To all of my usual lovely readers (blows kiss) that have popped by expecting one of my usual cake, poop and snot themed rhymes, I’m sorry, but this not one of those posts. In fact this will be the first post I’ve written that doesn’t rhyme. I mean seriously – What rhymes with Group B Strep?? On a serious note though: This is by far the most difficult post that I have written, and whether I will actually go on to hit publish remains to be seen, but if you’re reading this, then I guess I did.
So. Last night I read an excellent post by DISCOmBUBulated about Group B Strep. I’ve been blogging for nearly a year now and this is the first post I’ve come across about this very serious and potentially life threatening condition. Have you heard of it? I’m sure that some of you will, but those of you that are thinking “Eh?” are not on your own. In fact “Eh?” is pretty much exactly what I said when I was told that my 2 week old baby boy had contracted it, and that I had given it to him.
Here’s why I know a bit about it…
Mstr Tot was born in a midwife led unit after what I have lovingly referred to as a dream labour. I was the only person on the whole unit all day, we were fed tea and toast while Magic FM played in the background. I admired the views out of the window and a fancy colour changing bubble lamp thingy in the corner. When the going got a bit tough I just “hopped” *coughs* into the birthing pool, quick snort of gas and air and out he popped! Within 3 hours I was at home and showing him off to his excited grandparents.
The next few days passed in a blur. I was a second time Mum. I had “nailed” labour this time after a particularly difficult birth and lengthy recovery with my first. I was up bright and breezy the next morning and raring to go as a family of four. I was determined that our first born would not feel neglected one tiny bit! I was SuperMum!! We spent the first week of my husband’s paternity leave in hospital first time around, but not this time! This paternity leave we were all set for family adventures! We welcomed friends and family who all came (often bearing cake) and met our precious little bundle. We prepared for Miss Tot’s 2nd birthday which was just four days after Mstr Tot was born. We had a small family gathering at home and showered her with balloons and attention. Mstr Tot seemed to settle in perfectly. Yes we were up most of the night as he grunted like a warthog, and he seemed to want to feed incessantly and non-stop between the hours of 6pm and 2am, but we had done this before and we knew that the sleep deprivation would not kill us. We would be fine!
We took him for his first weigh in the next day. He was 5 days old and all was perfect! He had lost a couple of oz which was I was a little disappointed with as Miss Tot didn’t lose even lose an oz! But as a breastfed baby I knew that this was totally normal and I silently patted myself on the back for apparently mastering the breastfeeding again. I really was “SuperMum!” Two children under 2 – no problem! Labour – Pah! Breastfeeding – Nailed it!
We carried on. We enjoyed the hubby’s second week of paternity leave and had a couple of little outings. One of which was to a Stately home where we smiled at our new gorgeous baby boy all snuggled up in his puschair. We even took him in his carry seat onto the little steam train with us. I felt proud (and yes, a little smug). There I was with my tiny little brand new baby enjoying a family day out, watching his big sister laugh at the fountains and play on the swings. I had been pretty much house bound for weeks following my first birth and I was so keen to make the point that I had not been beaten this time. That I had not needed to be nervous of having two very young children. That I was coping just fine and that I had this all in the bag…
Mstr Tot seemed to be the most content baby ever. He slept. All day long. I was a mum on a schedule. He really wasn’t very demanding with regards to food and so I would wake him around every 3 hours to feed. He would feed for up to an hour before falling back to sleep. I congratulated myself on obviously feeding him so well that he was content and sleeping soundly. He obviously must be happy otherwise he would tell me!? He was still a little jaundiced. His umbilical cord had dropped off quite early and his tummy button seemed a bit icky to me, but I was in regular contact with my excellent midwife, who reassured me that it should be fine, that they can be a bit icky and that she would check it when she next visited in a couple of days.
On an evening our little man was a different baby. From around 6pm he would scream and be inconsolable unless he was feeding. He seemed to be so upset and just wanted to feed for hours on end right through the night. After letting him feed for what felt like forever, we would take him off me and spend hours trying to wind him, convinced that he was just feeding for comfort, and that the constant feeding was making him uncomfortable, or that he had trapped wind that needed dealing with. We rubbed and patted and jiggled but he would just cry and cry. Eventually after a cycle of endless feeding / jiggling / rubbing and screaming he would fall asleep at about 1 or 2am and then pretty much sleep solidly until I woke him to feed him again. I was the ultimate guilty mum and would let him sleep for 4 (I think even 5 hours on one occasion), convincing myself that he must have taken so much milk during his evening “feedathon” that he was fine to go a bit longer during the early hours. Surely if he was hungry he would have woken up to tell me? I mean whoever heard of waking up a sleeping baby at 4am to feed them? Nah!
When he was 11 days old our wonderful midwife came to do his second weight check. This time her face dropped. She checked his tummy cord stump and went and made a phone call. He had lost 14% of his birth weight – 18ozs in total. The vast majority of this had all been lost in the space of 6 days. I was devastated.
We were admitted to hospital…
We were immediately sent into hospital to have him checked over. There was no tongue tie or physical feeding issue. He seemed a little lethargic and sleepy, but otherwise seemed to be OK. His tummy button was confirmed to be “a bit icky” but nothing to be particularly concerned about. They took swabs just to be safe. Next onto me: I was presented with an electric breast pump and asked to express to see what I was producing. Hats off to anyone that uses these things as in my opinion they are nothing short of torture. I gritted my teeth and managed to produce a whole 1/2 oz. So this was the problem. I wasn’t producing enough milk. It seems that for whatever reason my little man just wasn’t really feeding properly. He wasn’t stimulating my supply, and so he was hungry, which made him tired, too tired to eat, and so the cycle continued.
