Skip to main content

COVID-19 vaccines, pregnancy and breastfeeding

These Q&As were updated on 19 July 2021 and will be reviewed as new information and advice emerges. For general information on pregnancy and COVID-19 visit our main Q&A page.

Key messages

  • COVID-19 vaccines are recommended in pregnancy. Vaccination is the best way to protect against the known risks of COVID-19 in pregnancy for both women and babies, including admission of the woman to intensive care and premature birth of the baby
  • Women may wish to discuss the benefits and risks of having the vaccine with their healthcare professional and reach a joint decision based on individual circumstances. However, as for the non-pregnant population, pregnant women can receive a COVID-19 vaccine even if they have not had a discussion with a healthcare professional.
  • You should not stop breastfeeding in order to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
  • Women trying to become pregnant do not need to avoid pregnancy after vaccination and there is no evidence to suggest that COVID-19 vaccines will affect fertility.
  • Having a COVID-19 vaccine will not remove the requirement for employers to carry out a risk assessment for pregnant employees, which should follow the rules set out in this government guidance.
  • See our media statements in response to recent guidance updates on COVID-19 vaccination and pregnancy

Resources to help with decision making

Vaccination is recommended in pregnancy, but the decision whether to have the vaccine is your choice. You may find the following resources helpful:

Q. Which pregnant women are being offered a COVID-19 vaccine?

On 16 April 2021, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation advised that all pregnant women should be offered the COVID-19 vaccine at the same time as the rest of the population, in line with the age group roll out.

Previously their advice was that pregnant women at high risk of exposure to the virus or with high risk medical conditions should consider having a COVID-19 vaccine in pregnancy.

COVID-19 vaccines are recommended in pregnancy and all pregnant women in the UK over the age of 18 have now been offered a COVID-19 vaccine. The benefits and risks of COVID-19 vaccination in pregnancy should be considered on an individual basis.

Vaccination is the best way to protect against the known risks of COVID-19 in pregnancy for both women and babies, including admission to intensive care and premature birth.

The decision whether to have the vaccination in pregnancy is your choice. Make sure you understand as much as you can about COVID-19 and about the vaccine and you may want to discuss your options with a trusted source like your doctor or midwife.

Q. What is the advice on going to work if I am pregnant and have been vaccinated?

According to the government’s advice for pregnant employees, employers must carry out a risk assessment for pregnant employees taking into consideration the RCOG/RCM Guidance on Coronavirus in pregnancy. Employers are still required to carry out a risk assessment whether an employee has been vaccinated or not.

Q. Is COVID-19 vaccination safe and effective in pregnant women?

Robust real-world data from the United States – where over 130,000 pregnant women have been vaccinated mainly with mRNA vaccines, such as Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna – have not raised any safety concerns.

Therefore, the JCVI advises that it is preferable for the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna mRNA vaccines to be offered to pregnant women in the UK, where available.

Public Health Scotland have reported that 4,000 pregnant women have received a vaccine until May with no serious adverse effects recorded.

The large clinical trials which showed that COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective did not include pregnant women. As the COVID-19 vaccines were not tested in pregnant women, we cannot say for sure that they work as well in pregnant women as they do in other adults. However, there is no reason to think that the vaccines will not protect pregnant women effectively against COVID-19. Similarly, there is no reason to think that the vaccine will have worse side-effects in pregnant women.

COVID-19 vaccines do not contain ingredients that are known to be harmful to pregnant women or to a developing baby. Studies of the vaccines in animals to look at the effects on pregnancy have shown no evidence that the vaccine causes harm to the pregnancy or to fertility.

The COVID-19 vaccines that we are using in the UK are not ‘live’ vaccines and so cannot cause COVID-19 infection in you or your baby. Vaccines based on live viruses are avoided in pregnancy in case they infect the developing baby and cause harm. However, non-live vaccines have previously been shown to be safe in pregnancy (for example, flu and whooping cough). Pregnant women are offered other non-live vaccines, such as those against flu.

