I had a 36 hour labor with my first baby, and it all started with my water breaking when I was only dilated to two centimeters. In our country, the standard protocol for a mother who tests positive for Group B Strep (or GBS) is IV antibiotics every four hours after the bag of waters breaks until baby is born. Most mothers receive one to two doses, but because my water broke so early, I ended up with eight or nine. EIGHT OR NINE BAGS OF ANTIBIOTICS. In a day and a half. If you know anything about current research on gut bacteria, you may have shuddered a little reading that. Me, too. Because, well, my gut was totally wrecked after that. And so was my new baby’s. It took an entire year to clear us of thrush (a nasty nursing yeast infection—yeast grows wild in the body after antibiotics) and even longer to really impact my mental health, as the gut and mind are super connected and research even states our mood is determined by our gut flora, not our brains.
So when I found out I was pregnant again just before my first baby turned two, you can understand that one of my first questions at my first prenatal visit was, “Is there a way to prevent Group B Strep this go around? I have to avoid antibiotics. I cannot go through that again!”
The midwife at the birth center looked at me like I had two heads and then said, “No. And every mom I’ve ever worked with who tested positive in one pregnancy went on to test positive in every other pregnancy. So you’ll probably have it.”
Gee, thanks. I felt pretty anxious (and I was already in the thick of a battle with debilitating anxiety), but also determined to prove her wrong. From what I understood, GBS was an opportunistic bacteria that needed to be kept in check much like the yeast I had worked so hard to balance. Maybe some of the good bacteria and herbal remedies I had supplemented with to heal my gut could be used to heal and prevent infection in my birth canal, too!
And, spoiler alert, they did! I continued with the lifestyle changes I had made in my pursuit of holistic health (anti-inflammatory diet, daily exercise, stress relief techniques, etc.). I also really focused on my vaginal flora (yes, this is a thing!) throughout my pregnancy, especially in the third trimester (the GBS test is at 36 weeks).
I am not a medical professional, but all of the conventional doctors and nurses I talked to about preventing GBS told me it wasn’t possible. Luckily, when I transferred my care to Anna, the midwife we used for our home birth, she was totally on board with my protocol and was so excited to call me right away when she got my negative lab results. So I think this is worth sharing! Here’s what I did:
1. Add apple cider vinegar to baths.
ACV is said to have all kinds of benefits, including feeding healthy flora and balancing yeast levels. I took ACV baths weekly and then every couple of nights in the few weeks leading up to my GBS test. I also added a few drops of tea tree oil to the last couple of baths. And on the morning of my test, I wiped from front to back with ACV on a rag.
2. Insert garlic.
I take garlic capsules orally every day for yeast/bacteria maintenance and general immunity, so I did this throughout my entire pregnancy. But I also inserted garlic vaginally, too, and I read up on a few different methods for this. If using fresh garlic, the key is cutting little slits in it to get the internal antibacterial/antifungal compounds to come in contact with your downstairs. Beware, this can burn! I used fresh garlic a few times, but found inserting capsules of ground garlic (found at my local health food store) to be much more comfortable. I did this once every week or two in my second trimester and then every three days in my third. I found inserting it right before bedtime to be the least annoying. Yes, you will smell like garlic (and you may even taste it in your mouth, too—so crazy!), but this was totally worth it to me. But, killing off bacteria down there, even with a natural antibiotic like garlic, means you need to replenish the good flora. So, the next step…
3. Insert vagina-specific probiotics.
Continue taking daily probiotics orally and consider adding one specific to women’s health. From what I understand, L Rhamnosus is the important strand. I added this on to oral supplement regimen throughout my second pregnancy, and in the third trimester I inserted a capsule each night I wasn’t inserting garlic. That means two nights of probiotics followed by one night of garlic, and repeat.
And, TA-DA! Negative for GBS! I was so happy, I cried. I really didn’t want antibiotics, and I felt super good about the health of my birth canal after treating it naturally throughout my entire pregnancy.
Are you looking to avoid Group B Strep and mandatory antibiotics in your pregnancy and birth? I really believe it can be prevented! <3