Modern medicine has finally agreed that breastfeeding is one of the most beneficial things a new mother can do for her baby. However, there are times when breastfeeding is not a possibility due to factors outside of the mother’s control. One of those instances to be taken into consideration is when the mother has a disease or infection that could be passed to the baby through her breast milk.
The question is if new mother’s who have been diagnosed with Group B Strep disease can safely breastfeed their baby. First, let’s look at what Group B Strep (GBS) is so we can better understand the issue.
What is GBS?
GBS is a bacteria that’s naturally found in the digestive and reproductive systems of both men and women. The problem arises when GBS colonizes in the mother’s rectum and vagina and is then transmitted to the baby at birth. Invasive GBS can cause infant death when left untreated and is mostly transmitted only through the birthing process. Babies who contract GBS can develop sepsis and meningitis ultimately leading to death.
Can GBS be transmitted through breastmilk?
Rarely, GBS can be transmitted through the mother’s milk. These cases aren’t fully understood by doctors since there are so few documented instances, however, two theories of transmission do exist. First, mothers may develop colonization of the milk ducts due to the flow of milk associated with the act of nursing and the baby is then infected as the bacteria increases in the milk. The second theory is that lactic acid bacteria from the mother’s gut is transferred to the milk and then to the baby’s digestive duct.
According to studies, transmission of GBS through breastfeeding is a remote possibility, so now the question is if mothers should breastfeed with that knowledge in mind. Most doctors believe that while GBS is a potential risk to infants, the high levels of antibodies in the breast milk offer protection against the risk is the high majority of babies. Also, breast milk provides so many benefits for an infant that they greatly outweigh the potential risk of GBS since it’s so rare. In fact, these benefits are so great that they last for years past infancy by boosting immunity and fighting allergies. Therefore, it’s our conclusion that mothers with GBS can and should still breastfeed their babies after consulting their doctor.
If you’re concerned that you may transmit GBS to your baby, first talk to your doctor about getting tested for the bacteria. This is a simple test performed during weeks 35-37 of pregnancy. If diagnosed, medicine can then be administered to help lower the risk of transmitting the bacteria to your baby. You won’t begin a medicine regime right away. Instead, you’ll receive antibiotics through an IV during labor. Your breast milk can also be tested after delivery to ensure it’s free of contaminates if you didn’t get the test done during your pregnancy. If the tests are negative, rest assured that you’re providing immense benefits to your baby by making the choice to breastfeed.