Q. What are the side effects from COVID vaccines?

In non-pregnant individuals, the COVID vaccines are known to have mild and short-lasting side effects, such as a fever or muscle ache lasting a day or two. Reports of serious side effects, such as allergic reaction or clotting problems, have been very rare.

Regarding serious blood clots, the JCVI has stated that "there are currently no known risk factors for this extremely rare condition, which appears to be an idiosyncratic reaction on first exposure to the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine". This means that someone is not necessarily at higher risk of this serious side effect just because they have a higher risk of other blood clots, for example because they are pregnant. Because this side effect is so rare, however, and has not been reported in any pregnant women, we can't know the exact risk in pregnancy.

This information on the AstraZeneca vaccine may be less relevant for pregnant women now that the JCVI recommends that the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines are offered in pregnancy, where available.

The government has also advised that individuals under the age of 40 should be offered an alternative vaccine to the AstraZeneca vaccine, based on the risk/benefit ratio for that age group.

Q. What are the benefits of vaccination in pregnancy?

COVID-19 vaccines are recommended in pregnancy. Vaccination is the best way to protect against the known risks of COVID-19 in pregnancy for both women and babies, including admission to intensive care and premature birth.

More than half of women who test positive for COVID-19 in pregnancy have no symptoms at all but some pregnant women can get life-threatening illness from COVID-19, particularly if they have underlying health conditions. In the later stages of pregnancy, women are at increased risk of becoming seriously unwell with COVID-19.

COVID-19 infection can also affect the pregnancy. In pregnant women with symptoms of COVID-19, it is twice as likely that their baby will be born early, exposing the baby to the risk of prematurity. A recent study has also found that pregnant women who tested positive for COVID-19 at the time of birth were more likely to develop pre-eclampsia, more likely to need an emergency caesarean and their risk of stillbirth was twice as high, although the actual number of stillbirths remains low.

The benefits of vaccination include:

  • reduction in severe disease for the pregnant woman
  • reduction in the risk of stillbirth and prematurity for the baby
  • potentially reducing transmission to vulnerable household members. 

Q. When in pregnancy can I have the vaccine?

The vaccine is considered to be safe and effective at any stage of pregnancy.

However, some women may choose to delay their vaccine until after the first 12 weeks (which are most important for the baby’s development) and have the first dose at any time from 13 weeks onwards, but there's no evidence that delaying is necessary.

One dose of COVID-19 vaccination gives you good protection against infection, but with the most recent (Delta) variant of the virus, two doses are needed to give a good level of immunity. Second doses are given 8 to 12 weeks after the first dose and we recommend that you receive two doses before giving birth, or before you enter the third trimester, when the risk is greatest.

Q. Does it matter which vaccine I have?

The JCVI advises that it is preferable for pregnant women in the UK to be offered the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna mRNA vaccines, where available.

This is because these vaccines have been given to over 130,000 pregnant women in the US and the data have not raised any safety concerns.

Q. I have already had one dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine prior to or earlier in my pregnancy.  I am now pregnant and due my second dose. What should I do?

Pregnant women who commenced vaccination with AstraZeneca are advised to complete with the same vaccine. The second dose will be important for longer lasting protection against COVID-19.

There have been very rare reports of serious blood clots after a second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine. The official national publication on vaccines (the Green book) advised on 7 May 2021 that: “Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are the preferred vaccines for eligible pregnant women of any age, because of more extensive experience of their use in pregnancy. Pregnant women who commenced vaccination with AstraZeneca, however, are advised to complete with the same vaccine”.

There are no reported concerns with the AstraZeneca vaccine in pregnancy, but there is less experience in pregnancy with this vaccine, than with the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which has led to the JCVI recommending a preference for Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna.

The safety of mixing different vaccines is being investigated in an ongoing trial (the ComCov trial), which does not include pregnant women. Initial data from the study, published on 12 May 2021, showed that mixing vaccines appeared to be safe overall. However, there was an increase in short-lasting side effects such as fever for individuals who were given two different vaccines compared to individuals who had two doses of the same vaccine. Further information from this trial is expected in late June 2021.

