WHAT IS GROUP B STREP & WHY DON’T MORE OF US KNOW ABOUT IT?

HEALTH, MOTHER OF ALL LISTS, MUST READ, PREGNANCY, BIRTH & BABY'S, USEFUL

Truthfully,  Group B Strep was only vaguely on my radar,  I knew it to be an illness that can affect young babies but little more.  Now, having read this excellent list by Hannah Thompson,  I am a bit horrified at my ignorance, especially seeing as I have had 3 babies all of which were at risk of contracting GBS.

Here’s hoping this post can help raise awareness of the symptoms so that more parents know what to look out for:


  • Group B Strep (GBS) is a bacteria carried by around 25% of women. It is harmless in adults. For about 0.06% of pregnancies, the infection will spread to the baby during labour, and make the baby very sick.

  • Our daughter Mabli was born last summer. We had a homebirth and after 27 hours, our 4kg baby was born safe and well on the sofa.

  • I was utterly euphoric.

  • When my placenta wouldn’t deliver, despite mine and the Midwife’s best efforts, I was told I would have to go into hospital for my placenta to be manually removed.

  • I was still euphoric, cheerfully chatting to the medics in theatre operating on me, despite just having given birth and not slept for 24 hours. Hormones are incredible.

  • The procedure required a full spinal block, so after a drug-free birth, I got anaesthetized to within an inch of my life. I was still euphoric.

  • It was whilst I was recovering on the ward that we noticed Mabli’s breathing seemed a bit funny. We knew that newborn breathing could be erratic, and normally I am that awkward person who hates bothering people, but we were surrounded by medical professionals so we asked someone to look at her.

  • After initially being told she was fine, we asked again, and an amazing Midwife pushed on our behalf – she took Mabli away for some tests, and discovered that Mabli was ‘grunting’, the medical term for laboured breathing.

  • It spiralled from there. Mabli was put on intravenous antibiotics immediately, despite not knowing yet what was wrong and by that evening – her first night on planet Earth – we were called into the family room (which is as ominous as it sounds) where we learned that Mabli was on a ventilator in intensive care, sedated.

  • It turned out I was a carrier of GBS and Mabli had been infected coming down the birth canal.

  • Being colonized by GBS bacteria is mostly harmless in adults, but it can infect the blood, lungs and spine of newborn babies which can be extremely dangerous, and indeed, fatal. While the consequences are very serious, I want to stress again that the likelihood of this happening is extremely low.

  • Expectant mothers can be tested for GBS in late pregnancy, between 35 and 37 weeks. If you are a GBS carrier, you can be given antibiotics intravenously during labour to prevent an infection in your baby.img_2183

  • A GBS infection in a baby most often presents as sepsis, pneumonia or meningitis. The majority of babies infected by GBS will show symptoms within hours or days of life. Signs to look out for in your baby are:

    • Grunting, noisy breathing, moaning, seems to be working hard to breathe when you look at the chest or tummy, or not breathing at all.

    • Being very sleepy and/or unresponsive

    • Inconsolable crying

    • Being unusually floppy

    • Not feeding well or not keeping milk down

    • A high or low temperature and/or be hot or cold to the touch

    • Have changes in their skin colour (including blotchy skin)

    • Have an abnormally fast or slow heart rate or breathing rate

    • Have low blood pressure (identified by tests done in hospital)

    • Have low blood sugar (identified by tests done in hospital)

    • It is important to be vigilant in the first few hours after birth. It is also important to remember that the chance of GBS infection is incredibly low.

    • A friend had told me about GBS during my pregnancy. I even asked my Midwife about it, who explained that the NHS don’t routinely screen pregnant ladies for GBS for various reasons. Firstly, the statistics (the high percentage of carriers – 20-25% – versus the likelihood of infection – 0.06%) mean that routine screening would result in a large proportion of women being treated, even though the likelihood of illness to their baby is statistically minimal. Secondly, results can change, so screening is not entirely reliable. As I understand it, you can test negative for GBS even when you are actually a carrier. These statistics show that routine screening would result in many more medicalised births due to the prophylactic antibiotics needed. Finally, some people can react badly to antibiotics, and there is also the wider issue of antibiotic resistance.

