If you are considering pregnancy, are currently pregnant, or have recently given birth, we understand your health and the health of your baby are paramount. We couldn't agree more. Our goal is to help you have a happy, healthy pregnancy and delivery. Over the past 18 months, there have been many questions surrounding COVID-19 and how it will affect your unborn child. More recently, questions have turned towards whether it is safe to get the vaccine if you are considering pregnancy, are pregnant, or breastfeeding. In addition to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine, and the CDC all recommend COVID-19 vaccines in pregnancy.
Recently, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists (ACOG) has provided comprehensive information relating to this topic that we feel is important to share with you.
How does COVID-19 affect pregnant women?Researchers are still learning how COVID-19 affects pregnant and recently pregnant women. Current reports suggest that pregnant and recently pregnant women have a higher risk for more severe illness from COVID-19 than nonpregnant women. Reports note that:
- Pregnant women who have COVID-19 and show symptoms are more likely than nonpregnant women with COVID-19 and symptoms to need care in an intensive care unit (ICU), to need a ventilator (for breathing support), or to die from the illness. Still, the overall risk of severe illness and death for pregnant women is low.
- Pregnant and recently pregnant women with some health conditions, such as obesity and gestational diabetes, may have an even higher risk of severe illness, similar to nonpregnant women with these conditions.
- Pregnant women who are Black or Hispanic have a higher rate of illness and death from COVID-19 than other pregnant women, but not because of biology. Black and Hispanic women are more likely to face social, health, and economic inequities that put them at greater risk of illness. To learn more about these inequities, see this page from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
How does COVID-19 affect a fetus?
Remember that researchers are learning more about COVID-19 all the time. Some researchers are looking specifically at COVID-19 and its possible effects on a fetus. Here’s what they know now:
- Researchers have found a few cases of COVID-19 that may have passed to a fetus during pregnancy, but this seems to be rare.
- Researchers have studied COVID-19 infection, preterm birth, and stillbirth. Some studies suggest there may be an increased risk of preterm birth and stillbirth for women with COVID-19. Other studies have not found this to be true. But information is still limited. Researchers are continuing to study these outcomes to better understand the effects of COVID-19 before birth.
After birth, a newborn can get the virus if they are exposed to it.
Should I get the COVID-19 vaccine if I am considering getting pregnant, pregnant, or breastfeeding?
The short answer is YES!
1. If you are considering getting pregnant: Yes, if you are planning or trying to get pregnant, you should get a COVID-19 vaccine. There is no evidence that the COVID-19 vaccines cause infertility. You also do not need to delay getting pregnant after you get a vaccine.
Some COVID-19 vaccines will require two doses. If you find out you are pregnant after you have the first dose, you should still get the second dose.
2. If you are pregnant: ACOG recommends that all pregnant women be vaccinated. Getting a vaccine could help both you and your unborn baby. Vaccines have proven very effective at preventing COVID-19 infection, severe illness, and death.
3. If you are breastfeeding: Yes, ACOG recommends that breastfeeding women get a COVID-19 vaccine. There is no need to stop breastfeeding if you want to get a vaccine. When you get vaccinated, the antibodies made by your body may be passed through breastmilk and may help protect your child from the virus.
What are the differences between the vaccines?
Two vaccines require two shots (Pfizer and Moderna), and one vaccine requires only one shot (Johnson & Johnson). All available COVID-19 vaccines are proven to be safe and highly effective. Pregnant and nonpregnant people can choose to get any of the available vaccines. Learn more from the CDC about the different vaccines.
- What should I know about the safety of the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine?
The Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective. All vaccines have gone through intense safety studies and health officials continue to track their safety.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine does have potential risks, but they are very rare. The vaccine has been linked to two rare health conditions:
- A condition involving blood clots and other symptoms. Most cases of these blood clots have been reported in women under age 50. Learn more from the CDC.
- Guillain-Barré syndrome, an immune system disorder that affects the nervous system.
These conditions have only been reported in a few people out of every million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine that have been given. Scientists reviewed these reports and decided that the benefits of the vaccine are greater than these risks.
If you are offered the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, you should be aware of the potential risks of these rare health conditions. If you choose not to receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, you can receive another available vaccine.
- If I decide to get a COVID-19 vaccine, what should I expect? It is common to feel side effects after getting a COVID-19 vaccine. There are different types of COVID-19 vaccines that have varying side effects. Side effects also vary from person to person. Some vaccines may make you feel like you have the flu for a few days. This is normal.
If you have a fever or other side effects after getting the vaccine, you can take acetaminophen, an over-the-counter medication that is safe during pregnancy. If you are worried about your side effects or they last more than a few days, talk with your ob-gyn or other health care professional.
