The hidden risk to newborn babies

Holding a newborn baby

The hidden risk to newborn babies

It is a potentially lethal infection for newborn babies, and carried by one in four pregnant women.

Yet few are informed about it, and the NHS does not routinely screen for it.
Which is why Group B Strep Support is tirelessly campaigning for the Government to act swiftly to save little lives.

Group B Streptococcus – also known as GBS or Group B Strep – is a bacteria which can be passed from mother to baby around the time of birth. Without preventative medecine, an estimated one in 300 infants could become ill.
That is 700 sick babies a year, of which 75 die and another 40 will suffer lifelong serious health problems.

The advice from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has been to give antibiotics in labour to high risk women. But without testing to discover who is a carrier, high risk cases will not be identified in time.

Expectant mums are tested at 34 weeks in many European countries, as well as the US, Canada and Australia.

But screening is not offered in the UK and there are no guidelines for midwives to discuss it with mums-to-be.

Currently, the only option available to women is a private test which costs around £32 – and that’s only if women are aware of the infection.

Bacteriologist Professor Hugh Pennington is backing the campaign by Group B Strep Support. He said: “We don’t know why some babies with Strep B die and others don’t.

“But what we do know is there is a risk.”

Most women have never heard of Group B Strep, or been informed of the risks.

A recent survey by Bounty Parenting Club discovered 42 per cent of women who were aware of Group B had learned about it from a magazine or book. Another 21 per cent were told by a friend or another mum.

Only a quarter were informed by a health professional.

So many women who are able to pay for a private test are being denied the option, by not even knowing about the infection.

Group B Strep Support’s chief executive Jane Plumb, who lost a child to the infection, said: “It is time for the Government to start thinking with its head, as well as its heart and offer pregnant women routine testing.”

While for most babies Group B Strep causes no problems, for others it can be deadly, leading to blood infection, meningitis and pneumonia.

It is the UK’s most common cause of life-threatening infection in newborns, whose immune systems are not developed enough to fight the bacteria.

As the baby gets older, the likelihood of Group B infection is uncommon.
Decisions about screening programmes are based on the advice of the UK National Screening Committee – which so far advises against systematic screening, but its policy is due to be re-examined in 2011/12.


At 35 weeks pregnant, Nadia Wright had to be induced, as scans revealed her baby’s growth rate had slowed down.

Her son Brandon was born at 5.24pm on July 19, 2006 and at 5lbs 12oz, he appeared to be fine.

But two hours later he was put on a ventilator and stabilised, having suffered breathing difficulties.

By 3.30am the following day, Nadia and partner Scott Kyles, 25, were told their son had taken a turn for the worse.

Doctors were checking his heart and lungs and considering transferring him to a hospital better equipped to save his life.

An ambulance was called at 9am, and by this time a different doctor told the couple their son could have Group B Strep. An hour later, Brandon’s heart rate had dropped so drastically, it was decided he wouldn’t survive the journey
Nadia, who works for Tesco, said: “Brandon passed away at 10.15am, as we stood by in shock and floods of tears.

“I didn’t want to leave him, and we were allowed to bath him and dress him, and stay with him until later that night.

“The hospital photographer took pictures of him, and in the following days we were able to bring family to visit him.

“But it was so unreal, to have lost our baby so suddenly and cruelly.
“It was supposed to be the happiest time of our lives, but instead my parents were helping to arrange their grandson’s funeral.”

A post mortem later confirmed Group B Strep had caused pneumonia and sepsis, which led to Brandon’s death.

Nadia, from Dundee, was assured in her next pregnancy that she and her baby would be given antibiotics in labour. She and Scott are now the proud parents of two-year-old Zach.

Nadia said: “Zach was the double of Brandon when he was born – just a bigger version.

“We constantly talk about Zach’s big brother, and tell him he’s in the sky with the angels.

“I was really angry when I looked into Group B Strep, and found out how easily it could have been prevented.

“For medical professionals to ignore something like this, it’s just really terrible.”

* For more information on Group B Strep, check out or call Group B Strep Support on 01444 416176

Image (c) Daniel Morris via Flickr

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5 Thoughts on “The hidden risk to newborn babies

  1. Thank you for highlighting that testing for this isn’t carried out in the UK. I am due to give birth in France in four weeks and thought that testing was carried out everywhere so hadn’t even given it a thought. I’ve just informed my future SiL of your article and I hope that other moms to be will be better informed as well. Thank you!

  2. Donna@MummyCentral on March 23, 2011 at 7:58 pm said:

    Glad to have helped. Most hospitals will test if parents insist upon it – they just don’t make a habit of telling women it’s available. Otherwise, £30 for peace of mind is well worth it. Carriers of this infection just need some antibiotics during labour to protect baby from it.

  3. My best friend had Step B during both her pregnancies. I has never even heard it it until then. She had no symptoms at all, but obviously it was important the midwives knew. I think it is great for you to be raising awareness of this.

  4. Little Disey on March 25, 2011 at 2:08 pm said:

    Its good that so many people are raising awareness of this. I had never heard of GBS from any medical professionals at all during my pregnancy, but via a site for older Mums I belonged to I became aware of it. I had planned to have the private test at 35 weeks however waters broke at 32 weeks and my son arrived 8 weeks early – infected with GBS and it was the infection that caused the early rupture of membranes. GBS is one of the most common causes of early rupture. Zach was on ventilated life support for 5 days with sepsis and menigitis, morphine, antibiotics the lot – he improved slowly and went on to CPAP breathing and then after 2 weeks was breathing on his own. I didn’t get to hold him until he was 5 days old. We are one of the lucky ones, Zach is now 4 years old and absolutely fine. No long term problems from the GBS, but I am well aware how lucky we are, other babies do not fare so well.

  5. SO RELIEVED your story ended happily Little Disey. So many stories don’t – which is why we thought it important to write about this.
    All mums should spread the word. For some reason the NHS are pretty silent on this subject.

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