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COVID-19 vaccines protect you and your baby while pregnant and breastfeeding

Pregnant people are at much higher risk for complications and death from COVID-19.

After rigorous research, COVID-19 vaccines are now strongly recommended for pregnant and breastfeeding people by the CDC, and tens of thousands of obstetricians, midwives, family physicians and other OB providers.

When it comes to you and your baby's health, having accurate information is vital. This resource is updated with the latest research into vaccine safety, pregnancy and COVID-19. Find the answers to all your questions, curated by medical professionals, with links to verified research.

Frequently Asked Questions

Vaccine Safety & Risks
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How can I be sure the COVID-19 vaccine is safe for me and my baby?

Numerous studies including thousands of pregnant and breastfeeding individuals have shown that COVID-19 vaccinations are safe and effective. More than 100,000 pregnant individuals in the US have already received one of the COVID-19 vaccines.

Are vaccines really safe when you’re pregnant?

Yes. Getting vaccinated for whooping cough and flu when you’re pregnant has been recommended for decades and is a normal part of maintaining a healthy pregnancy. Vaccination against COVID-19 is now highly recommended as well.

Source: CDC: Vaccines During and After Pregnancy

I have kept my family safe so far by masking, hand washing, and social distancing. Why is it still important to get vaccinated against COVID-19?  

Great question! Thousands of Americans have been unfortunately surprised when they acquired COVID-19 despite being very careful. It’s tough to control for every possible exposure especially when masking isn’t universal in all communities. The Delta variant of COVID-19 is highly infectious and two times as contagious as the original COVID-19 strain. It is as infectious as chicken pox. Given the risks in pregnancy of COVID-19 and the safety of the COVID-19 vaccines, it is highly recommended to become vaccinated in pregnancy or while breastfeeding. This is the best way to protect you and your family.

Are the side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine worse for pregnant women?

No. Commonly reported side effects across the different types of vaccines include fevers, fatigue, headaches, and body aches which is the same side effect profile for non-pregnant persons. Interestingly, a study of nearly 8,000 pregnant women found that there were fewer reports of side effects, like fever and muscle pain, compared to non-pregnant women.

Source: JAMA Network Open: Short-term Reactions Among Pregnant and Lactating Individuals in the First Wave of the COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout

Can the COVID-19 vaccine cause birth defects?

No. About 3-5% of babies in the United States are born with a birth defect each year. Among 1,612 women receiving the COVID-19 vaccine while pregnant, 45 had birth defects for a rate of 2.7%. This is what we would normally expect and does not indicate any relationship to the COVID-19 vaccine.

Sources:
• March of Dimes: Birth Defects And Your Baby
CDC Awardee COVID-19 Vaccination Planning Meeting

Can the COVID-19 vaccine cause a miscarriage or stillbirth?

No. Normal estimates of miscarriage in pregnancy range from 11% to 22%. In a study following 2,456 pregnant people who received the COVID-19 vaccine, a miscarriage occurred in 12.8%. This is what we would normally expect.

Sources:
American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology: In Vitro Fertilization and Early Pregnancy Outcomes After COVID-19 Vaccination
The New England Journal of Medicine: Covid-19 Vaccination during Pregnancy and First-Trimester Miscarriage
• JAMA Pediatrics: Spontaneous Abortion Following COVID-19 Vaccination During Pregnancy

Can any of the COVID-19 vaccines change my DNA, implant a microchip or make my arm magnetic?

None of the COVID-19 vaccines change your DNA. They never go into the cell nucleus, which is the control center of the cell where your DNA lives.

None of the COVID-19 vaccines contain a microchip or can make your arm magnetic. These are myths.

Can I get the COVID-19 vaccine and another vaccine at the same time?

Yes. The immune system is very skilled at making protective antibodies to different vaccines or infections at the same time. Common prenatal vaccines like the influenza and the TdAP (tetanus/pertussis) are recommended in all pregnancies and can safely be paired with the COVID-19 vaccines.

