I first heard of Group B Strep when I was 13 weeks pregnant with my second child. I was at soft play with my toddler at the time, when a friend we were there with bumped into a woman she knew. The woman had a one year old… but had previously tragically lost a full-term baby because of something called Group B Strep.
I remember thinking I really must check with my midwife that my blood results had come back negative for whatever the hell this was.
So, imagine my surprise when I was told at my 16-week appointment that, sorry, but the NHS doesn’t screen for this.
Excuse me? Something that is potentially life threatening to newborns isn’t tested for?
My midwife could only apologise and then gave me a leaflet about a private home-testing kit, which I shoved in my bag and – due to the demands of a toddler and a job – forgot about.
I was 36 weeks pregnant – the perfect time to test. I sent off for the kit, did the swabs, posted them back, assumed they would be negative and mentally ticked it off my to-do list.
The results came back positive.
Group B Strep is a naturally occurring bacteria that lives harmlessly in about 20 per cent of the population. However, it can be dangerous – even fatal – for babies during birth. If you are GBS positive, your baby will come into contact with the bacteria. Most babies are unaffected. However, some babies will develop an infection, which can be serious. Side effects can include septicaemia, pneumonia, meningitis and, tragically, death.
I informed my midwife at my next appointment that I was GBS positive and – here’s the thing – despite the fact it is not routinely tested for in the UK, if you are found to be positive in a private test, it’s taken very seriously. There are even special GBS+ stickers, which were plastered all over my notes to ensure no medical professional missed the fact I was GBS+.
Once in labour, I needed to go on IV antibiotics to ensure the safe arrival of my baby.
In many cases, this is enough.
But my beautiful daughter was born with signs of a possible infection: a higher than normal heart rate and a high temperature.
After a quick cuddle, she was taken away from me to the Special Care Baby Unit and put on IV antibiotics of her own. We had to remain in hospital for three days while she was treated and waited anxiously to see whether her infection markers went up.
They didn’t. We breathed an enormous sigh of relief and took our beautiful, healthy baby girl home.
Others aren’t so lucky.
While in hospital, I met another couple whose baby boy was also being treated with antibiotics. For meningitis. Which developed because of GBS. His mother looked weary, worried and – worse – guilty, despite the fact it was not her fault.
How could she not have known she had GBS, she asked me. Why wasn’t she tested? Why did I receive antibiotics during labour? How did I find out about the test?
Because I read my friend’s blog post.
And doing that might have saved my baby’s life.
July is GBS Awareness Month. GBS is the most common cause of life-threatening infection in newborn babies. While many developed countries offer routine screening for GBS to pregnant women, the NHS doesn’t. Please take the time to sign this petition, calling for all pregnant women to be offered information about Group B Strep.