How to Protect Your Baby from Group B Strep

Is your baby at risk?

Woman and her midwife at prenatal visit
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Group B strep, also known as beta strep or GBS, is a bacterium that can live in humans. About 25 percent of women are carriers and don't even know it. They don't have feel ill, nor are they sick. Still, is it's residing inside your body, your baby can contract it at birth.

Risk Factors and Testing for Group B Strep

During your birth, if you do, in fact, have GBS,  your baby may come into contact with the bacteria as he passes through your vagina.

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.

When does this test occur? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that pregnant women be tested for GBS in both the vagina and rectum when they are 35 to 37 weeks pregnant. A sterile swab is used to collect a sample, which is them sent to a laboratory for testing.

If you were not tested during 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:

  • your water has been broken for longer than 18 hours
  • you are running a fever of 100.4 degrees or higher
  • you go into labor before 37 weeks

What Effect Will GBS Have on Your 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.

 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 percent 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 are 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, and also go to the nursery with the baby when necessary, where you can 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.

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 breastfeed if I have GBS?

Yes. 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. Strep throat is actually group A strep.

Is there a vaccine?

Not yet. The federal government is currently funding several studies that will hopefully lead to a vaccine.

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.

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