As an OB/GYN physician, my patients ask me many questions about how to protect the health of their pregnancy. It is common to have discussions in the office about what medications are safe, what environmental exposures they should avoid, and what is required for a safe delivery. Over the last year, patients have had to ask another list of questions about the effects of COVID-19 on their pregnancy. And although the answers are still evolving, we are gaining more information each day about the virus’ effect on mom and baby.
When it comes to COVID-19, we know that pregnancy is classified as a high-risk condition by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This means that pregnant women are more likely to get severely ill (hospitalized, admitted to ICU, and intubated) from diseases or other viruses, including COVID-19 compared to non-pregnant women. Due to this risk, it is important that we protect pregnant women from getting the virus. Protective measures include masking, physical distancing, and vaccination.
Is Vaccination Safe in Pregnancy?
Currently, there are vaccine studies underway enrolling pregnant patients. Research has shown that pregnant and lactating women that receive the vaccination produce a comparable immune response to nonpregnant people. Also, COVID-19 antibodies have been detected in the umbilical cord blood and breastmilk after maternal vaccination.
We are gathering data from a “V-Safe Pregnancy Registry” about outcomes from women vaccinated during pregnancy. As of May 17, 2021, over 4,900 pregnant people have enrolled. To date, there have been no safety concerns and side effects were similar in the pregnant and nonpregnant populations. Vaccinated pregnant people did not have an increased risk of miscarriage, preterm labor, stillbirth or congenital anomalies. This data is very reassuring, and we encourage all patients vaccinated in pregnancy to join the registry. (vsafe.cdc.gov)
Making an Informed Decision
The American Congress of OB/GYN (ACOG) and the Society for Maternal Fetal Medicine (SMFM) both recommend giving pregnant women access to the COVID-19 vaccine. Also, The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine states that the vaccine does not affect the safety of breastmilk and thus supports vaccination for lactating people.
Pregnant people should make a shared decision with their OB/GYN provider after discussing the risks and benefits of COVID-19 vaccines in pregnancy. They should also be supported if they choose not to get vaccinated and special emphasis should then be placed on interventions that are safe and proven to work – handwashing, masking and physical distancing.
Improved vaccination rates are key to us returning to life as normal. If you are pregnant, considering pregnancy or breastfeeding, talk to your doctor about getting the COVID-19 vaccine.