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How to Protect Your Baby from Group B Strep (GBS)

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Updated May 21, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Prenatal Care

Talking to your doctor or midwife about group B strep testing and treatment will help calm your fears.

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Group B strep, also known as beta strep or GBS, is a bacterium that can live in humans. About 25% of women are carriers and don't even know it. They don't have any feelings of illness and are not sick. It is not a sexually transmitted disease, so you don't have to worry about your husband or partner getting it. The risk from Group B Strep to your baby comes at birth.

Risk Factors & Testing

During birth, as the baby passes through the vagina, it comes into contact with the bacteria, making it more likely for the baby to get GBS. To prevent this, women who test positive for GBS or who have had a previous baby with the infection will be given IV antibiotics during labor. If you were not tested at the end of your pregnancy and you go into labor, you will be treated with IV antibiotics if you have any of the following symptoms of a GBS infection:

  • Water is broken longer than 18 hours
  • You run a fever of 100.4 degrees or higher
  • You go into labor before 37 weeks

Effects on the Baby

Of the mothers who test positive for GBS and are treated with antibiotics in labor, the risk of infection drops from 1 in 200 babies to 1 in 4,000. This is a 20-fold reduction in the number of babies who contract GBS.

Early infections tend to occur in the first six hours up to the seventh day following birth. This infection can cause inflammation of the baby's lungs, spinal cord or brain. About 15% of these babies will die from the infection.

Late infections occur after the first seven days of life. Half of these late infections are not from the mother, but from other sources, such as contact with hospital personnel and other carriers of GBS. One way to diminish this risk is to room-in with your baby, go with the baby to the nursery if he has to leave and ask all hospital personnel to wash their hands in front of you.

Meningitis, an infection of the spinal fluid, is the main risk from late infection and can cause long-term problems with the baby's nervous system. However, babies with late infections are less likely to die than those with early infections.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines are as follows:

  • Every woman should be tested between weeks 35 and 37 of gestation with a simple vaginal and rectal swab test.
  • If she tests positive for the bacteria, she should be treated with antibiotics in labor.
  • If a woman in labor was not tested for GBS or her status is unknown while in labor, she should be treated if she develops the above risk factors during labor.
  • A woman should be treated in labor with IV antibiotics if she has ever had a previous baby born with GBS or if she has tested positive at any time during her current pregnancy.

Common Questions about GBS

Would a cesarean prevent transmission to the baby?

It is not recommended that you plan a cesarean section simply because you tested positive for GBS. If you are having a planned cesarean for a different reason, you will already be given antibiotics, and additional antibiotics are not recommended.

How did I get it?

GBS is a naturally occurring bacterium in men and women.

Can I still breast-feed if I have GBS?

Yes, you can. A mother who has GBS will not pass the bacteria to her child via breastfeeding.

Is Group B Strep the same thing as a strep throat?

No. Group B strep is not the same as strep throat, which is group A strep.

Is there a vaccine?

Not yet, although they are working on it. Someday there may be a vaccine. The federal government is currently funding some studies.

Sources:

Fast Facts Group B Strep: FAQ. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. Last Accessed 1/4/12.

Turrentine M, Ramirez M "Recurrence of group B streptococci colonization in subsequent pregnancy" Obstet Gyncecol 2008; 112: 259-264.

Readers Respond: Did you get tested or treated for Group B Strep in labor?

  1. About.com
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  4. Complications of Pregnancy
  5. Group B Strep
  6. How to Protect Your Baby From Group B Strep (GBS)

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