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COVID-19 vaccine and breastfeeding: Some common myths debunked

By: Renuka Birgodiya, Coordinator, United Way Mumbai & Tara Raghunath, Coordinator, United Way Mumbai

August 27, 2021 / 11:10 AM IST

The pandemic brought with it misconception at every corner. With every milestone achieved towards fighting COVID-19, a new myth, targeting a new demographic sprouted rapidly. The most common being women in child bearing age. This falsified information claimed that any covid vaccine put fertility, conception and nursing at risk. This statement alone had the ability to impact millions of women and their families. This resulted in more men than women registering themselves even though covid does not discriminate based on gender, targeting any individual in its way. During the early phases of the vaccine roll out, the data on its safety for pregnant and lactating mothers was limited, therefore they were asked to forgo the dose for the time-being. However, despite the pause for this being backed by scientific fact, it gave rise to increased levels of vaccine hesitancy amongst society. However, the recent availability of vaccines for women has given rise to more discussions on the subject, coinciding perfectly with August – World Breastfeeding Month.

Each year, the first week of August is celebrated as World Breastfeeding week around the World, and the month of August is celebrated as Breastfeeding month. The theme for 2021 is "Protect breastfeeding: a shared responsibility". The focus is on the importance of breastfeeding for children and mothers and the responsibility of the community as a whole to contribute to the overall health and well-being of children. There are several benefits of breastfeeding. For e.g. for mothers, it reduces the risk for breast cancer and facilitates spacing of children. For children, it helps in improving their immunity by protecting them from various infections and promotes cognitive development. Breast milk is the most nutrient-dense food for the normal growth and healthy development of infants. It contains antibodies that can boost an infant’s immunity to fight against infections. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends breastfeeding within an hour of birth and exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life, followed by continued breastfeeding with appropriate complementary foods for up to 2 years or more. 1   However, for those mothers that did take the vaccines, the many myths mean that they are struggling to accept that this has not affected their child negatively as a result.  This has caused feeding to stop in many cases alongside refusal towards being vaccinated. This is most prevalent in rural India where people have limited access to technology and verified information. While Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA), Auxiliary Nurse Midwife and Anganwadi Workers work tirelessly to break down these barriers, women and children are both running the risk of not meeting their health and nutritional requirements. Science has shown the world that the vaccine does not cause a risk to the breastfeeding child or a child receiving expressed human milk. 2

 According to WHO and UNICEF all mothers, including COVID-19 suspect mothers, can continue to breastfeed their infants and young children. The strain of Corona virus that causes COVID-19 has not been found in breastmilk. According to some studies, it is safe for mothers to breastfeed their child even during the COVID-19 infection with recommended precautions by doctors.3     It is important to promote breastfeeding irrespective of mother’s COVID status. As per the studies on COVID-19 vaccines so far and knowledge of how COVID-19 vaccines work, vaccinating breastfeeding mothers does not affect their infant. A vaccinated mother’s breastmilk may even contain antibodies, which could help to mothers to protect their babies from the virus. .4,5,6  WHO’s current guidelines indicate that mothers can continue to breastfeed their child with following precautions:

  • Practice hygiene during feeding, including wearing a mask or covering one’s mouth and nose

  • Washing hands with soap and water for 20 seconds before and after touching the baby

  • Routinely cleaning and disinfecting surfaces they have touched.


World Breastfeeding Month can now be a catalyst for change when considering its relation to promoting immunization and vaccine eagerness amongst lactating mothers.

References

  1. http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/42590/1/9241562218.pdf

  2. https://www.unicef.org/vietnam/stories/frequent-asked-questions-covid-19-vaccines-and-breastfeeding

  3. https://www.euro.who.int/en/media-centre/sections/press-releases/2021/who-recommends-continuing-breastfeeding-during-covid-19-infection-and-after-vaccination

  4. 4. https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2021/03/study-shows-covid-19-vaccinated-mothers-pass-antibodies-to-newborns/

  5. https://www.cedars-sinai.org/blog/newborn-covid-19-immunity.html

  6. https://www.news-medical.net/news/20210407/COVID-19-antibodies-persist-in-breast-milk-for-months-following-mothere28099s-vaccination.aspx
first published: Aug 26, 2021 03:11 pm
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