DJ and presenter Ashley James, is also mum of one to Alfie and one of our very own Mum List 2021 mums for her open and honest Instagram account about all things motherhood, so who better to chat to about her experience of getting the Covid-19 vaccine while breastfeeding her son. We caught up with her to find out about the concerns she had and why she decided to have the vaccine.
'I was so excited to get vaccinated, as soon as it opened up to my age bracket I just went on the NHS website – so it was just before I got the text message. It was super easy, obviously, you put in your name and postcode and it brings up all your local vaccine centre locations and then I found the earliest appointment time. Most Covid vaccines are given at local doctors, hospitals or dedicated vaccine facilities, some are also at large venues that have been adapted into vaccination centres, such as cathedrals, sports centres and even racecourses. The earliest available slot for me was actually at the Science Museum, which I feel is quite a special place too, like the kind of thing that when I’m older I can say "I went to the Science Museum to have my Covid vaccine!" and they’ll be like "yeah you told us"!'
What was your own experience of getting the vaccine?
'Obviously, I’m breastfeeding so I had to take Alfie along and everyone was super nice and accommodating, I only had to queue for 10 minutes. It was very well organised and I felt very safe.
'It’s so funny because I kind of gear myself up for injections, like I never thought of having a flu jab until my pregnancy and obviously because it safeguards the person I now know as Alfie, but at the time it was "the baby", I did the flu jab and whooping cough and I had to really psyche myself up, but with the Covid vaccine I barely even felt it.
'It was over so quickly, they were lovely and friendly. After the vaccine you have to sit for 15 minutes, you’re socially distanced, and then I was out.
'I’ve got my second vaccine booked in for August, at the 12-week mark, but actually, I might try to bring it forward to eight weeks as a friend of mine who got hers done the same week as me has managed to get an earlier one.
'I think the most exciting thing for me was not just for my sake getting the vaccine, I’m relatively healthy and young, but I was more excited to get it for friends of mine and family members who are more vulnerable, like my gran, who has terminal cancer – I didn’t get to see her for such a long time, she missed my pregnancy – so if I can help to protect her too then that’s exciting.
'Seeing the joy that it gave to people who are vulnerable, I would feel super selfish to feel like "well I’m not in the high-risk category". It’s just so nice to feel safe to be around friends and family members and to share their excitement.
'I know that it’s such a divisive topic, even though it shouldn’t be. Actually, I’ve got friends who are anti-vax and sometimes it’s hard to not get caught up in what they say as they sound so convincing. That’s why I think it’s really important to do your own research from reliable resources.'
Did you have any concerns prior to getting the Covid-19 vaccine?
'Like a lot of people I did have a lot of concerns at the beginning. My concerns came from a lot of nonsense that you hear – I’m always on social media and that’s one of the negatives of social media, the wave of conspiracy theories that make their way into the mainstream. And friends who you’d like to consider as quite intelligent who suddenly have their very strong opinions.
'I was concerned how it would affect Alfie because I’m breastfeeding if it was going to make me incapacitated to be able to look after him – anything basically that was being whispered in my ear, whether it was strangers online or friends.
'One of the things I was apprehensive about was side effects, I was almost expecting side effects and I was worried about Alfie showing any side effects but he had nothing at all and I just had a sore arm – which had its own challenges with a baby who is in a bouncing stage!
'But it was worth it for the reassurance and also the knowledge that he’s got antibodies in his body as well because he’s so young I don’t know if he’s healthy or would be high-risk. And I dealt with my arm the same way new mums deal with tiredness, you just get on with it!
'My partner Tom had the vaccine too and he had the same sore arm – although obviously, his was worse (man flu). But it was absolutely fine, I was expecting it to be a lot worse than it was. Tom and I actually made sure we booked our vaccines in different weeks just in case one of us was a bit out of action for a while.'
Was there anyone you sought advice from prior to having your vaccine that you found particularly helpful?
'I follow a really incredible Instagram account called Pregnant then Screwed, an account run by the pregnancy equality charity of the same name and they did this amazing webinar with experts, and it was basically putting all of those doubts, that I feel like a lot of us had, to bed. And knowing that yes it’s a new vaccine but this science has been in testing for years and years and they tweak it, as they do with the flu jab every year. So I would fully recommend that webinar, and sticking to reliable resources, checking the NHS website, it just made me feel like "ok just ignore all the other noise and what everyone else is thinking, here are the facts".
'It covered all the things you may have concerns about, all the anti-vax propaganda parade, to try and get that fear inside you. Listening to the experts actually, you’re more likely to have fertility issues from Covid-19 than from the vaccine.
'All of this is science-led and knowledge is power, so I feel empowered now that no matter what I hear from any conspiracy theorists, I’m equipped with my own knowledge so it doesn’t shake me or scare me.
'There’s also some really good information on the BBC website, I actually started my period after having the vaccine and there’s quite a widespread discussion about women who are either on IUDs or breastfeeding or whatever it is having their menstrual cycle. So when I had that I was a bit like "oh my god, what’s happening, I shouldn’t be on my period now" but there’s so much good information out there and I found out it’s a short term thing, and a reaction a lot of other women experienced. There’s plenty of good reliable sources out there that can put your mind to rest about whatever it might be that’s worrying you personally.'
What would your advice be to new mums or mums-to-be who are worried about getting the Covid-19 vaccine?
'Even though everything feels very divisive, it's common to have questions. We are in a pandemic, it is scary and it’s scary anyway as a new mum or in pregnancy, there are enough things to worry about without a global pandemic on top of that! And then obviously with the theories and negative propaganda and unsolicited advice, I would fully recommend doing your own research and go to reliable resources. I found the NHS website was super reassuring.
'From my personal experience and as a breastfeeding mother, and someone who had all of those same concerns, I’m so happy with the choice I made and I’m excited to get the second one as soon as I can.'