A mums experience of Strep B
When I was asked to write a blog about something I was passionate about. I knew straight away what I wanted to talk about. Strep B. Unlike meningitis, Strep B doesn’t get much publicity, yet it is the biggest cause of newborn infection. I had never heard of it, and neither had many of my pregnant or new mama friends.
This post isn’t meant to scare. Just to inform people of their options and give across some information that I wish I had read during pregnancy.
Our experience of the effects of Strep B
I had a pretty standard pregnancy, a bit of sickness, some aching hips and a fear of pushing it out of ‘there’!
After a whole day of labouring in the water pool in the MLU (Midwife led unit) in The Lister, I was told I had a temperature and so would need to head downstairs into the CLU (consultants led unit). Once down there, after just a couple of hours, she was here! I felt relieved and elated.
The midwife went to lay her on my chest but just as I was about to touch this new little life that I’d spent 9 months talking to, she blurted ‘don’t touch her!’. Then she picked her off my bare skin. Then handed her to one of a growing number of doctors who had appeared in the room. This is a moment that would continue to replay in my mind months later.
She was taken to the special care unit, and my husband (who being gas and air free was a lot more aware of the seriousness of the situation) followed.
The doctor informed us that she was very poorly. They weren’t sure why at this stage. The following morning, we went to see her and our tiny bundle was covered in tubes. The Drs informed us that things hadn’t got any better and she had been having seizures throughout the night.
Transfer to The Rosie Hospital, Cambridge
The staff told us they were transferring her to The Rosie, Addenbrooks as they had a much larger capacity to care for poorly babies. Later that morning she was picked up by a specialist ambulance. As I was about to get ready to go, a consultant took me to one side and explained I also had an infection and had to stay where I was.
My husband went home to shower before meeting the ambulance at the next hospital. My mum came to be with me, having patiently waited for news of her first grandchild since the previous morning when I’d told her I was in labour. Each day my husband visited me in the morning and our baby during the day. Then back to me on his way home.
‘What shall we call her?’ her my husband asked. We had a shortlist but we’d decided to wait and meet our little girl and see which name suited her best before choosing one. ‘Do you still like Willow?’ He asked, ‘I have a form to fill out and I don’t want to keep writing infant surname.’
‘I like it’ I answered, ‘although is it too wacky? Will it suit her?’. An irrational fear of her getting muddled with other babies due to her not having a name and her mum not being in the same hospital took grip. ‘Let’s do it’, I replied. ‘Willow’.
A swab I had taken came back testing positive for Group B Strep. It became clear that infection was the cause of her symptoms. Luckily she had been on antibiotics since birth as a precaution. The infection had, however, manifested itself into septicemia and meningitis.
What is Strep B?
Strep B ( or Group B strep) is a bacteria carried by a quarter of women. Normally completely harmlessly. In a few cases, an infection can flare in labour and babies can contract it during their exit. It can be devastating. We were in fact very lucky, although at the time I felt far from it. Ten percent of babies who contract a Strep B infection sadly die and 1/20 are left with long-term disabilities. Frustratingly in many developed countries across the world pregnant women are tested for it, but not in the UK. We are not even told about it! I was neurotic during pregnancy. No cheat glasses of wine, no soft cheese, hell I even changed my face cream as it had vitamin A in it. Yet I’d never heard of Strep B.
Why don’t the NHS test for Group B Strep?
There have been many petitions around trying to encourage the government to introduce routine testing. At the very least, making it part of the information discussed by midwives during your pregnancy appointments. So far, although it is taken seriously, there are no firm changes in the way it is handled.
If a mother is a carrier, a dose of antibiotics given via IV during labour is proven to significantly reduce the risk of the baby becoming poorly. Although tests are not generally offered on the NHS, you can get yourself tested privately for about £35.
The main two reasons for the NHS, not testing, generally given, are:
- People being given antibiotics needlessly
As the test can only detect who is a carrier, not which small number of babies will get ill. Many babies are born to Strep B carrying mums with no problem. However as a mama who was affected by this, a dose of penicillin during birth, to hugely reduce the risk of such a serious infection is surely worth it?
2. Strep B carriage is transient, so even women who are carriers can test positive at one time and negative at another.
This is true, however, Strep B Support suggests that pregnant women undergo a simple swab test between 35-37 weeks. This means the likelihood is that the result will be the same at the time of delivery. This is the approach other countries that routinely test take.
Our strep B Experience continued
After 5 days I was transferred to the same hospital as Willow. Wires and monitors surrounded her, the bleeping and alarm bells dominating the small room she shared with three other poor souls.
One week after Willow’s birth we got to hold her. The moment I dreamt of throughout my pregnancy wasn’t exactly how I’d imagined but was beautiful and emotional nevertheless. Being careful not to knock any of her wires or the cannulas in her tiny feet. The nurse handed my bundle to me wrapped in a pink blanket my nana had made her. She yawned as she snuggled in my arms. It felt real. I was a mummy.
We stayed in the parent accommodation once I was discharged. This allowed me to feed Willow around the clock (amazingly breastfeeding worked for us).Once the infection had cleared, we were free to go, to put our experience out of our minds and concentrate on being parents. Easier said than done!
One year on
Well that was just over a year ago and I’m pleased to say
that Willow is doing wonderfully. Hitting all her milestones (and some more) Willow is a happy, energetic little girl, babbling and running around. She loves nursery school, playing with her toys and trying to climb the stairs whenever anybody forgets to shut the gate.
Babies are so resilient, despite their delicate appearance. I am so unbelievably proud of how strong Willow has proved to be. Also, I am well aware that we have been incredibly lucky and that many people are not so fortunate. I do everything I can to tell people about the risks of Strep B, and that although rare, are so easily prevented. If I can stop one other parent going through the heartache that I did, telling our story is worth it.
All I know just now is we couldn’t have picked a more perfect name. Willow, strong enough to weather any storm by bending not breaking.
The Strep B support team helped me immensely to understand what had happened. They helped me with the guilt I felt and gave me the information that I craved (geek!). Please check out their site / facebook group and get in touch if you have any concerns.