How does COVID-19 vaccination protect my baby if I am breastfeeding?

Breast milk is so much more than nutrition and has long been known to protect infants against numerous infections by passing protective antibodies from the mother to the infant. Many studies have shown that breast milk from individuals vaccinated against flu while pregnant contains protective antibodies that can be passed to the infant. Recent studies have shown that protective antibodies against COVID-19 transfer in breast milk following COVID-19 vaccination.

Sources:
PLoS ONE: IgA and Neutralizing Antibodies to Influenza A Virus in Human Milk: A Randomized Trial of Antenatal Influenza Immunization
• Science Translational Management: COVID-19 mRNA vaccines drive differential antibody Fc-functional profiles in pregnant, lactating, and nonpregnant women
• Vaccines: COVID-19 Vaccine mRNABNT162b2 Elicits Human Antibody Response in Milk of Breastfeeding Women
• JAMA Pediatrics: Association of Human Milk Antibody Induction, Persistence, and Neutralizing Capacity With SARS-CoV-2 Infection vs mRNA Vaccination

I’m worried that pharmaceutical companies rushed the production of the vaccine for financial gain. Why should I trust them that the vaccine is safe?

The COVID-19 vaccine was developed quickly, but the clinical trials to examine the safety and efficacy were not rushed. Vaccine development and testing often takes years because there is a lot of bureaucratic and administrative hurdles that often take a long time. Due to the pressing public need, these administrative blocks were minimized without compromising the many months needed to conduct thorough testing. And while companies do make money off of vaccines, they are often the least profitable product in comparison to other drugs like Viagra.

We understand that it can be difficult to trust pharmaceutical companies, especially considering their role in the current opioid crisis. However, the vaccine still has no individual cost to you and is an important measure in protecting the health of you and your child, just like taking prenatal supplements and wellness checks.

There is so much conflicting information out there about vaccine safety. How can I tell what’s accurate?

There has been so much conflicting information online, especially in the media. We recommend following traditional misinformation debunking techniques:

1. First, identify the source of the information you are seeing. Is it a reputable source? Is the source from a well-established, scientifically credible organization such as the CDC, American College of Obstetrics & Gynecology or the, Society for Maternal and Fetal Medicine etc. If the source is an individual, what are their credentials? If it's difficult to assess, always feel free to ask your OB provider.  They are on your care team and happy to help you find accurate and trusted information about the COVID-19 vaccine.
2. Find coverage on the topic from multiple sources. What do multiple experts, outlets, and organizations say about the topic?
On this page, we have referenced all of our answers with scientific studies and recommendations from highly credible medical societies. Thousands of pregnant and breastfeeding individuals have contributed to these studies.

My community has been subject to racism in the health care system. How can I trust the medical establishment's recommendation to get the COVID-19 vaccine in light of historically unethical practices such as experimentation on Black, Latinx, Indigenous and Asian American communities in the US?

Racism in medicine is a grave injustice and failure to support the health of the communities we are meant to serve. We recognize your very valid concerns about the COVID-19 vaccine given your lived experiences with racism with the medical establishment and healthcare providers. We are worried about the disproportionately high rates of COVID-19, associated suffering and death amongst communities of color. We hope that by increasing vaccination rates, especially amongst pregnant individuals, this will protect the health of you and your babies. We hope that you will connect with trusted family members, community leaders and healthcare providers to learn more about their experiences with the COVID-19 vaccine. We highly recommend getting vaccinated against COVID-19 in pregnancy to protect the health of yourself and your baby.

Risks of COVID-19 Disease While Pregnant
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Can the virus that causes COVID-19 be transferred from mother to baby in pregnancy?

Yes. In a study of 3,750 infants born to pregnant individuals with COVID-19, 8.1% of newborns tested positive for COVID-19.

Source:
CDC: COVID Data Tracker

What are my risks of COVID-19 in pregnancy or soon after delivery?

