Can you breastfeed while your child is getting their vaccines?
How to Breastfeed Your Child During Vaccinations
While the smallpox vaccine and yellow fever vaccine are contraindicated for moms who are breastfeeding, there are no contraindications on vaccinating kids while they are breastfeeding.
Why breastfeed while your kids are getting their vaccines?
While some moms just breastfeed immediately afterwards, others understand that breastfeeding at the same time as the shots are being given can help decrease any pain associated with getting those vaccines even more.
“If you are breastfeeding, feed your baby before, during and after immunization. The physical closeness and familiar taste of breast milk will calm your baby. Breastfeeding during immunization is safe for babies, even newborns. There is no evidence that babies will choke or associate their mothers with pain.”
Tips For Parents For A Positive Immunization Experience
Will it make it harder for health professionals to hold your child while the shots are being given? Not usually, especially if you help hold your child.
In general, infants should get the least painful vaccine first. And oral vaccines are typically given before shots. So they can get their Rotavirus vaccine before you begin breastfeeding and get prepared for the rest of their vaccines.
And while it might depend on the age and size of your child, in general, to breastfeed your child while they are getting their vaccinations, once everything is prepared and ready, you should:
hold your child on your lap, understanding that until age three years, most shots will be given in your child’s thighs, although toddlers can sometimes get them in their arms
once you have your child well positioned, have a good latch and have started nursing, make sure your child’s arm or leg remains exposed (wherever the shot will be going) and help hold your child securely so that they don’t move while getting their vaccines. For example, you might hold an arm or leg with your free hand and anchor their legs between your thighs or your other hand if possible
continue nursing after your child has gotten their vaccines, keeping in mind that you may have to switch positions if they are getting multiple shots
Also understand that it might not always be a good idea to nurse while getting vaccines. Is your baby a distracted eater? Is it going to be hard to hold your child while they are nursing and getting their shots? Does your health care provider not have experience giving vaccines to a child while they are breastfeeding? Does your health care provider have a lot of experience giving vaccines, and they think that giving them while you are nursing will just make the whole process take a lot longer?
“Breastfeeding moms may wish to breastfeed baby during vaccination or immediately after to lessen pain and stress.”
AAP on How can I comfort my baby during vaccinations?
In general though, especially as it is recommended by the WHO and the AAP, consider breastfeeding your child while they are getting their vaccines.
More On Breastfeeding Your Child During Vaccinations
The great majority of us understand all of those things, but there is still one thing about most vaccines that most of us don’t like.
Shots can hurt.
Fortunately, there are many things we can learn to do to reduce the pain and anxiety that can be associated with getting vaccines.
Making Shots Hurt Less
Did you know that you can also do things that make getting a shot more stressful than it has to be?
“A smile goes a long way, especially between parents and their children. Children often take their parents’ moods into account when experiencing the world around them. Hugs, cuddles, soft whispers, and a calm, reassuring attitude will help ease children through the vaccination process. Remain upbeat and relaxed before, during, and especially after shots. Let your child know everything is ok.”
CDC on 9 Things to Make Shots Less Stressful… For You and Your Baby
In addition to staying happy and calm, you can help your child by:
holding them, if possible, while they get their shots (why wouldn’t you be able to hold your child? If you don’t hold your child well, it will just prolong the whole thing and could lead to a needle getting batted away or a needle-stick injury…)
if nursing, breastfeed during the shots, or if that isn’t possible, right after the shots are given
considering the use of a numbing cream (they can give you a prescription if they don’t have any in the office, and just bring it to your next visit) if your child is really anxious about getting their shots
What’s the best way to help your child? It is probably to have someone that who is confident and has experience giving kids vaccines.
What should you avoid?
Don’t give your child a pain reliever before their shots. One study said that it might decrease the immune response to the vaccine, it probably won’t decrease the pain from the vaccine, and your child might not need it. Do give a pain or fever reliever afterwards if necessary though.
You also shouldn’t joke about taking your child to the doctor for a shot if they misbehave, or that the doctor is going to use a really big needle, etc.
What about commercial tools, like the Buzzy or Shot Blocker? While some people swear by them, they likely “work” as a sort of distraction.
What to Know About Making Shots Hurt Less
While needles and shots can be painful, there are ways to reduce the pain and anxiety that are associated with vaccines, so that your kids can get vaccinated and protected with minimal stress.
Extremely few people can’t get at least some, if not most, of their vaccines, even if they do have contraindications to some others. And many exemptions are temporary.
“Parents need to balance the need of the immunoreconstituted child (post-transplant SCID) to be protected from exposure to infection from live vaccines and close contact–transmitted vaccine-derived infection with the need of the child to integrate into society and develop social and learning skills in group environments.”
Medical Advisory Committee of the Immune Deficiency Foundation
They also try to avoid people who are sick and try to make sure that everyone around them is vaccinated to help maintain herd immunity levels of protection.
Neither is always possible though.
Post-exposure prophylaxis is another option that is available to help prevent some vaccine-preventable diseases. For example, if your unvaccinated child is exposed to measles, they can often receive immune globulin to help them avoid getting measles.
