A week ago at my 36 week appointment with my midwife, I had my Group-B Strep test and two days later I was alerted that the results came back positive. Group-Beta Streptococcus is a naturally occurring bacteria that approximately 1/4 of all women carry in their digestive tracts and vaginal canals. The thing is, we carry a lot of bacteria and different kinds of flora in our bodies and most of these are positive and helpful for our digestion and immune system. Group-B Strep doesn’t affect most women negatively and isn’t really a “problem” until you become pregnant. Then it takes on a whole new meaning because GBS can be passed on to your baby as he passes through the vaginal canal during birth and in a small percentage of cases can be harmful. (In rare cases it can cause sepsis and meningitis, although there are other factors that attribute to these cases besides simply being a carrier.)
Needles to say, I was fairly devastated with the diagnosis. My pregnancy has admittedly been fairly easy so far and I’ve felt prepared for the unmedicated, natural labor that we have been planning for and working towards. This diagnosis threw a huge curveball at me, one which I was not prepared for.
When women test positive for GBS, antibiotics are recommended during labor to provide protection for you and your baby and to kill the GBS bacteria present during labor and birth. These antibiotics are given intravenously, approximately every four hours during labor. Here’s the real kicker- the most common antibiotic, the one proven to work the best in killing GBS AND penetrating the placenta wall to provide your baby with the necessary dose of preventative antibiotics, is penicillin. Guess who’s allergic to penicillin? Yeah that would be me. So, now there is a lot more grey area in our decision of whether to take the antibiotics or not.
My husband and I both immediately leaned towards not taking the antibiotics because 1) we believe that the side affects of the antibiotics can be potentially worse for the baby and for my body and, 2) since I am allergic to penicillin I’ll have to rely on a secondary antibiotic that hasn’t’ been proven to be as effective AND which I may also have an adverse reaction to (during labor!!) . Furthermore, the antibiotics may kill the GBS but they will also kill the good flora in my body that would be passed on through breast milk and help to strengthen the immune system of our son. On the other hand, we don’t want anything to happen to Casey and then feel responsible and guilty that we didn’t do everything in our power to protect him.
Besides the major decision of what to do, the way a positive GBS diagnosis is presented and discussed made me feel like I had done something wrong. That I was somehow unclean and at fault for testing positive for this naturally occurring bacteria in my body. Reading other blogs and comments on the internet, I’ve encountered many women who felt the same way. I’ve seen over and over in comment sections on blogs, women asking “what did I do wrong?” Intuitively, I know that we did nothing wrong and should’t feel this way and yet over and over again, women are presented with their diagnosis in such a way that they feel it is their fault. This added stress to women who are so far along in their pregnancy is about as necessary as a hole in their heads. I also know that in my case, I have been as healthy, and conscious of what I’m putting in my body during my pregnancy, as I can (Yes, that does include the occasional chocolate covered donut).
I have long known about the power of good bacteria, probiotics and maintaining a healthy pH balance in the body. I’ve been taking acidophilus regularly for the past two years, drink kombucha a few times a week, eat yogurt frequently, and treat myself to kefir when I can, all things that promote healthy digestion and intestinal health by introducing probiotics and active cultures of good bacteria into the body. I eat healthy, if not always organically, I keep my sweet tooth in check, mostly, and I drink plenty of water including water with lemon, daily. So I know, intuitively that my positive Group-B strep diagnosis is not something that I am at fault for. I know that there is probably not a whole lot I could have done to prevent it, but in reading lots of material in the past few days, including articles from the Journal of Midwifery (not just google and wikipedia), I also know that there is plenty that I can do to be proactive right now in reducing the colonization of GBS and decreasing the chances of passing it on to my baby (and hopefully successfully, and with a good conscious, forgoing antibiotics during labor).
So, my new regime begins. I’ve taken to drinking a concoction of hot water, crushed garlic, raw honey, lemon and apple cider vinegar every day (this tastes way better than it sounds). Garlic is known to have natural antibiotic properties and raw honey, lemon and apple cider vinegar help to balance the pH balance in our bodies. I’ve also upped my dose of acidophilus to two capsules a day and am going to start making my own kombucha again. In the meantime, I’m continuing to drink a store-bought Kombucha (a good one with no added sweeteners or extra ingredients) almost daily. I’m trying to add more foods with live cultures into my daily diet including sourdough bread, cheese made from raw milk, kefir, more yogurt and fermented foods including kimchi and pickles. I’ll also add a Vitamin-C supplement into my daily routine, continue to take a good prenatal supplement and drink a cup of green tea with echinacea a few times a week. This most likely won’t get rid of the Group-B Strep completely but I’m hoping that it can decrease the colonization of GBS, increase the good bacteria in my body and provide natural antibiotics for both Casey and I to keep us in tip-top shape during labor and birth. I have an appointment with another midwife tomorrow to discuss more of my options and I’m hoping they can retest me at 38-39 weeks as well as do a culture to see whether the other antibiotics that they would give me instead of penicillin are actually effective at killing the GBS cultures from my body.
I haven’t made up my mind about whether to have the antibiotics during labor or not. I know that there is a lot of controversy surrounding this issue and that there are people on both sides of the debate with very strong opinions. In the end, it is about doing all I can to protect my baby and keep him as healthy as possible. There are pros and cons to whatever route we decide to take. I don’t know what we will do yet but I do know I plan to be as proactive as possible right now and if I do decide to take antibiotics during labor I will just do all I can to recolonize my body with good flora and bacteria after birth so that I can pass on the best nutrition and keep both Casey and I as healthy and happy as possible as he grows and strengthens his immune system.
If you have made it this far through this post, thanks for letting me share and for listening. I’m happy to read any advice any other women may have! Thanks!