Currently you can choose whether to have the second dose of AstraZeneca in pregnancy (as typically given), or defer until after pregnancy - however a second dose is recommended to ensure maximum protection against COVID-19.

If you are unsure about receiving the second dose of AstraZeneca, you should arrange to speak to an obstetrician or midwife or GP and use the RCOG's decision aid on vaccination in pregnancy to support your choice.

Q. How is COVID-19 vaccination being monitored in pregnancy?

Up to 31 March 2021, in the UK, healthcare professionals who met a woman who had been vaccinated in pregnancy recorded this via their UK Obstetric Surveillance Service (UKOSS) reporter for the joint UKOSS/UKTIS study. Pregnant women who had been vaccinated (up to and including 31 March 2021) could also report directly to UKTIS via their telephone line 0344 892 0909 (open 9-5pm Mon-Fri).

Pregnant women can register directly with the MHRA Yellow Card Vaccine Monitor.

Another reporting mechanism for healthcare professionals is the PHE Inadvertent Vaccination in Pregnancy (VIP) system.

As of April 2021, pregnancy status is recorded in the national vaccination programme to make sure pregnant women and their babies’ outcomes can be followed up.

Q. Can I participate in a vaccine trial or vaccine study while I am pregnant?

One trial of COVID-19 vaccines in pregnant women in the UK has launched and another is planned.

  • A clinical trial by the vaccine manufacturer Pfizer has launched across several National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) sites in the UK. Women who participate in this study will be randomly assigned to receive either the vaccine or a placebo (this is a randomised controlled trial, or RCT). Those who received the placebo will then be offered the vaccine once they give birth, so that all the women participating will have received the vaccine either in pregnancy or shortly after giving birth. The role of this study (COVID-19 Vacc Maternal Immunisation) is to provide more robust information on the vaccine immune response in pregnancy, as well as safety reporting and the potential transfer of maternal antibodies to infants.
  • There are plans for a pragmatic trial of different vaccines in pregnant women, and full details of that trial will be available shortly.

Q. Can I have a COVID-19 vaccine if I am breastfeeding?

COVID-19 vaccines are recommended to breastfeeding women. There is no plausible mechanism by which any vaccine ingredient could pass to your baby through breast milk. You should therefore not stop breastfeeding in order to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Q. Should I have a COVID-19 vaccine if I plan to become pregnant?

Women who are trying to become pregnant do not need to avoid pregnancy after vaccination.

Getting vaccinated before pregnancy will help prevent COVID-19 infection and its serious consequences.

Q: I am currently trying to get pregnant. I have had the first dose of COVID-19 vaccination, should I delay pregnancy until after the second dose?

One dose of COVID-19 vaccination gives you good protection against infection, but it is thought that this is not long-lasting​ and may not protect you for the whole of pregnancy. 

COVID-19 vaccines are recommended to pregnant women. Vaccination is the best way to protect against the known risks of COVID-19 in pregnancy for both women and babies, including admission to intensive care and premature birth.

If you find out you are pregnant after you have had one dose of the vaccine (between doses), it is your choice to either have the second dose after the recommended interval, to wait until after 12 weeks of pregnancy (which are the most crucial weeks for the baby’s development).

Second doses are given 8 to 12 weeks after the first dose and we recommend that you complete the course of vaccination before giving birth, or before you enter the third trimester, when the risk is greatest.

Your decision should take into account your personal exposures to and risks from COVID-19. You can discuss these risks with a doctor or your midwife, and you may want to use the RCOG and RCM decision tool to assist you in deciding what to do next.

Q. Can I have the vaccine during IVF treatment?

Yes, you can have the COVID vaccine during IVF treatment. The British Fertility Society recommends considering the timing of your vaccine, taking into account that some people may experience minor side effects in the few days after vaccination that you do not want to have during treatment. It may be sensible to separate the date of vaccination by a few days from some treatment procedures (for example egg collection and embryo transfer 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. If you have the vaccine at this time, you will help to protect yourself and your baby from the effects of COVID-19 infection in pregnancy.