Pregnant or recently pregnant individuals acquiring COVID-19 have a much higher risks of dying, being hospitalized, needing a breathing tube, and having a preterm birth or stillbirth. In a short time, 15 pregnant women died of COVID-19 in Mississippi alone and 8 of those deaths occurred in a few months during a Delta variant peak in 2021. Being overweight at the start of a pregnancy or having diabetes further increases these risks. Overall, pregnant individuals with COVID-19 are 22 times more likely to die in pregnancy compared to uninfected pregnant people.

When pregnant individuals become ill with COVID-19 and need a ventilator, one way to improve their breathing is by delivering the baby. This means that delivering a baby prematurely (weeks or months too early) could help the pregnant person survive, but at the expense of the baby’s health. One study found that unvaccinated pregnant individuals with COVID-19 had a 59% higher rate of preterm birth compared to those without COVID-19. Preterm birth is harmful for your baby and can lead to serious complications including developmental and physical disabilities, long NICU stays, and even fetal death.

Sources:
• CDC: COVID-19 Vaccination for Pregnant People to Prevent Serious Illness, Deaths, and Adverse Pregnancy Outcomes from COVID-19
• WJTV: 72 unborn babies, 15 pregnant women have died due to COVID-19 in Mississippi
CDC: People with Certain Medical Conditions
• JAMA Pediatrics: Maternal and Neonatal Morbidity and Mortality Among Pregnant Women With and Without COVID-19 Infection

Does the COVID-19 disease cause stillbirth?

Yes. When pregnant people become ill with COVID-19,damage can occur to the placenta. Pregnant people with COVID-19 disease had double the risk of stillbirth with the early SARS-CoV-2 variants. The Delta variant has been linked with a 4x higher risk of stillbirth. High levels of virus have been found in a stillborn fetus in several cases after the mother had COVID-19.

Vaccine Recommendations
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What is the best time in pregnancy to get the vaccine?

Any time, and the sooner the better! It is safe for you and your baby to receive the COVID-19 vaccine at any stage in pregnancy. Given the risks of COVID-19 in pregnancy and complications for your health and your baby’s health, the sooner you can get vaccinated, the more protected you both will be.

What are the current recommendations regarding the Johnson & Johnson vaccine?

The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) is recommending people 18 and older choose to receive an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine (Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna) instead of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine. This update follows guidance and recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) and the Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup. Individuals who wish to receive the J&J vaccine are encouraged to reach out to their health care provider to discuss their options as J&J will still be available.

The preferential recommendation follows new data presented to the ACIP about thrombosis and thrombocytopenia syndrome, or TTS. TTS is a rare but serious condition involving blood clots and a low blood platelet count seen in some people who received the J&J vaccine. However, the risk is rare. Nationwide, 54 cases of TTS, including nine confirmed deaths, have been reported, which is a fraction of a percent of the 14 million doses of J&J given overall. While TTS has been seen in both men and women, the most at-risk group is women 30through 49. People who received the J&J vaccine who develop severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain, or shortness of breath within three weeks after vaccination should contact their health care provider.

With this recommendation, COVID-19 vaccines based on mRNA are preferred over J&J vaccine, but J&J continues to be an option for those who aren’t able to receive mRNA vaccine.

How Do the Vaccines Work?
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How do COVID-19 mRNA vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) work?

All of the COVID-19 vaccines “train” the immune system to identify, attack and destroy a tiny piece of the virus. This is how your immune system “learns the enemy” and can then quickly respond and bring in waves of immune cells to defeat the real virus in the future.

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines work by introducing messenger RNA (mRNA) into muscle cells. The cells make lots of copies of the COVID-19 spike protein, which triggers the body to make a protective immune response. The mRNA is quickly degraded, because the cell breaks it up into small harmless pieces after a few days. mRNA is very fragile, which is one reason the Pfizer vaccine needs to be kept in very cold freezers. There is no “live virus” in the COVID-19 vaccine or any other harmful ingredients, thus making the COVID-19 vaccine safe for pregnant and breastfeeding individuals.

