Tomorrow, from 9th – 15th October 2018 is Baby Loss Awareness Week, one week of the year dedicated to remembering babies who have sadly died in pregnancy or after birth.

More than 60 national charities are involved with this year’s Baby Loss Awareness Week, working collaboratively to raise awareness of the key issues that affect those who have experienced the loss of a pregnancy or baby.

Sadly, in the UK, the loss of a baby either in pregnancy or in the period after birth is not rare. It has been estimated that 1 in 225 pregnancies end in stillbirth, when the baby dies in the womb after 24 weeks gestation. This equates to over 3,430 babies each year. In 2015, it was found that 1,360 babies who were born after 24 weeks gestation died within 28 days of life, in the period known as the neonatal period. Of those babies dying within the neonatal period, 7% are estimated to have died because of infection.

Infection in pregnancy can be caused by various strains of bacteria that are transmitted to the baby, usually during delivery. One common type of bacteria is Group B Streptococcus (GBS). It is estimated that 20% of women in the UK carry this bacteria, found in the vagina and bowel. Those who carry the bacteria, unless tested, will be unaware as it is symptomless and is not associated with any health risks for the carrier. The problems arise when the bacteria comes into contact with babies during the process of giving birth.

Although GBS can cause infection in adults, it more commonly affects newborn babies who as a result of the infection can go on to develop sepsis, pneumonia and meningitis. In the UK, on average, two babies a day develop a GBS infection. Every week, one baby will die of a GBS infection.

Due to the aggressive nature of the illnesses that GBS can cause to newborn babies, adopting preventative measures to tackle GBS from the outset is more effective than treatment. Once detected in pregnancy, GBS is managed with the administration of intravenous antibiotics at the start of labour. The use of antibiotics given at this time has been known to reduce GBS infection in newborn babies by over 80%.

GBS can be easily detected with Enriched Culture Medium (ECM) testing. Unfortunately, this test is still not widely available within the NHS but due to years of campaigning by charities such as Group B Strep Support, it is becoming increasingly available and in September 2017, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists published national guidance which recommended that all women should be offered the ECM test in pregnancy. If your healthcare provider is unable to provide ECM testing, home testing kits can be purchased.

Further information on home testing can be found by clicking on this link: https://gbss.org.uk/info-support/pregnancy-and-birth/information-on-testing-for-group-b-strep/ecm-test-where-how/

If you have any concerns that your GBS was mismanaged in your labour and that this has resulted in you losing a child or your child suffering injury, contact our stillbirth and neonatal death specialist Carolyn Lowe, Partner, on 01856 781019 / carolyn.lowe@freeths.co.uk, for a free and confidential discussion about your options.

Alternatively, if you are based in the North of England, you may wish to contact another member of one of our national teams for an informal discussion:-

Jane Williams, Partner (Nottingham) on 0845 272 5724 or jane.williams@freeths.co.uk

Karen Reynolds, Partner (Derby/Stoke) on 0845 272 5677 or karen.reynolds@freeths.co.uk