When I was pregnant with my daughter I planned for a natural birth. But as luck would have it, I tested positive for group B strep (GBS) and was told I would need IV antibiotics before delivery to protect my daughter from the risk of serious infection.
Like most people, I was unaware that antibiotics had any negative effects, and my doctor never mentioned any downside, so I went through with the recommendation. Two years later, while reading The Microbiome Solution by Dr. Robynne Chutkan, I became painfully aware of the negative and long-term consequences of antibiotic exposure in newborns.
To help educate other parents on the serious risk of exposing newborns to antibiotics, here’s a Q and A with Dr. Chutkan on treating GBS during pregnancy:
1) What is GBS and what health implications does it have for a mother and her child?
A: Group B streptococcus is a common bacteria found in the human GI tract that is also present vaginally in about 25 percent of healthy women. The overwhelming majority of babies born to GBS-positive mothers are completely healthy, but in about one in two hundred births, GBS may be associated with serious illness, including sepsis (infection in the blood), pneumonia and meningitis.
2) How can women prevent GBS colonization?
A: There is little evidence-based research on how to prevent GBS colonization in the GI tract and vagina, but anecdotal evidence supports the following safe practices:
• Eat an unprocessed, plant-based diet high in indigestible fibers and incorporate fermented foods daily
• Take a robust probiotic daily
• Focus on nutrition and lifestyle practices that protect immune function – that includes eating a plant-based diet with lots of deeply pigmented fruits and vegetables, getting plenty of rest, exercising regularly, and reducing stress
• Avoid antibiotics unless absolutely necessary prior to pregnancy to prevent depletion of healthy bacteria that can keep GBS at bay
3) What implications do antibiotics have for the health of the mother and her unborn child?
A: If antibiotics were benign, treating many asymptomatic people to prevent illness in a few wouldn’t be such a bad idea, but that’s definitely not the case. The undeniable fact is that antibiotics kill both bad and good microbes indiscriminately—GBS as well as the vital Lactobacillus population— paradoxically rendering those who are treated more rather than less prone to subsequent infection because of the reduction in protective species.
Babies exposed to antibiotics as newborns have an 84 percent increase in risk for obesity because of the effect on their developing microbiome and, like C-section babies, much higher rates of asthma, allergies, and autoimmune diseases later in life. If you’re contemplating conception, it’s important to keep in mind that if you’re treated with antibiotics during pregnancy for GBS, not only will your microflora be abnormal, but your baby’s will be too.
4) If a mother is treated with antibiotics for GBS infection, what can she do postpartum to help offset the damage to she and her child’s microbiome?
• Breastfeed for at least 1 year
• Take a robust probiotic
• Avoid medications that can lead to bacterial imbalance, including antibiotics, acid-blocking drugs (specifically PPI’s), corticosteroids, NSAIDs, birth control pills and hormone therapy
• Eat a diet rich in plants, focusing on indigestible plant fiber and fermented foods
• Use personal care and home cleaning products that don’t contain harmful chemicals like triclosan that can damage your microbes
• Get dirty! Anti-bacterial soap and harsh cleansers are unnecessary most of the time, especially where babies are concerned. Instead, use warm water and a mild soap just in the nooks and crannies.
By: Leslie Ann Berg, MSPH