COVID-19 is affecting all our lives and there are a lot of changes we all need to get used to. If you are pregnant or you have just given birth, this can be a particularly worrying time as Ali, new mum to Nina explains.
“When you become a mummy you learn strengths you didn’t know you had, you deal with fears you didn’t know existed and you make decisions you never knew you would have to. Throw in a global pandemic, and you find yourself adding to the list of fears and decisions! Decisions about your birth plan, who can see the baby when it is born (if anyone), is it safe for family to hold them, what about if you get sick and do you get the COVID-19 vaccine when offered?
“Welcoming my daughter Nina into a world during the pandemic was utterly terrifying. She arrived in early August and she was my sunshine on the bad days and I hoped for a brighter world for her. I would do anything to protect her.
“I breastfed my firstborn Jack who is now two for a year and hoped that second time around it would be an easier journey. The idea of my breastmilk protecting her and building her immunity had never been more important.
“We had to stay in hospital for a few nights after her birth and that allowed us to get to grips with the feeding. She was a natural and I definitely had more confidence second time around. Working in healthcare, I was well informed about the benefits of breastfeeding for both mum and baby. For me it was never a question.
“Breastfeeding through a pandemic however has its own challenges. Trying to find somewhere to sit when park benches and coffee shops are closed wasn’t easy. But the slower days, the time in the house and no pressure to be anywhere was quite liberating. Eight months on we are still going strong and I see no end in sight this time around.
“Making the decision to get the vaccine whilst breastfeeding was a relatively easy for me. I remember watching the TV, Nina in my arms, and hearing that a vaccine had been approved. It really was an emotional day.
“I am a nurse at the Ulster Hospital and during the short time I worked through the pandemic it was a scary time. Fearing for the cases we may come across in our patients and also fearful for my own family.
“I did my research and the JCVI state it is safe for breastfeeding mothers to receive the vaccine. I felt it was the only way out of the pandemic. It was the only way I could safely see family and it was the only way I could safely return to work.
“Never did it cross my mind to stop breastfeeding in order to get the vaccine. The benefits of continued breastfeeding far outweighed any concerns I had.
“I feel so lucky to be returning to work vaccinated, protecting me, my family, my colleagues and patients. The vaccination program is hopefully slowly bringing us all back to some kind of normality and I look forward to that.”
Dr Alison Little, Consultant Midwife at the Public Health Agency, said: “Pregnancy and having a new baby can be a wonderful experience, but it can also come with many worries. Given the current challenging situation and making the decision to take up the offer of the COVID-19 vaccine can add to those worries.
“It’s positive news that the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has advised that you should not stop breastfeeding in order to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Breastfeeding women should be encouraged by this news and take up the offer of vaccine when eligible.
“The JCVI has also stated that COVID-19 vaccines should be offered to pregnant women at the same time as the rest of the population, based on their age and clinical risk group. Coronavirus can affect anyone and receiving the COVID-19 vaccination is the best way to keep you, your friends and family safe.”
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists have produced a decision aid tool which is available at www.rcog.org.uk/globalassets/documents/guidelines/2021-02-24-combined-info-sheet-and-decision-aid.pdf. If a woman has any further queries they should discuss the vaccine with their midwife or GP.
For further information on the COVID-19 vaccination programme see pha.site/vaccineinformation or www.rcm.org.uk/guidance-for-pregnant-women
To find out more about breastfeeding visit www.breastfedbabies.org.