Expert Advice

Do I Need the Group B Streptococcus (GBS) Test?

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Group B Streptococcus (GBS) is a bacterial infection found in the urinary tract, vagina, or rectum of about 25% of pregnant women. It’s an infection that can come and go, is not sexually transmitted, nor is it spread through food and water. The Group B Streptococcus test is routine in pregnancy, and though you may test positive for it that doesn’t mean your baby will get it. Many people (including newborns) carry the bacteria without experiencing symptoms.

The GBS test is done using a cotton swab to take vagina and rectum samples at 35-37 weeks and then during delivery. 91% of women testing negative at 35-37 weeks remained negative in the labor room test.

Why is GBS serious?

GBS can be passed from mother to baby during delivery, with the potential for causing newborn

  • Infection: sepsis (blood), pneumonia (lungs), and/or meningitis (brain and spinal cord)
  • Breathing problems
  • Heart and blood pressure instability
  • Gastrointestinal and kidney problems

Not every mother with GBS will pass it to her baby, and not every baby will fall ill. But because the effects are so threatening to babies, testing for GBS is routine during pregnancy, and the treatment for it is antibiotics.

What are the symptoms?

There are two main types of GBS in newborns: early onset and late onset.

Early infection means a newborn develops symptoms within their first week of life, usually within 24-48 hours. Late onset means infection develops within the first 3 months of life.

For baby, early onset symptoms are lethargy, fever, or difficulty feeding. Late onset symptoms are lethargy, fever, difficulty feeding, difficulty breathing, and irritability.

For mom, GBS can cause urinary tract infections, blood infections, or pneumonia without passing it to baby.

According to Evidence-Based Birth, some things that increase the chance of early onset infection in newborns are (for more info, click on the studies cited here):

Pregnant women with the following symptoms are considered high-risk for passing GBS to their babies:

  • Labor or rupture of membranes before 37 weeks
  • Rupture of membranes 18 hours or more before delivery
  • Fever during labor
  • A urinary tract infection as a result of GBS during your pregnancy
  • A previous baby with GBS

If you aren’t treated with antibiotics, your baby stands a 1 in 200 chance of getting GBS. If you are treated, that rate plummets to 1 in 4,000—an 80% drop.

Women who are carriers but not experiencing symptoms will not be treated with antibiotics before labor because it won’t prevent baby’s contagion.

What about my baby’s microbiome?

Now that we know that antibiotics affect our microbiome, what happens to babies born with GBS antibiotics in their system? Research found that some effects existed in certain babies, but by one year old those effects were gone.

The antibiotics are worth it. When GBS could hurt your baby, modern medicine has your back!

To learn more about pregnancy health, download our free Birth Plan eBook now. After three years of research, collaboration with more than 100 childbirth experts and resource centers from Healthy Child Healthy World to the American Association of Neonatal Nurses, the Best Ever Baby Birth Plan Guide is available for a free download.

This new resource for pregnant families is a compilation of top tips and advice from more than 20 nationally-recognized experts in the field including renowned pediatrician, Dr. Alan Greene and GraceFull Birthing founder, midwife Elizabeth Bachner. These trusted experts offer thoughtful guidance for whatever type of birthing experience parents want, in whichever setting they choose.

Published: September 30, 2017 | By SP Turgon, Certified Labor Doula | Reviewed by: The Best Ever Baby Expert Team | Last reviewed: September, 2017 

Sabriga TurgonDo I Need the Group B Streptococcus (GBS) Test?

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