What you need to know about GBS

pregnant woman with doctorDuring your last trimester of pregnancy, you will get a test for group B strep (also called GBS). GBS is a common type of bacteria that can cause infection. Usually GBS is not serious for adults, but it can hurt newborns. It is important to get this test and know the results, so that you can protect your baby.

Who is at risk for GBS?

Many people carry GBS—in fact about 1 in 4 (25%) of pregnant women are carriers.  GBS bacteria naturally live in the intestines and the urinary and genital tracts. As an adult, you can’t get it from food, water or things you touch. You can’t catch it from another person, and you can’t get it from having sex. GBS in adults usually doesn’t have any symptoms. But sometimes it can cause minor infections, like a bladder or urinary tract infection (UTI).

However, when you are pregnant, if you have a GBS infection, it can be passed to your newborn during labor and delivery and it can make your baby very sick.

Testing and treatment for GBS

You prenatal care provider will test you for GBS at 35 to 37 weeks. The test is a simple swab of your vagina and rectum. If the results are positive, then you have GBS. Antibiotics can treat GBS but you must get them during labor and delivery. Your provider will give you the antibiotic through an IV. Treatment with antibiotics helps prevent your baby from getting the infection.

Penicillin is the best antibiotic for most women, but if you’re allergic to penicillin, your can get a different medicine.

It is not helpful to get treatment for GBS earlier in your pregnancy. The bacteria can return quickly, so you could have it again by the time you go into labor.

If you have GBS, remind your providers at the hospital when you go to have your baby. This way, you can be treated quickly. Treatment works best when it begins at least 4 hours before childbirth.

If you have GBS and you’re having a scheduled c-section before labor starts and before your water breaks, you probably don’t need antibiotics.

What are the chances I can pass GBS to my baby?

If you have GBS during childbirth and it’s not treated, there is a 1 to 2 in 100 chance (1 to 2 percent) that your baby will get the infection. The chances are higher if you have any of these risk factors:

  • Your baby is premature. This means your baby is born before 37 weeks of pregnancy.
  • Your water breaks (also called ruptured membranes) 18 hours or more before you have your baby.
  • You have a fever (100.4 F or higher) during labor.
  • You’ve already had a baby with a GBS infection.
  • You had a UTI during your pregnancy that was caused by GBS.

You can read more about GBS on our website.

Have questions? Send them to AskUs@marchofdimes.org.

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