Group B Strep (or Group B Streptococcus to give the full title) is something you might hear about in the media or online or in hospital when you are pregnant. Here’s a quick overview of all you need to know about Group B Strep in pregnancy.
What exactly is Group B Strep?
Group B Strep is a bacteria that an estimated 20-30% of the population carry. There are usually no signs or symptoms of it.
How do I know if I have Group B Strep?
Sometimes it will be found in a urine sample or vaginal swab sent to the lab for testing for other infections. You can also ask to be tested or you can find companies that privately test for it.
Why is there such a fuss about Group B Strep in pregnancy?
In some rare cases, a baby can be infected by GBS at birth from the mother and this can lead to sepsis in the baby. To put this in context, out of all live births, approximately 1 in 2000 babies are affected by GBS infection. And 1 in 10000 babies die from GBS related infection. These figures are based on UK statistics here.
How can I prevent my baby from being exposed to Group B Strep?
If you have a risk factor for GBS or if you have been swabbed in your current pregnancy and tested positive for GBS, it is policy in most Irish hospitals that you are treated with intravenous (IV) antibiotics once you are in labour. This is to try and prevent the transmission of GBS to the baby by reducing the bacterial load of GBS in your system. However, in a recent Cochrane review antibiotics in labour to prevent early onset GBS in babies is NOT supported by conclusive evidence.
Why shouldn’t I just take the IV antibiotics to try to prevent my baby getting Group B Strep?
Even if you have GBS, as you can see from the figures mentioned earlier, the likelihood of your baby being infected by GBS is low. A baby can be colonised with the GBS bacteria at birth with no ill effects so a positive swab on your baby does not mean they will get an infection. Giving the mother IV antibiotics in labour can be harmful – they can cause allergic reaction, they can expose newborns to drug resistant bacteria and increase the risk of yeast infections in mum and baby.
What if a swab on my baby shows up Group B Strep?
Again, this just shows your baby has been colonised by the GBS bacteria, it does not mean there is an infection. Any baby with a risk factor for GBS should be monitored for the first 48 hours after birth (early onset GBS most commonly occurs within 24 hours after birth but can occur up to 7 days following birth). Monitoring involves documenting your baby’s temperature, heart rate, respirations, colour and responsiveness every 2 hours. If there are any signs of infection, the baby would have bloods taken and may be treated with IV antibiotics.
What are the risk factors for my baby getting Group B Strep?
The main ones are if you have had a positive swab or urine sample with GBS identified, if your waters break more than 12 hours before your baby is born, if your baby is premature (less than 37 weeks), if your baby is low birth weight, if you have gestational diabetes, if there are severe changes in the baby’s heartbeat in the early stages of labour, or if you had a previous baby with a GBS infection that needed treatment. If you have more than 1 risk factor it is advisable to take the IV antibiotics in labour.
For further information on Group B Strep, here are some useful websites:
- For more detailed information on Group B Strep – Evidence Based Birth
- Group B Strep support (UK based) – Support