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.
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):
- Being African American (CDC 2012)
- Being born at less than 37 weeks (Boyer &Gotoff 1985; Velaphi et al. 2003; Heath et al. 2009)
- A long period between water breaking and giving birth (Boyer &Gotoff 1985; Velaphi et al. 2003; Heath et al. 2009)
- Water broke before going into labor (premature rupture of membranes) (Adair et al. 2003)
- High temperature during labor (> 99.5 F or 37.5 C) (Boyer & Gotoff 1985; Adair et al. 2003; Velaphi et al. 2003; Heath et al. 2009)
- Infection of the uterus (aka “chorioamnionitis”) (Adair et al. 2003)
- Previously gave birth to an infant who had an early GBS infection (CDC 2010)
- Intrauterine monitoring during labor (Adair et al. 2003)
- GBS in the urine during pregnancy (Carroll et al. 2016)
- Giving birth for the first time (Carroll et al. 2016)
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!
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Published: September 30, 2017 | By SP Turgon, Certified Labor Doula | Reviewed by: The Best Ever Baby Expert Team | Last reviewed: September, 2017