In 2014, when I was pregnant with my first son, I had no idea about the Group B Strep (GBS) screening, until a friend told me about it. In her country, all women were routinely offered one in pregnancy. Surprised, I raised it with my midwife, was offered screening and tested positive (2-4 in every 10 women in the UK carry GBS). My son and I were both given antibiotics and my son was monitored in the hospital for 72 hours after birth.
My son was fine and I do not know how much my decision to test and the antibiotics changed the course of our story and there is a separate consideration about the over-usage of antibiotics. But I felt unsettled by the idea of all the things we are not told about while the public policy is being debated.
What about you? Do you want to make informed decisions about the risks? Or the less you know, the better you sleep?
Last year, I met Jane Plumb MBE, CEO and founder of the GBSS Charity that advocates for women in the UK to be routinely offered GBS screening in pregnancy. Jane and her husband set up the charity after their middle son got the GBS infection in 1996.
The NHS takes a risks-based approach and does not routinely test all pregnant women for GBS which causes controversy.
But I was surprised to find out that even information about the GBS at antenatal appointments is still patchy.
About the GBS (from the GBSS Charity website):
Group B Streptococcus (Group B Strep, Strep B, Beta Strep, or GBS) is a type of bacteria which lives in the intestines, rectum and vagina or around 2-4 in every 10 women in the UK (20-40%).
Group B Strep is not a sexually transmitted disease. Most women carrying GBS will have no symptoms. Carrying GBS is not harmful to you, but it can affect your baby around the time of birth.
If you carry GBS, most of the time your baby will be born safely and will not develop an infection. However, it can rarely cause serious infection such as sepsis, pneumonia or meningitis.
The risk of your baby becoming unwell with GBS infection is increased if your baby is born preterm, if you have a temperature while you are in labour, or if your waters break before you go into labour.
The GBSS Charity maintains a very informative website (https://gbss.org.uk/) and with the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists they co-wrote a leaflet to help parents make informed decisions around the GBS screening. The leaflet also explains why the UK National Screening Committee does not recommend routine testing.
My personal view is that while there might be valid reasons not to offer routine testing, every woman needs to be properly informed about the GBS and have the opportunity to discuss the best cause of action with her antenatal care team.
P.S. Let me know if you received the information about the GBS at your antenatal appointments or not. It would be interesting to see how the practice changes.
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