that mRNA vaccines like Pfizer's and Moderna's "are not thought to be a risk to the breastfeeding infant.”

However, the guidance also states that there’s no data on the safety of the vaccine on lactating women or the effects of mRNA vaccines on breastfed infants. 

Ultimately, that puts the decision in the mother’s hands. 

Questions on the topic are already pouring in to NAPS and Nurture by NAPS, an outlet and service provider for new and expecting parents, according to co-founder Emily Silver, a nurse practitioner and lactation consultant.

New research led by researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center say pregnant women who test positive for COVID-19 are not linked to adverse outcomes.

And Silver said it’s difficult, because there is no definitive answer: “We don’t know the long-term effects of these vaccines, but we also don’t know the long-term effects of COVID.”

Co-founder Jamie O’Day agreed, saying it’s important for woman to focus on what we do know, including the fact that the approved vaccines do not use live virus. 

“Based on what we know about other vaccines that have been on the market and are deemed safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women, it’s reasonable to assume this would be safe as well,“ O’Day said.

However, with no clinical trials completed on that group of people, there’s no way to say that with 100% certainty. 

Goodman said doing her own homework helped.

“I looked into the science a little bit more and it became a lot more clear to me that the benefits outweigh the risks,” she said.

“After speaking with my provider and doing research, I decided it was the best choice for me. I’d get the vaccine tomorrow if I could,” said Keach, adding, “Whether I’m pregnant or postpartum, I will be getting the vaccine”

O’Day said it’s important to ask questions, speak with your health care provider, and speak up if you are unsure.

“It’s about weighing pros and cons, the risks and benefits and making the best decision for you and your family,” she said. 

Through their virtual service, Nurture by NAPS provides live Q&A sessions. The group is also planning to include the topic in an upcoming forum. For more information, you can head to their website.

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