What to Know About Group B Strep and Pregnancy

What to Know About Group B Strep During Pregnancy

February 13, 2019

What to Know About Group B Strep During Pregnancy

What to Know About Group B Strep During Pregnancy
What to Know About Group B Strep During Pregnancy

No mom-to-be wants to find out she has any type of infection while she’s pregnant.

So if you’ve just found out that you’re group B Strep positive, or if you’ve simply heard of this condition and worry you may be at risk, you likely have a slew of questions and concerns about what this diagnosis means and what the risks are for you and your baby.

We have the answers to all of your questions and the information that will put your mind at ease.

What is Group B Strep?

Group B Streptococcus (also called group B strep, or GBS) is a common type of bacteria that lives in the body naturally in the intestines and the urinary and genital tracks of both men and women.

If you’re a healthy adult, you don’t need to worry about GBS—it comes and goes on its own and is usually harmless. However, if you’re pregnant, it can be passed along to your baby, which is why it’s important to get tested for GBS and have the proper treatment plan in place during delivery if you have it.

What Causes Group B Strep?

The bacteria that causes group B strep is naturally occurring in our bodies, and anyone can be a carrier. It’s also very common—about 1 in 4 pregnant women carry the bacteria. And although group B strep can cause minor infections in adults like a bladder or urinary tract infection, most carriers don’t even know they have it.

How Do You Get Group B Strep?

Unlike the flu or even the common cold, group B strep isn’t something you can catch by being around another person who has it—it’s naturally occurring in our bodies. You can’t get it from food or water, and it’s not considered a sexually transmitted disease as it can occur in someone with no prior sexual experience. (It can, however, be passed through sex, including via oral contact.)

Group B strep is something that can be passed from a mother to an infant during childbirth, however. A baby can contract it during a vaginal delivery if they are exposed to or swallow the fluids containing the bacteria.

What is the Group B Strep Test?

Here’s some good news—the group B strep test is a routine test that is quick, easy and painless.

Between 35 weeks pregnant and 37 weeks pregnant, your healthcare provider will test you for group B strep by taking a swab of your vagina and your rectum during one of your regular exams. The sample will be sent to a lab, and your results will usually be available in a few days.

In the case of an early or unexpected delivery, it’s also possible to do several quick screening tests while you’re in labor—but this shouldn’t take the place of the standard GBS test if possible.

Group B Strep Symptoms

Most people who test positive for GBS won’t show any symptoms—the positive test simply indicates that you’re a carrier and not that you’ll necessarily pass it along to your baby. But there are some symptoms that may mean you’re at a higher risk of delivering a baby with group B strep. They include:

  • A previous baby with GBS
  • Fever (100.4 F or higher) during labor
  • Urinary tract infection that’s a result of GBS during your pregnancy
  • Labor and/or water breaking (also called ruptured membranes) prior to 37 weeks pregnant
  • Ruptured membranes 18 hours or more before delivery
  • An infection of placental tissues and amniotic fluid

You’re also at an increased risk for group B strep if you have a medical condition that affects your immune system (such as diabetes, HIV, liver disease or cancer).

If you are a carrier for GBS while in labor and you’re not treated, there is a 1-2% chance that your baby will get the infection, and a slightly higher chance if you have the above risk factors.

How to Treat Group B Strep

More good news here—the treatment for group B strep is simple and very effective.

If you’ve tested positive for the bacteria, you’ll need an intravenous (IV) antibiotic during labor and delivery. Penicillin is the best for most women, but if you’re allergic, there are other effective options you can discuss with your healthcare provider.

As soon as your labor has begun and you’ve been checked into the hospital, you’ll be hooked up to an IV to administer the antibiotics. It’s recommended that the antibiotics are given every four hours during active labor until your baby is delivered.

If you’re a group B strep carrier and you’re having a scheduled c-section birth before labor starts and before your water breaks, you most likely won’t need any medication, but you should still discuss your treatment plan with your doctor just to be sure.

How Does Group B Strep Affect Baby?

Before you add this to your list of worries, it’s important to point out that with the right treatment, the statistics around properly treating and preventing your baby from contracting group B strep are very much in your favor.

A pregnant woman who tests positive for GBS and gets antibiotics during delivery has only a 1 in 4,000 chance of delivering a baby who will contract the bacteria. But if baby does get GBS, here’s what to know.

There are two kinds of GBS in babies: early-onset and late-onset.

Early-onset GBS presents within the first seven days of life and accounts for about half of all GBS infections in newborns. It presents with symptoms such as fever, trouble breathing or drowsiness, and can cause pneumonia (a lung infection), sepsis (a blood infection) or meningitis (an infection of the fluid and lining around the brain). Babies with GBS that doesn’t develop into other problems are usually treated with IV antibiotics in the newborn intensive care unit.

Signs of late-onset GBS generally will begin between seven days old and three months, and include symptoms like coughing and congestion, trouble eating, fever, drowsiness and seizures. It can cause sepsis and pneumonia. Early visits to your pediatrician are important.

Hopefully, this information helps you understand the routine group B test during pregnancy, and the treatments available if you do test positive for GBS.

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