Group B streptococcus (GBS) is a type of bacterial infection found in a woman’s intestines, vagina or rectum. Approximately 25 percent of all healthy, adult women have these bacteria. Often, Adults don’t show any symptoms except for bladder or urinary tract infections. Although not dangerous in adults, a mother can pass GBS to her baby during delivery.
Why is GBS a problem for babies? Samantha Corral, a certified nurse midwife at Creekside Center for Women, explains that
“It is so important to be screened and appropriately treated because the risks of untreated Group B strep can be devastating for newborns. If the GBS leads to an infection in a newborn, the possible outcomes include illness, deafness, developmental disabilities, and even death.”
How do you know if you have GBS?
The best way to know if you have GBS is to get tested. Group B strep screening is a routine part of prenatal care across the country. Even women who plan to have home births will undergo Group B strep screening with their licensed lay midwife. If you have GBS, your health care provider can give you treatment during labor and delivery that protects your baby from GBS. The good news is “GBS in newborns has become exceedingly rare because we now know how to prevent it with antibiotics administered during labor effectively,” said Corral.
Your provider will give you a simple and painless test for GBS at 35 to 37 weeks of pregnancy. They will take a swab of the cells on your vagina and rectum and will send the sample to a lab. The test results are usually available in 1 to 2 days.
How likely is it that you will pass GBS to your baby?
If the infection is left untreated, there’s a 2% chance that your baby will get GBS during childbirth. The possibilities are higher if you have any of these risk factors:
- The baby is premature (baby born before 37 weeks of pregnancy).
- Your water breaks 18 hours or more before you have your baby.
- You have a fever during labor.
- Previously delivered a baby with a GBS infection.
- Experienced a UTI during your pregnancy that was caused by GBS.
How Can You Protect Your Baby from Group B Strep Infection (GBS)?
If your GBS test at 35 to 37 weeks shows you have the infection, your provider will give you an antibiotic during labor through an IV.
“Some women express concern about the effects of antibiotics on the newborn’s microbiome, and that is a valid concern,” according to Corral, “but this is a great example of the importance of weighing risks and benefits.”
Penicillin is the best antibiotic for most women although another antibiotic called ampicillin also can be used if a woman is allergic to penicillin.
“The risk of a GBS infection of a newborn far exceeds the risk of a temporary alteration of the microbiome due to antibiotics given to mom. Moms who do require antibiotics during their labor due to positive GBS status can protect and fortify their newborn’s microbiome by facilitating skin-to-skin contact and by exclusively breastfeeding. It ensures that the baby will receive lots of mom’s good bacteria, as well as important immunological factors to help fight infections and diseases.”
More information on GBS: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
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