We were observed feeding and then allowed to go home later the same day. I was distraught. I had been given instructions to wake him to feed every two hours (from the start of each feed, which would generally take around 45 mins). In between feeds I was to try and express as much (or as little in my case) as I could, which was then to be fed to him via a syringe. This was to continue 24 hours a day, as well as looking after a 2 year old, and facing the fact that my hubby was about to go back to work. I sobbed and clung on to my little man for the next two days. The hubby eventually encouraged me to leave the house for an hour and we all went to a local family restaurant for lunch. I cried throughout the whole time we were there. I just wanted to go home. I just wanted to let my son feed. I just wanted to hold him. I felt torn up inside and swamped with guilt that I hadn’t noticed that he had been starving. My tiny newborn baby had come into the world and experienced real hunger and illness in such a short space of time, and I as his mother hadn’t seen it. I somehow hadn’t spotted the signs. I look back at photos of him at two weeks old and it still makes me want to cry.
We took it one day at a time. I fed him. Constantly. I let him feed for 8 hours solid every evening, because that is what he wanted. I let him feed until I ached. I also topped him up with formula which broke my heart, but it worked. My amazing midwife supported me throughout and came back every couple of days to weigh him. Within a few days we were able to drop the formula altogether.
6 days after our hospital visit we were contacted by the Doctor to advise that the swabs that they had taken of our baby’s tummy button confirmed that he had contracted Group B Strep. We were told not to worry and prescribed antibiotics. I nodded along and in some small way felt a little relieved to hear that this was most likely the cause of my son’s “lazy feeding”. It was almost good to know that there was a physical cause, and that it could be cured. Did I know what Group B Strep was? Nope. Was I concerned? Nope.
I came home with his medication and casually hit Google (as you do). The facts were terrifying:
“Most babies who become infected can be treated successfully and will make a full recovery.
However, even with the best medical care the infection can sometimes cause life-threatening complications, such as:
- blood poisoning (septicaemia)
- infection of the lung (pneumonia)
- infection of the lining of the brain (meningitis)
One in 10 babies born with GBS will die from the infection. Another one in five babies who survive the infection will be affected permanently. Early-onset GBS infection can cause problems such as cerebral palsy, deafness, blindness, and serious learning difficulties.”*
*information taken from the NHS Website.
I was horrified and beside myself with worry. Thankfully our little man had already started to improve dramatically due to the continuous feeds and formula top ups now that we knew that there was a problem with my milk supply. But what on earth was this infection? How had he got it? What harm was it going to cause him?
It turns out that I am one of around 20% of women who carry the Group B Strep bacteria. In most cases we carry it without any symptoms and it doesn’t cause us any problems. There is however a risk that the bacteria can pass to our babies in child birth. The Group B Strep Support website quotes the following statistics:
“Overall, without preventative medicine, GBS infections would affect an estimated 1 in every 1,000 babies born in the UK. Therefore, based on 700,000 babies born annually in the UK, approximately:
- 230,000 babies would be born to mothers who carry GBS; 88,000 babies (1 in 8) become colonised with GBS; 700 babies would develop GBS infections, usually within 24 hours of birth; and
- 75 babies (11% of infected babies) would die.”
We received another call from our GP later that evening asking us to go back to the surgery so that our little man could be checked out again. This came as no surprise to me having just read what I had. Needless to say we were all beside ourselves all night.
We were lucky. So incredibly lucky.
Our GP checked him over and considered him to be fine. He completed his course of antibiotics. His tummy cord healed, but had to eventually be cauterized with a silver nitrate pen. Within 10 days of us being admitted to hospital he had regained all of his lost weight and was back to his birth weight. Our wonderful midwife continued to support us until he was a month old. Mostly I think to support me, as I was still fraught that he would relapse, or that I would miss vital signs that something was wrong (again). I cannot thank her enough for her time and help and I will always be incredibly grateful to her.
This is the little man now…
– I am so relieved to say that he made 100% recovery and is just perfect (OK so he likes to keep his finger up his nose but we’ll let him off with that).
So what could I have done to prevent this?
In many countries in Europe, parts of the US and in Australia there is a routine test which is offered in pregnancy to identify mums that carry the bacteria. If identified as being GBS positive, these mums are then given antibiotics via a drip as soon as their waters have broken and throughout their labour. This has proved to be highly effective at preventing the baby contracting the condition as they are born.
In the UK we are not routinely screened for GBS. Very few NHS trusts offer the test automatically, however some will arrange a test on request or based on certain risk factors, alternatively a test can be bought privately.
The ECM test is quoted to cost the NHS £11 per test and the antibiotics used to treat the mother during labour in most case cost just pennies.
What can you do…?
There is a petition currently in place to “Provide tests for group B Strep to prevent any more avoidable deaths of newborn babies” Please read and show your support for this valuable cause. I was one of the lucky mums but there are so many other families who have not been so lucky and have tragically lost their precious new babies to this condition which could potentially have been prevented so easily.
You can also visit the amazing Group B Strep Support website for information, support and practical ways to get involved and help raise awareness.
Lastly… please help me spread the word and raise awareness. I was prompted to write this post having been gently nudged by the fabulous blogger DISCOmBUBulated to share my experiences. Now you know about Group B Strep, please tell other people. If you have questions on it please ask your midwife or health care provider. After all I have zero expertise on this matter. I just have a story to tell, and if somebody had told me their story I might have known to ask about this condition myself, and potentially had the test which could have prevented it.
…. and to my little superstar!
Mummy will always be sorry about those two weeks, but she will spend the rest of her life making sure that the rest of your weeks are so very special.
Love you always xx
Thank you for reading x
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