- I have heard rumors about how the COVID-19 vaccines can affect my body. What is the truth? The vaccines that have been approved so far work in different ways, and all of them are proven to be safe. It is important to know that:
- The vaccines cannot give you COVID-19. None of the vaccines use the live virus that causes COVID-19.
- The vaccines do not affect your genes or DNA.
- There is no evidence that the COVID-19 vaccines cause infertility. ACOG recommends vaccination for anyone who may consider getting pregnant in the future.
Visit the CDC’s website for the latest information on COVID-19 vaccines.
What should pregnant and recently pregnant women do to avoid the coronavirus?Pregnant and recently pregnant women should take steps to stay healthy, including:
- getting a COVID-19 vaccine (see vaccine information above)
- following guidelines from health officials for when to wear a mask and take other steps to prevent infection
- keeping your prenatal and postpartum care visits
- talking with an ob-gyn or other health care professional if you have any questions about your health or COVID-19
- calling 911 or going to the hospital right away if you need emergency health care
Pregnant women who are fully vaccinated can follow the same guidelines as nonpregnant people who are fully vaccinated. You are fully vaccinated 2 weeks after the second dose of a two-dose vaccine, or 2 weeks after a single-dose vaccine.
Pregnant and recently pregnant women may choose to keep wearing a mask even when fully vaccinated. Masks are most important for people at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19.
The CDC says that all fully vaccinated people should still wear masks in some cases, including:
- in certain places like health care settings, schools, airports, and public transit
- when required by law or by guidelines from businesses or workplaces
Mask recommendations may change in your area as rates of COVID-19 infection change. Follow current recommendations from the CDC and your state or local government.
If you are pregnant or recently pregnant and not fully vaccinated, it is very important that you keep taking all recommended steps to prevent infection, including:
- wearing a mask or cloth face-covering in public and any other needed protection while at work
- limiting contact with other people as much as possible
- staying at least 6 feet away from other people and avoiding crowds if you need to go out
- avoiding contact with other people in places that do not offer fresh air from the outdoors (open windows and doors when possible)
- washing hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
- cleaning hands with a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol if you can’t wash them (rub until your hands feel dry)
- avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth
- having a good stock of essential supplies, including at least 30 days of any medications (so you don’t have to go out as often)
Why are face-coverings important?
Face coverings are recommended because studies have shown that people can spread the virus before showing any symptoms. People who are fully vaccinated still need to wear a mask in certain places. You are fully vaccinated 2 weeks after the second dose of a two-dose vaccine, or 2 weeks after a single-dose vaccine. See the CDC's latest recommendations on face coverings.
If you are not fully vaccinated, wearing a cloth face covering or mask in public is very important. It is especially important in places where you may not be able to stay 6 feet away from other people, like a grocery store or pharmacy. It also is especially important in parts of the country where COVID-19 is spreading quickly. But you should still try to stay at least 6 feet away from others whenever you leave home.
If you have COVID-19 or think you may have it, you should wear a mask while you are around other people. You also should wear a mask if you are taking care of someone who has COVID-19 or has symptoms. You do not need to wear a surgical mask or medical-grade mask (N95 mask).
How will COVID-19 affect prenatal and postpartum care visits?
It is important to keep your prenatal and postpartum care visits. Call your ob-gyn or other health care professional to ask how your visits may be changed. Some women may have fewer or more spaced-out in-person visits. You also may talk more with your health care team over the phone or through an online video call. This is called telemedicine or telehealth. It is a good way for you to get the care you need while preventing the spread of disease.
If you have a visit scheduled, your care team’s office may call you ahead of time. They may tell you about telemedicine or make sure you do not have symptoms of COVID-19 if you are going into the office. You also can call them before your visits if you do not hear from them.
Should I keep up with my health screenings, vaccines, and other health care while COVID-19 is spreading?
Yes, it is important to continue getting the health care you need to stay healthy, even while COVID-19 is spreading. Most pregnant and recently pregnant women who are due for screenings, tests, vaccines, or other care from any health care professionals can go ahead with these appointments, with appropriate safety measures in place at the health care office.
You should call the office before your appointment to ask what precautions they are taking, including mask and support-person policies. You also can ask if telehealth is an option for your appointment. If you have an in-person visit, it is important to wear a cloth face covering or mask, stay at least 6 feet away from other people when possible, and keep your hands clean. Talk with your ob-gyn if you have questions about how to stay safe.
Resources for You
We encourage you to read the entire article from the American Council of Obstetrics and Gynecologists containing everything you need to know from the time you are considering pregnancy to postpartum care.
Request an appointment with Voyage Healthcare to receive your COVID-19 vaccine!