Source: CDC: Understanding mRNA COVID-19 Vaccines

Variants, Boosters, and Prior COVID-19 Infection
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I had COVID-19.  Do I still need the vaccine?

Yes. Compared to natural infection, the vaccine triggers the body to make powerful protective antibodies, which are successfully transferred to fetuses during pregnancy. Many people have become sick with COVID-19 more than once, which is likely the case due to the weaker immune response that comes from natural infections.

What if I am vaccinated and get a breakthrough COVID-19 infection in pregnancy?

Your disease is likely to be very mild and in some cases, people have no symptoms at all with a breakthrough infection. This means that your vaccine worked – it prevented a severe disease that could have killed you or caused a bad outcome in pregnancy. In studies of pregnant people hospitalized with COVID-19, 97% were unvaccinated.

Source: CDC: COVID-19 Vaccination for Pregnant People to Prevent Serious Illness, Deaths, and Adverse Pregnancy Outcomes from COVID-19

Am I eligible for and should I get a COVID-19 booster?

Yes. The COVID-19 booster shot is recommended in pregnancy. If you are 5 months out from your second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines and are pregnant, you are due for your booster shot. If you are 2 months out from your Johnson & Johnson vaccine, you are due for your booster vaccine. You can receive your COVID-19 booster at any stage in pregnancy. This will help give your immune system an extra memory booster to continue protecting you and your baby against exposure to COVID-19.  Receiving a COVID-19 booster vaccine when you are eligible is extremely important in protecting you and your baby from severe disease.

Sources:
• The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: Coronavirus (COVID-19), Pregnancy, and Breastfeeding: A Message for Patients
• Society for Maternal Fetal Medicine (SMFM): Provider Considerations for Engaging in COVID-19 Vaccine CounselingWith Pregnant and Lactating Patients
• American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM): Patient Management and Clinical Recommendations During The Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic

Which COVID-19 booster should I get?

The CDC is recommending that an individual should get any of the current COVID-19 vaccine boosters that are currently available.  The timing of boosters and which booster to obtain continues to change and evolve.  Please check the latest information on boosters from the CDC.

Sources:
• CDC: COVID-19 Booster Shots , Comparative Effectiveness of Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech, and Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) Vaccines in Preventing COVID-19 Hospitalizations Among Adults Without Immunocompromising Conditions
• medRxiv: Heterologous SARS-CoV-2 Booster Vaccinations - Preliminary Report

What do we know about the new COVID-19 virus variants and pregnancy outcomes?

Every few months it seems that we are confronted with a new COVID-19 virus variant.  In the case of the Delta variant, pregnant people acquiring this COVID-19 variant were reported to have a 2-4 times higher risk of severe disease, preterm birth and needing to be placed on a ventilator.  Whether new COVID-19 variants will cause more or less infections and severe disease in pregnancy will take time to figure out.  As pregnant individuals are one of the highest risk groups for severe COVID-19 disease and death, it is extremely important to get vaccinated, receive a COVID-19 vaccine booster when eligible, stay careful with masking, social distancing and keeping your “bubble” small.

Menstrual Periods and Fertility
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Is there a link between the COVID-19 vaccine and changes in periods?

This is being studied, but appears to be rare.  Period changes might occur in far less than 1% of individuals and are short-lived. In the United Kingdom, out of more than 49.1 million women who have been vaccinated there were 41,332 reports of possible menstrual cycle changes (0.0008%). 
A normal period can vary widely from person to person and month to month. Exercise, diet and even stress can change a period, as well as lots of medications including birth control. Several studies in different countries indicate that the psychological stress of the pandemic has increased the irregularity of women’s periods. In a study of 127 women with the COVID-19 disease, 16% noticed changes in their menstrual cycle, which most commonly was reported as an irregular period. Interestingly, women reporting more COVID-19 symptoms were more likely to have an abnormal period. In summary, it appears that irregular periods are commonly reported after COVID-19 disease (16%), especially when women are ill, and rare after COVID-19 vaccination (<1%). More research is still being done on this topic.

