Group B Strep During Pregnancy
Group B streptococcus, better known as group B strep or simply GBS, is a type of bacteria that usually does not cause serious illness in adults. Many people carry this bacteria without knowing it. If you test positive for GBS during pregnancy, it can be passed onto your baby if you give birth vaginally. To prevent your baby from getting GBS, your healthcare provider will treat your GBS during labor.
Find out more about GBS, how it’s treated during pregnancy, and what the symptoms of group B strep are in infants.
What Is GBS?
GBS is a bacteria commonly found in adults that usually does not cause illness or health problems. It can be found in the urinary tract, digestive system, and reproductive tract. Most people don’t even know that they have it.
About 25 percent of moms-to-be carry the GBS bacteria. In pregnant women, GBS can cause urinary tract infections, or an infection of the placenta, womb, and amniotic fluid.
Moms-to-be are routinely tested for GBS during pregnancy, because in some cases GBS can cause an infection that can be passed from the mom to her baby during a vaginal delivery.
How Group B Strep Is Contracted
Experts aren't sure how group B streptococcus is spread among adults, as it's not sexually transmitted, and it’s not spread through food or water. This type of bacteria seems to come and go naturally.
Even the healthiest of people can carry the GBS bacteria. You may carry it in your body for a short while, or you may have always had it.
Having GBS generally does not pose any harm, and will not make you feel ill, or even trigger any symptoms. In some instances, the bacteria may invade your system, causing an infection, which is then known as GBS disease. This is usually treated with antibiotics.
Getting Tested for Group B Strep During Your Pregnancy
Your healthcare provider will swab your vagina and rectum, and send the samples to a lab for testing. After a few days, results will show whether you carry the bacteria or not.
Group B Strep Treatment: Antibiotics
Being GBS positive doesn’t mean that your newborn baby will be at risk of becoming sick from it. If your test results come back positive, your healthcare provider will likely give you intravenous antibiotics during labor. This can reduce the chance of you passing the bacteria onto your child if you have a vaginal delivery.
Keep in mind that treatment is not effective if given well before your baby’s birth, because the bacteria can regrow. The antibiotics need to be administered during labor to be effective, ideally for at least four hours before delivery.
It’s important to know that the antibiotics you receive during labor can help prevent early-onset GBS disease in your baby, but not late-onset GBS disease. (Read more about the difference between early-onset and late-onset GBS below.)
The cause or causes of late-onset GBS disease aren't completely understood. That’s why it’s important to keep an eye out for the symptoms of GBS in your baby and to let your baby’s healthcare provider know right away if you see any of the signs.
How Group B Strep Can Affect Your Baby
If you have group B streptococcus and you give birth vaginally, your newborn may contract it as she moves through the birth canal. There’s a small chance your baby may become critically ill from the bacteria, which is why it’s important to get treatment for GBS (in the form of antibiotics during labor) if you test positive for it during your pregnancy.
Types of Group B Strep in Babies
There are two possible types of GBS infection in babies:
Early-onset infection. This means your baby will have gotten the infection at birth. Symptoms may start to appear within 12 to 48 hours.
Late-onset infection. This means your baby will have developed the infection a week to a few months after birth.
Symptoms of Group B Strep in Your Baby
If your newborn or infant has GBS disease, you may notice the following symptoms:
Irritability or lethargy
Bluish skin color.
If you notice any of these symptoms, let your baby’s healthcare provider know right away.
A GBS infection may lead to a more serious problem in your newborn, such as:
Pneumonia, an inflammation of the lungs
Bacteremia, an infection in the bloodstream
Sepsis, the body's extreme response to an infection
Meningitis, an inflammation of the membranes and fluid around the brain and spine.
Your baby’s healthcare provider will be able to diagnose and provide treatment for these conditions.
Treatment of Group B Strep in Babies
If your baby is diagnosed with either early-onset or late-onset GBS, your baby’s healthcare provider will administer antibiotics right away. Your baby may also be given oxygen and intravenous fluids.
Factors That Increase Your Baby’s Risk of Getting Group B Strep
There is an increased risk that your baby will develop GBS disease if
you carry GBS in your body
your baby was born prematurely
your water breaks 18 hours or more before you actually give birth
you have an infection of the placental tissues or amniotic fluid
the bacteria has been detected in your urine during this pregnancy or a previous one
your temperature is higher than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit during labor
you previously delivered a baby who contracted GBS.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
If you find out that you’re positive for the GBS bacteria, keep in mind that about a quarter of all moms-to-be have it. Your healthcare provider knows what steps to take to help prevent your baby contracting it. You’re in good hands!
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