    • My Midwife gave me the option to be tested and I decided not to. I accepted her explanation for why women aren’t routinely screened, and I wanted the best chance to give birth at home without intravenous antibiotics if I could.

    • GBS screening – and the lack of it within the NHS – is understandably an emotive topic. There are people campaigning for better awareness and easier access to testing, as well as some who say that the development of a vaccine would be the best solution. I am not  lobbying for anything here as it is a complex issue. I made the decision that was right for me at the time, and ultimately women should have the information to make their own choices too.

    • Mabli responded extremely well to treatment and got better very quickly. She was in NICU at Homerton Hospital in London for 5 nights, before being moved to the Special Care ward for a further 2.5 weeks. We were so very lucky.

    • We spent 3 weeks in hospital in the end – which is how long her course of antibiotics lasted. She was visibly fit and healthy after about a week.

    • I was lucky enough to stay with her at the hospital, which meant I had the best chance of establishing breastfeeding. It was an experience in itself: sleeping on a ward with a new baby, with other crying newborns beyond our curtain, machines beeping, nurses chatting, whilst figuring out breastfeeding.  So intense. The hardest bit was leaving her in her cot three times a day so that I could feed myself at the canteen.

    • I got through the longest three weeks of my life with the unwavering support of my partner Sam, plus the kindest words, gestures and cuddles from family and friends that are stored in my heart forever.

    • I still think about the other parents that I met during that strange time living in the hospital.

    • The staff in the NHS are remarkable, and I spent a lot of time sitting on my camp bed during feeds thinking how utterly gruelling it must be to work a night shift; how strange to have such a massive weight of expectation on you; and just how very, err, intense, it must be to work every day in intensive care, with people who are (understandably) hyped to the eyeballs with stress. Not every interaction I had was perfect – a particular low being one of the nurses tucking into a bag of snacks my friend had left for me at the nurses station – but the good far outweighed the bad. (She apologised profusely!)

    • I particularly want to shout-out to nurse Egle, who single-handedly saved my breastfeeding career by telling me one quiet, sunny Saturday on the ward that I was ready to exclusively breastfeed. No more feeding every three hours by the clock, no more reporting to the nurses and no more being asked ‘how much do you think she’s had, so I know how much formula to top up with?’ which is about the most stressful question it is possible to ask a new breastfeeding Mama. Breastfeeding is no joke, and this vote of confidence was so timely, so needed and so helpful.

    • Of course, this was all a minuscule price to pay for Mabli’s health. Despite being very unlucky that she got sick, my overriding feeling is that we were very very lucky: that she was treated so quickly, that we were in a hospital despite the home birth, that she was a good birth weight, and ultimately, that we didn’t have to decide whether or not to get her breathing checked whilst at home, on our own and exhausted with an hours-old baby.

    • We celebrated her first birthday this summer, and she is a smiley, sociable and curious one year old, with no lasting effects from the infection.

    • I am not an expert on GBS but wanted to share our story to spread awareness about how this infection can affect babies.

    • Here’s what the NHS says on GBS: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/group-b-strep/

    • Here’s a charity campaigning to spread awareness of the issues surrounding GBS: https://gbss.org.uk/about/who-we-are/why-gbss-exists/
    • I remain a massive advocate of home births, and found this group very supportive: http://hackneyhomebirth.tumblr.com as well as the Hackney Homebirth Team.
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9 Comments

  • Reply Hannah Twynam October 19, 2018 at 9:54 pm

    Thank you for sharing your story, we had a very similar experience with our second baby last year, he was born with GBS and, like Mabli, began grunting in his sleep. As with you, we were incredibly fortunate that our amazing midwife picked it up 6hrs after he was born, I just thought it was what newborns did. He was on a 2 week course of antibiotics in hospital for sepsis and meningitis, we were so very lucky as well and count our blessings every day. I had never even heard of GBS and was absolutely fine with my first baby. It’s so important just to raise awareness of this awful infection, it can save lives. Let’s hope this story will help others, thank you!