Regimens for post-exposure prophylaxis are also available for:
chicken pox – varicella zoster immune globulin or immune globulin
diphtheria – antibiotics
hepatitis A – immune globulin
hepatitis B – hepatitis B immune globulin
influenza – oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir
meningococcal disease – antibiotics
pertussis – antibiotics
rabies – rabies immune globulin
tetanus – tetanus immune globulin
When possible, immunization typically accompanies these post-exposure prophylaxis regimens.
There is one big problem with these types of post-exposure prophylaxis regimens though. You are not always going to know when your child is exposed to someone else with a vaccine-preventable disease. While some exposures might be obvious, like if your child steps on a rusty nail or is bitten by an unvaccinated dog who has rabies, you might miss some others.
Bogus Alternatives to Getting Vaccinated
What other alternatives to getting vaccinated are out there?
Unfortunately, there are none that work.
Many bogus alternatives to getting vaccinated are pushed by those opposed to vaccines as ways to boost your immunity, and they can include:
breastfeeding – while breastfeeding is great and always encouraged, the passive immunity it provides will not protect your baby from most vaccine-preventable diseases, as it contains IgA antibodies, not the IgG antibodies you would need to prevent diseases like measles, tetanus, chicken pox, and Hib, etc.
homeopathic vaccines – nosodes are homeopathic vaccines that have been diluted so much that they are supposed to retain a memory of the original substance. Even if they did – that’s not how immunology works.
herbs – neither echinacea, goldenseal root, nor elderberry syrup is going to boost your child’s immunity
vitamins – unless your child is severely vitamin deficient, taking vitamins isn’t going to boost their immunity, whether they are taking extra vitamin C or extra vitamin D
foods – Japanese mushrooms, kale, broccoli, lettuce, cabbage, avocados, ginger, black currants, graviola, green veggies, onion seeds, and berries might all be great to eat, but they aren’t going to boost your immunity
probiotics – they may help prevent antibiotic associated diarrhea, but there is not much evidence that taking them regularly does anything else
essential oils – they sometimes smell nice, but they aren’t going to boost your child’s immune system
sun exposure – in addition to the worries about skin cancer, not only does extra sun exposure not boost your immune system, the WHO reports that “Several studies have demonstrated that exposure to environmental levels of UV radiation alters the activity and distribution of some of the cells responsible for triggering immune responses in humans. Consequently, sun exposure may enhance the risk of infection with viral, bacterial, parasitic or fungal infections, which has been demonstrated in a variety of animal models.”
fermented cod liver oil – this is not going to boost your child’s immune system, but folks should also know that there have been reports that the products that people have been buying and using for years were rancid and actually making them sick! There are much better ways to get vitamin D and vitamin A in your diet than taking fermented cod liver oil each day.
What about natural immunity?
While natural immunity can in some ways be more effective than vaccine induced immunity, it often comes at a price. You have to recover from the disease, hopefully without any long term consequences, to develop natural immunity.
What to Know About Alternatives to Getting Vaccinated
People who truly can’t be vaccinated rely on herd immunity, because in most cases, there are no effective alternatives for vaccines.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends “exclusive breastfeeding for about 6 months, followed by continued breastfeeding as complementary foods are introduced, with continuation of breastfeeding for 1 year or longer as mutually desired by mother and infant.”
They do not recommend breastfeeding as a substitute for getting vaccinated.
They also don’t recommend that anyone stop breastfeeding after their children are vaccinated.
These are just some of the myths that you might hear about vaccines and breastfeeding.
Myths About Vaccines and Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding does provide some immunity against infectious diseases.
Unfortunately, this type of passive immunity won’t keep your child from getting diseases like measles, pertussis, or the flu. Breast milk, which is high in IgA antibodies, can help protect against gastrointestinal diseases and some respiratory infections though.
And that is where the myth about the “recommendation” to stop breastfeeding comes in…
Actually, it was never a recommendation by any major health organization.
It was not a recommendation by the AAP, CDC, or even the WHO.
“Live oral rotavirus vaccines have been less immunogenic and efficacious among children in poor developing countries compared with middle income and industrialized countries for reasons that are not yet completely understood. We assessed whether the neutralizing activity of breast milk could lower the titer of vaccine virus and explain this difference in vitro.”
Moon et al on Inhibitory Effect of Breast Milk on Infectivity of Live Oral Rotavirus Vaccines
And they simply suggested that nursing mothers delay breastfeeding for up to an hour after their baby was vaccinated with an oral rotavirus vaccine. Don’t skip a feeding. Don’t stop breastfeeding. Don’t switch to formula.
“Rotavirus is the most common cause of severe diarrhea in children less than 5 years of age. Rotavirus disease is responsible for an estimated 527,000 deaths per year worldwide, with >85% of these deaths occurring in low-income countries.”
Moon et al on Inhibitory Effect of Breast Milk on Infectivity of Live Oral Rotavirus Vaccines
Why did they talk about breastfeeding at all?
They were simply looking for a way to boost the effectiveness of rotavirus vaccines in these countries, where rotavirus disease is still a big killer.
Unfortunately, in addition to the whole theory being turned into more propaganda by the anti-vaccine movement, further studies have shown that it likely doesn’t even work.
“Breastfed infants should be vaccinated according to the recommended schedule ”
CDC on General Recommendations on Immunization
What are other myths about vaccines and breastfeeding?
that breastfeeding is a substitute for getting vaccinated – it’s not – vaccines are necessary, even if you are breastfeeding your child