Data shows that pregnant people who contract COVID-19 are at a higher risk than non-pregnant people for having a severe illness. “Viral infections that specifically affect the lungs, like COVID-19, can make it more difficult for pregnant women to breathe,” says Monica Lee-Griffith, M.D., an obstetrician with Henry Ford Health. “This is because of how the body changes during pregnancy, which leads to decreased lung volumes.”
COVID-19 may also cause pregnancy complications like miscarriage and pre-term delivery. For these reasons, since the beginning of the pandemic, pregnant people have been advised to take great caution to avoid COVID-19 exposure: wear a face mask in public, avoid large crowds, stay at least 6 feet away from anyone you don’t live with, and practice rigorous hand hygiene.
What We Know About The COVID-19 Vaccines and Pregnancy
But now, with the new COVID-19 vaccines, pregnant women will have another strong line of defense against the virus.
“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) believes the FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccines are likely safe for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, but not enough data exists yet, as pregnant women were not included in the vaccine trials,” says Dr. Lee-Griffith.
However, some pregnant women were inadvertently enrolled in the study who didn’t know they were pregnant at the time, and some women got pregnant soon after being involved in the study. These women are being tracked throughout their pregnancies, and there have been no reported problems at this time.
If you are pregnant and in a group that should be urgently vaccinated, like a frontline healthcare worker, the benefits of getting the COVID-19 vaccine likely outweigh the unknown risks. If you are unsure of whether to get vaccinated, it’s best, if possible, to have early and proactive conversations with your doctor or midwife.
Here, Dr. Lee-Griffith answers questions about the COVID-19 vaccine and pregnancy.
Q: Can the COVID-19 vaccine give you or your baby COVID-19?
A: No. “The FDA-approved Pfizer and Moderna vaccines do not contain a live virus, so they cannot give you COVID-19, nor can they give your baby COVID-19,” says Dr. Lee-Griffith. The vaccines work by making our bodies produce one single protein that causes our bodies to produce an immune response that prevents infection.
Q: Is it safer to get the vaccine during a certain trimester?
A: No. “If a pregnant patient wants to consider getting vaccinated, they can do so at any time during their pregnancy,” says Dr. Lee-Griffith. It’s also very unlikely that the vaccine even reaches the fetus—there’s only a small chance that the vaccine crosses into the placenta, she says, and if so, it is minimal.
Q: Can you get the COVID-19 vaccine while breastfeeding?
A: The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices says breastfeeding women may receive the vaccine. While breastfeeding people were not included in clinical trials, based upon what we know about other vaccines, there are no real concerns for breastfeeding patients, says Dr. Lee-Griffith.
It’s not known if the vaccine is passed through breast milk, but even if it is, there is no known harm to feeding an infant. (Live viral vaccines—measles, mumps and rubella vaccines—are routinely given to lactating women, and the COVID-19 vaccine does not even contain a live virus.)
Q: Can the vaccine lead to infertility?
A: No. “There is no plausible reason as to how it would affect fertility,” says Dr. Lee-Griffith. “It’s almost like saying the flu vaccine could affect fertility—I’m not aware of any vaccine that contributes to infertility.”
There is evidence, however, that contracting COVID-19 itself may affect fertility, so the virus may pose a greater risk to fertility than the vaccine.
Q: Are there any vaccine side effects that pregnant women can experience?
A: The COVID-19 vaccines can cause side effects in anyone who gets vaccinated, such as injection site pain in the arm, fever, muscle pain, chills and headache. If you’re pregnant and experience a fever, your doctor may advise you to take acetaminophen (such as Tylenol). Symptoms should go away after a day or two.
Monica Lee-Griffith, M.D, M.B.A,, is an obstetrician and gynecologist with Henry Ford Health. She sees patients at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.