Breast Milk Could Protect Babies From Group B Strep

Sep 22, 2017 at 8:00 a.m. ET
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There’s a little bit of a light at the end of the tunnel for moms with Group B strep bacteria, as their breast milk could prevent babies from being reinfected with the germ.

According to a study in the American Chemical Society's Infectious Diseases journal, breast milk could protect some infants from Group B strep reinfection after birth.

More: When you're sick, you should still breastfeed your baby

Expectant mothers are evaluated for GBS during their third trimester. Those who test positive are given antibiotics during labor to prevent passage of the bacteria to the baby. The threat of the infant picking up the bacteria still persists for about one week to three months after birth. Mothers can get it again as well, even after being treated during labor.

GBS can pass through breast milk. The study, however, found that some women have sugars in their breast milk than can protect their babies from being reinfected.

Dr. Steven Townsend, an assistant chemistry professor at Vanderbilt University who researched the infection, said the medical community isn’t sure how infants get GBS after birth — they may get it in the hospital, and it can also pass from infant and back to the treated mother via nursing.

More: The Craziest Things Breastfeeding Moms Have Heard

Breast milk with superpowers

In his study, Townsend’s team looked at samples of breast milk from donors. They found certain samples were more effective at producing a protective substance known as a biofilm, which safeguarded infants from the bacteria. You can’t trigger your body to generate the protective sugars — some people who breastfeed just have them.

Also, it looks like some people produce breast milk sugars that make the bacteria more vulnerable to common antibiotics, such as penicillin and erythromycin. If that’s found to be the case, Townsend said it could mean that the sugars may have potential as an antibacterial treatment, which could potentially lower our dependence on some antibiotics.

He said he believes further research will find that breast milk has various protective measures that can be good for different things.

Keep nursing

Treated for GBS and worried about reinfection? Don’t stop nursing — your breast milk is the “gold standard for infant nutrition,” Townsend said.

More: How I became that mom breastfeeding a 4-year-old

Breastfeeding does not put babies at an increased risk of contracting GBS, Townsend added.

By Kristen Fischer

Originally published on HelloFlo.