Illustrations by Noa Ilan: follow @ilan_noa on Twitter for more
This post examines the role of preventative health care in the inhibition of Group B Streptococcus (GBS) infection. It uses the term “mother” for simplicity’s sake although babies have all kinds of parents who identify in all kinds of ways and all are welcome here.
Let’s break down the long article:
Infections resulting from GBS can be life-threatening to a newborn. All pregnant moms are offered a test which detects this bacteria around 36 weeks of pregnancy. If found, it can be treated through the use of IV antibiotics during labor, which significantly reduces the rate of infection and resulting meningitis and/or sepsis in newborns. While this article does not focus on the treatment of women who test positive, it does promote prevention, which improves the overall health of both mom and baby through the use of probiotics taken orally throughout the pregnancy. These come in tiny capsules or a liquid packed with powerful lactobaccili (among other gut-friendly bacterium) that usually cost between five and twenty dollars per bottle or package). It’s a small price to pay for so many amazing benefits. As a midwife, I often pay for them for clients because of the massive health benefits of these supplements to every mom and baby, including avoiding a host of obstetric complications that would increase risks to mom and baby and often require transfers out of my care. Great midwifery promotes the intrinsic health of mother and baby through programs like this which lend greatly to positive birth outcomes.
Let’s explore just some of the many benefits:
Take a look at what the microbiota is if you aren’t already familiar with it. The use of probiotics promotes this system that does a bit of everything good in the body including prevent the over-colonization of “bad” bacteria like GBS. It also happens to prevent diabetes and keep your mood even. It exists in the mouth, gut, and vagina of the mom and the placenta (and some studies found evidence in the fetal gut as well).
Over the course of pregnancy, the levels of good bacteria in the microbiota change. By the time you give birth, you have an over-growth of lactobacilli which ensures that your baby will get exposure to this important “good” bacteria during vaginal birth. When the system is supported right it will also prevent yeast infections, and keep the bacteria that cause UTIs and GBS in check.
Impaired levels of probiotics have been correlated to preterm birth. They are correlated because “bad” bacteria like GBS and candida (yeast) cause cellular damage to the cervix. It loses its integrity and is not able to hold in the pregnancy as long as it should. There are dramatic consequences for being born too early—the March of Dimes was founded because of babies born too early or too small.
When mothers take probiotics, they are found in the placenta and fetal gut and stay with the baby after birth to help regulate the baby’s microbiota. That’s profound!! You can help your baby synthesize vitamins and amino acids, regulate immune function, have smoother transitions between emotional states, and get a balanced healthy start just by taking probiotics during pregnancy. After pregnancy, breast milk takes over the important function of populating the baby’s microbiota with everything it needs.
- Take probiotics throughout pregnancy to help keep your body hostile to “bad” bacteria and to strengthen the integrity of your tissue (muscles and skin included), especially uterine tissue like the cervix (and to boost your immune system, keep your mood even, etc., etc., and etc.!)
- If you are planning a VBAC this winds up mattering a lot. Infections like candida and GBS can wear down the tissue that you are relying on to keep the scarred area strong and healthy. Take a full dose of 4 probiotic capsules per day for your entire pregnancy. I have supported an extremely high percentage of VBACing moms in my practice and this statement is NOT a judgment about your scar. It is part of a recipe that will contribute to your overall success. Check out this article for more ideas from the VBAC playbook or contact me to discuss further.
- Have a vaginal, antibiotic free birth for maximum exposure to lactobacilli
- Ask your provider ahead of time about swabbing your vaginal tract during labor prior to any antibiotics if you need them for any reason (including a planned or unplanned cesarean birth)
- Regardless of how you deliver your baby, spend time skin to skin with her or him. Allow them to touch your breasts and arm pits with their hands. You have lactobacilli on your skin that they will benefit from
- Breastmilk feeds babies and promotes the growth of healthy bacteria in baby’s own microbiota, boosting their immune system and setting them up for good health
- Babies born to a mom who had to take antibiotics or who were born by cesarean or who drink formula exclusively or as a supplement can all be given oral probiotics. They are available with a dropper or can be mixed into breast milk or formula and given through a bottle or made into a paste (just break open a capsule and add one drop of water at a time, mixing with your finger) and applied to mom’s nipples which is both soothing and healthy for the breast
Some disclaimers and information of note
- The recommendations in this article are not designed to cheat a test but to actually improve the health of the mother, the integrity of the cervix, and the health of the placenta, fetus and newborn
- Taking probiotics is not a guarantee of avoiding GBS or other complications related to imbalanced or missing gut flora. Talk with your provider about nutritional measures you can take to support your over-all health. No amount of probiotics or exercise can undo the effects of a diet high in sugar and processed foods
- Do get tested between 35 and 37 weeks for GBS. If you still test positive after a sustained period of time taking probiotics, eating a diet low in processed sugars and carbs, and rich in food that looks like it was alive, the colonization is highly likely to be one that needs antibiotic treatment. A pregnant woman who tests positive for group B strep bacteria and gets antibiotics during labor has only a 1 in 4,000 chance of delivering a baby with group B strep disease. If a pregnant woman who tests positive for group B strep bacteria does not get antibiotics at the time of labor, her baby has a 1 in 200 chance of developing group B strep disease.
- If GBS is found in your Urine during pregnancy, antibiotics can eliminate or greatly reduce the high colonization. Take probiotics at the same time as you take antibiotics and for the rest of your pregnancy. The CDC recommends that anyone with GBS in their urine at any point during their pregnancy receive antibiotics during labor
- Please discuss this information with your provider and work together to find a solution that is right for you. If your provider does not have time to discuss this or other preventative measures with you, there are plenty that will and I highly recommend you shop for the one who will serve you best
Illustrations by Noa Ilan: follow @ilan_noa on Twitter for more. You can see the source article for these infographics and get an up-close view by clicking here.
Share your thoughts on preventative health care during pregnancy and your comments and questions below!
Microbiota/Microbiome and Pregnancy/Birth/Breastfeeding
Group B Strep Disease
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