Pregnancy, breastfeeding and the coronavirus vaccine

Coronavirus and pregnancy

The risk to pregnant women and newborn babies following coronavirus (COVID-19) infection is generally low. However, in later pregnancy, some women may become seriously unwell and need hospital treatment. Pregnant women with coronavirus have a higher risk of being admitted to intensive than women of the same age who are not pregnant.

Recent data in the UK shows that almost all pregnant women admitted to hospital with coronavirus with symptoms were unvaccinated.

Pregnant women are more likely to have severe coronavirus infection if they:

  • have underlying health conditions (for example diabetes, high blood pressure or asthma)
  • are overweight
  • are of Black and Asian Minority Ethnic background
  • are aged 35 years or over
  • are in their third trimester of pregnancy (over 28 weeks)

If you’re pregnant and get coronavirus with symptoms, it is twice as likely that your baby will be born early.

Coronavirus vaccines and pregnancy

Coronavirus vaccines are recommended in pregnancy. Vaccination is the best way to protect against the known risks of coronavirus in pregnancy for both women and babies, including admission of pregnant women to intensive care and premature birth of the baby. You and your unborn baby cannot catch coronavirus from the vaccines.

The coronavirus vaccines available in the UK have been shown to be effective and safe in the non-pregnant population.

Over 51,000 pregnant women in England and 4,000 in Scotland have received a vaccine.

Over 130,000 pregnant women from diverse ethnic backgrounds in the USA have received either a Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, with no evidence of harm being identified.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has advised that all pregnant women should be offered the coronavirus vaccine at the same time as people of the same age or risk group. This means you could be invited to have the coronavirus vaccine at any stage of your pregnancy, depending on when you become eligible.

The coronavirus vaccine can be given at any stage during pregnancy. However, as coronavirus has more serious complications in later pregnancy, it’s best to have both doses of the vaccine before your third trimester.

Please read information about the risks and benefits of coronavirus vaccination from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists before attending your appointment.

If you have further questions, please speak to your clinician.

How many doses will I be offered?

For most people, the coronavirus vaccine will be given in two doses.

Some people will be invited for an additional dose if they are at higher risk of coronavirus infection.

Find out if you are eligible for a booster dose or a third dose.

What vaccine will I be offered?

The Pfizer/ BioNTech and Moderna coronavirus vaccines are the preferred vaccines for pregnant women, because of more extensive use in pregnancy.

If you are under 18 you will be offered the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

Pregnant women who received a first dose of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine safely are advised to complete the course with the same vaccine.

Having all the recommended doses of the vaccine is important for longer-term protection against coronavirus.

Breastfeeding advice

The benefits of breastfeeding are well known, and the coronavirus vaccines are not thought to be a risk when breastfeeding. There is no evidence that anything other than antibodies passes into your breast milk. These antibodies are not harmful to your baby, and may give some protection against coronavirus.

In line with recommendations from the World Health Organization (WHO), the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has advised that any suitable coronavirus vaccine can be given to women who are breastfeeding.

The vaccine you will be offered will be clinically appropriate for you and will follow JCVI recommendations.

If you are breastfeeding, or planning to breastfeed, you can get the coronavirus vaccine. You should not stop breastfeeding to be vaccinated against coronavirus. You can continue breastfeeding as normal after vaccination.

There is no evidence to suggest that the coronavirus vaccines will affect fertility in women or men. You do not need to avoid pregnancy after receiving the coronavirus vaccination.

Fertility treatment

The British Fertility Society recommend that you do not need to delay your fertility treatment after having a coronavirus vaccine. You may decide to delay your fertility treatment if you wanted to be protected against coronavirus before you were pregnant.

The chance of successful treatment is unlikely to be affected by a short delay, for example of up to 6 months, particularly if you are 37 years of age or younger. However, delays of several months may affect your chance of success once you are over 37 and especially if you are aged 40 or older.

You may wish to consider the timing of having a coronavirus vaccine during your fertility treatment, taking into account that some people may get side effects in the few days after vaccination that they do not want to have during treatment. These include tenderness at the injection site, fever, headache, muscle ache or feeling tired.

It may be sensible to separate the date of vaccination by a few days from some treatment procedures (for example, egg collection in IVF), so that any symptoms, such as fever, might be attributed correctly to the vaccine or the treatment procedure. Your medical team will be able to advise you about the best time for your situation.

Other vaccines during pregnancy

Whooping cough vaccine

Pregnant women are strongly advised to get the whooping cough vaccine. This will protect you and your baby against whooping cough.

You can have the whooping cough vaccine between 16 and 32 weeks. It’s best to have the vaccine as soon as you can after week 16 of your pregnancy.

Find out more about the whooping cough vaccine in pregnancy

Flu vaccine

If you’re pregnant during the flu season (October to March) then you should have the flu vaccine as early as you can during pregnancy.

The vaccine helps protect you and your developing baby against flu during your pregnancy and for at least three months after birth.

Find out more about the flu vaccine in pregnancy

Further information

Make sure you know as much as you can about the coronavirus vaccines and the risk of coronavirus in pregnancy.

If you have any questions about the risks and benefits of vaccination you should discuss these with your clinician.

Further information is available in the Public Health Scotland information leaflet and from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.