Q. Is the Covid vaccine safe if undergoing immune therapy during IVF?

A minority of women going through IVF receive immune suppressant therapy. None of the COVID vaccines used in the UK are ‘live’ vaccines, and so cannot cause COVID-19 infection, even in women taking immune suppressing treatments. However, the vaccine may provide less protection as these treatments may reduce the level of anti-COVID antibodies produced by the body in response to the vaccine. It might be preferable, therefore, to delay having the vaccine until the effects of any immune therapy have worn off; or delay your IVF treatment until a few weeks after you’ve had your vaccine. You should discuss the pros and cons of these approaches with your fertility specialist.

Q. Does the COVID-19 vaccine affect fertility?

There is no evidence to suggest that COVID-19 vaccines will affect fertility.

There is​ ​no biologically plausible mechanism by which current vaccines would cause any impact on women's fertility. Animal studies of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines showed that administering these vaccines in rats had no effect on fertility. Evidence has not been presented that women who have been vaccinated have gone on to have fertility problems.

Likewise, the theory that immunity to the spike protein could lead to fertility problems is not supported by evidence. Most people who contract COVID-19 will develop antibody to the spike and there is no evidence of fertility problems in people who have already had COVID-19.

As more evidence becomes available on the safety of each vaccine (from following up people for longer), we will update our advice.

More information on COVID-19 vaccines, fertility and fertility treatment is available from the British Fertility Society (BFS) and Association of Reproductive and Clinical Scientists (ARCS).

Q. What if I find out I am pregnant after I have had the COVID-19 vaccine?

If you receive a dose of the vaccine before finding out you are pregnant, or unintentionally while you are pregnant, you should be reassured that the vaccine is safe and effective in pregnancy.

If you find out you are pregnant after you have had one dose of the vaccine (between doses), it is your choice to either have the second dose after the recommended interval, to wait until after 12 weeks of pregnancy (which are the most crucial for the baby’s development).

COVID-19 vaccines are recommended in pregnancy. Vaccination is the best way to protect against the known risks of COVID-19 in pregnancy for both women and babies, including admission to intensive care and premature birth.

Second doses are given 8 to 12 weeks after the first dose and we recommend that you complete the course of vaccination before giving birth, or before you enter the third trimester, when the risk is greatest.

Your decision should take into account your personal exposures to and risks from COVID-19. You can discuss these risks with a doctor or your midwife, and you may want to use the RCOG and RCM decision tool to assist you in deciding what to do next.

Q. Are vaccines normally used in pregnancy?

Pregnant women and women who are breastfeeding are already routinely and safely offered vaccines in pregnancy, for example to protect against influenza and whooping cough. Many of these vaccines also protect their babies from infection. These vaccines, like the COVID-19 vaccines, are non-‘live’ vaccines, which are generally considered safe in pregnancy. However, specific evidence regarding the safety of the COVID-19 vaccination in pregnancy is not yet available.

Q. What should I do if I develop a reaction to the vaccine?

Like all medicines, vaccines can cause side effects. These are usually mild and do not last long. Very common side effects in the first day or two after your vaccine include: pain or tenderness in your arm where you had your injection, feeling tired and headaches, aches and chills.

You may also have flu like symptoms and experiences episodes of shivering or shaking for a day or two. If you develop a fever (your temperature is 38C or above) you can rest and take paracetamol, which is safe in pregnancy.

You can report any suspected side effects through the Yellow Card scheme, which allows the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to monitor side effects and ensure vaccines are safe.

If you are concerned about your symptoms, you can contact your GP or maternity team for further advice.

There have been reports of an extremely rare clotting problem associated with people receiving the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine. If you experience any of the following from around 4 days to 4 weeks after vaccination you should seek medical advice urgently:

  • a new, severe headache which is not helped by usual painkillers or is getting worse
  • an unusual headache which seems worse when lying down or bending over or may be accompanied by:
    • blurred vision, nausea and vomiting
    • difficulty with your speech,
    • weakness, drowsiness or seizures
  • new, unexplained pinprick bruising or bleeding
  • shortness of breath, chest pain, leg swelling or persistent abdominal pain