  • Reply Hello, Scarlett Blog October 20, 2018 at 1:43 am

    Thanks for sharing! I get tested on Monday. Hoping I don’t test positive …

  • Reply Rachel Slator October 20, 2018 at 10:41 am

    Thanks for barainf your story, thank goodness everything was okay with Mabli. I’ve bern trying to raise awareness between my friends about gbs, not because I have had any issues but because my mum is a nurse and told me about it- otherwise I wouldn’t have been aware of the risks. It’s so easy to get a test ordered online for £30 and they text you with the results within a few days. One of my friends had a similar story to yours this year so it isn’t as unusual as we perhaps think

  • Reply Katie October 20, 2018 at 12:27 pm

    I live in Australia where they do test for Group B Strep. But even so the guidance is unclear. I tested positive and was told I would need antibiotics in labour but no-one seemed to agree when I needed them. One midwife told me as soon as I was in labour, one said when my waters broke. They ended up doing it when my waters broke but being my third child she came out before the drip was halfway through.
    Thankfully, she didn’t contract it herself, but it made me realise that it’s not as clear as whether to test or not.
    Thanks for sharing your story.

  • Reply Egle Mattar October 20, 2018 at 2:53 pm

    Thank you for sharing your most joyful ( birth of your daughter ) and stressful ( staying in NICU) experience. I’m very happy to hear, that Mabli is doing great. Also very glad to hear, that I successfully did help you with a breastfeeding- thank you for your positive feedback.
    All the best! Hope one day you can bring Mabli to visit us on NEONATAL UNIT.

  • Reply Maria Zindilis October 21, 2018 at 8:21 am

    Thanks for sharing your story.
    I had GBS in my first pregnancy 11 years ago, which was diagnosed early on, but I had no idea I was tested for it. I got a letter through the post a week after a check up saying I had an appointment with a consultant and on the appointment card was a massive yellow sticker saying GBS positive. So, I naturally looked up was GBS was and then sat and cried for the rest of the day because the all stories I read scared me! Once I spoke to the the consultant and he explained what it was and that there were ways of minimising the risk to baby it calmed me down.
    When I fell pregnant again, 8 years later, I asked to be tested for it and the doctors and midwives refused saying it was unlikely I would have it again. Eventually, after some pushing from my behalf, they tested me and low and behold I had it again.
    I always tell other women to be ask to get tested for this, it’s scary to think that most people are unaware of GBS or the affects it could have on baby.

  • Reply Liz October 21, 2018 at 9:06 am

    I didn’t know anything about it when my son was born in 2014. He was born at 37 plus 3 grunting with fetal tachycardia. I knew something was up as I developed a maternal fever and the energy in the delivery room turned up a notch. R was delivered after 67 hours of slow labour and PROM. He’s four now and has started school….but more awareness and education is key. GBS is also transient so when I was tested when my waters went on the Sunday, it was negative. Of course it was. As the hours progressed and I ‘failed’ to, despite two pessaries, the drip was inserted. Anyway, as I explained above (sorry this is a bit jumbled!) it was because he was left for so long with no amniotic fluid surrounding him and a long time down there hanging around! A week of tests, lumber punctures, bladder punctures, being tube fed EBM and a cannula full of antibiotics fixed him. But it could have been so different for us.

  • Reply Laura October 21, 2018 at 10:50 am

    I was tested for GBS in my pregnancy BUT I didn’t know I had been tested and then no-one looked at the results or did anything about it. Luckily on the day that I was in hospital being induced my midwife read all of my notes and noticed that I had tested positive for GBS. I was already in labour at this point. Luckily I didn’t give birth for hours (days) after that so the antibiotics had time to work. I was so lucky that my midwife checked all my notes. I had not heard of GBS and didn’t even know I had been tested. There needs to be a lot more information given to pregnant women about this and women should be given the option whether to have the test or not. It’s not good enough that some trusts test and some don’t.

  • Reply Beth October 29, 2018 at 8:58 pm

    Thanks for sharing. My baby and I became ill during labour because of GBS a year ago. This post has made me realise that I don’t really know or remember much more detail than that so I’m going to make use of our hospitals Listening Service to talk through what happened during labour and our time after.

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