Sources:
• National Institute of Child Health and Development (NICHD): NIH funds studies to assess potential effects of COVID-19 vaccination on menstruation
• American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology (AJOG): SARS-CoV-2 infection and subsequent changes in the menstrual cycle among participants in the Arizona CoVHORT study
• Frontiers in Endocrinology: The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Women’s Reproductive Health
• The Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Research: The impact of COVID-19-related mental health issues on menstrual cycle characteristics of female healthcare providers
• The Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology: Triangle of COVID, anxiety and menstrual cycle

Can COVID-19 disease harm male fertility or his sex life?  

Yes. There are many studies now supporting that COVID-19 disease can temporarily harm a man’s fertility or permanently harm a man’s ability to have an erection. After reviewing research databases, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine said, "No evidence of any connection between COVID-19 vaccines and male infertility was found, but there were 50 reviews, 17 commentaries/letters to editors and nine original articles on how COVID-19 disease could possibly impact male fertility." We have listed some of the ways that COVID-19 disease can do this below:
1. Temporary decrease in sperm count and quality: A severe illness (of any kind) is known to lower sperm counts in men for 3-6 months, as having a fever during a severe illness disrupts the process of making sperm. Therefore, it is not surprising that men who have had COVID-19 disease have been reported to have lowered sperm count and quality. In general, changes in sperm count due to an infection are typically short-term and recover after 3 months of time. Longer term studies of sperm count and quality in men recovering from COVID-19 are needed.
2. Testicle swelling and pain. Several studies indicate that about 10-22% of men with COVID-19 disease will experience swelling of the testicles and pain, possibly due to a direct infection of the testes.
3. Erectile dysfunction. COVID-19 is known to injure blood vessels in many organs including the lungs, heart and brain leading to higher rates of heart attack and stroke. A penile erection depends on strong blood flow into the penis and healthy veins as well as, testosterone. There are many reports and studies of men losing their ability to have an erection after COVID-19 disease, which may be due to blood vessel damage, lower testosterone and/or psychological distress. How frequently this might occur is unknown.

Sources:
• First International Journal of Andrology: Impaired semen parameters in patients with confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection: A prospective cohort study
• Canadian Urological Association Journal: Effect of SARS-CoV-2 infection on semen parameters
• The World Journal of Men's Health: Evaluation of SARS-CoV-2 in Human Semen and Effect on Total Sperm Number: A Prospective Observational Study

Is there a link between COVID-19 vaccination and infertility?  

No. Thousands of women have become pregnant after receiving one or more COVID-19 vaccines. More than 4,800 people had a positive pregnancy test after receiving a first dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. Another report documents more than 1,000 people becoming pregnant after receiving any COVID-19 vaccine. Medical societies that serve women who would like to become pregnant have overwhelmingly recommended that people thinking about becoming pregnant get the vaccine. Studies that included patients undergoing fertility treatments who also received the COVID-19 vaccine found that there were no problems with implantation or early pregnancy development.

In addition, there is no link to male infertility after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. In fact, sperm count and quality has been studied in men before and after COVID-19 vaccination. Not only were there no harmful effects found, but sperm counts were also actually higher after vaccination. This was within normal individual variation and not thought to be due to the vaccination.

Sources:
• The New England Journal of Medicine: Preliminary Findings of mRNA Covid-19 Vaccine Safety in Pregnant Persons
COVID-19 Vaccination Coverage Among Pregnant Women During Pregnancy — Eight Integrated Health Care Organizations
• The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: COVID-19 Vaccination Considerations for Obstetric–Gynecologic Care
• American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM): Patient Management and Clinical Recommendations During the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic
• American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM): Joint Statement Regarding COVID-19 Vaccine in Men Desiring Fertility from the Society for Male Reproduction and Urology (SMRU) and the Society for the Study of Male Reproduction (SSMR)
• JAMA Network: Sperm Parameters Before and After COVID-19 mRNA Vaccination(SSMR)
• JAMA Network: Sperm Parameters Before and After COVID-19 mRNA Vaccination