Steps toward Prevention of GBS for New Mothers and Their Children

In December 2017, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) and Group B Strep Support came together on the dangers of group B streptococcus in newborn babies. Within the leaflet, expectant mothers and their loved ones can easily learn about GBS and why it is necessary to understand its implications for newborns.

The informational guide will be given to all first-time mothers during their pregnancy care through the NHS, in an effort to provide a greater level of understanding about what group B strep is, how it affects mothers and newborns, and what can be done to prevent an infection from taking place.

Why Education of GBS is Crucial

One in every 1,000 newborns in the UK alone develops a group B strep infection at birth, known as early-onset GBS. This may not seem like a high number to most, but the impact a GBS infection can have on a young child can be devastating. Children who do not have the ability to fight off an infection caused by GBS bacteria adequately and who are not treated during labour or shortly thereafter may experience life-altering changes to their body that cannot be rectified as they age.

Despite these concerns, screening for GBS in women who are expecting a child, whether it is their first or not, is not routinely done throughout the NHS, nor is it on the docket to become the standard of care.

GBS is an important topic for expectant mothers and their medical providers to understand fully. A GBS infection in a newborn is avoidable, but only when education and prevention are put in place at the right time. Offering this new leaflet to soon-to-be mothers is a step in the right direction, although most argue that including routine screening of GBS in women who are pregnant is the next level of wiping out GBS infections in babies.

Defining GBS and Signs of Infection

The educational tool published by the two organisations provides clear, easy to digest information that first-time mothers and others can use to improve their understanding of what GBS is. Group B strep is a common bacteria found in many adults, and in most cases, there are no signs or symptoms that the bacteria is present. However, when group B strep bacteria is in the urinary tract, vagina, or gut of a pregnant woman, passing on the bacteria to a newborn is a real possibility.

When this takes place, the child may develop a GBS-related infection, leading to serious illnesses like sepsis, pneumonia, or meningitis. Leaving an infection untreated in a newborn who does not have the developed immune system of an adult can be devastating to both the child and the parents.

Some women are more at risk of delivering a child who then develops an early-onset GBS infection, based on several factors. First, if a pregnant woman has had a child born with a GBS infection in the past, her chances of delivering another child with a similar infection are high. Similarly, having a pre-term birth, or before the 37th week, is a risk factor for expectant mothers and their chance of having a newborn with a GBS infection.

Also, women who have had a positive swab or urine test that shows GBS bacteria is present in the body have a greater chance of delivering a child that will ultimately develop a GBS infection.

Fortunately for expectant mothers, the increased risk of delivering a child who develops an early-onset GBS infection can be reduced during the labour and delivery process. When known risk factors are in play, medical providers administer antibiotics, typically through a drip, during labour to help diminish the chance of GBS-related infections in the newborn. When these medications are taken, the possibility of experiencing the adverse effects of group B strep is greatly reduced.

Women may also consider speaking directly with their pregnancy care providers about the dangers of GBS infections, their specific risk factors, and any steps they can take during the pregnancy to decrease complications during or after labour. The leaflet given to first-time mothers during their prenatal visits is meant to start the conversation – it is up to medical providers and expectant mothers to continue the discussion to ensure the health of their baby is intact even after delivery.

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