Group B Strep or GBS – no it’s not the name of a boy band. Its full name is Group B Streptococcus, and it’s a type of bacterium you may have heard being discussed now that you’re pregnant.
Normally it’s a bug that wouldn’t bother you, but because it can affect baby let’s step through it together.
What is Group B Strep?
Group B Streptococcus is a type of bacteria that lives in many people’s bodies. It’s a bit gross but it likes to live in your intestine – which means it eventually ends up in places like your bottom and vagina.
According to RANZCOG (Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists), 20% of the women they test for GBS actually have it in their vagina prior to giving birth.
It’s really important to know that GBS is NOT a sexually transmitted disease. You physically cannot catch it from another person. In fact, you can’t “catch it” at all. It is simply a bacteria that lives in some people’s bodies.
What does Group B Strep Do?
To you? Generally nothing.
But for people with more susceptible immune systems, it can make them quite unwell. This includes newborns.
If you are GBS positive, there’s a chance that your baby can acquire the bacteria as they pass through the birth canal. Most Group B Strep infections are quite mild but, if left untreated, they can cause serious health complications.
How do I get tested for Group B Strep?
Testing is very simple. Your doctor or midwife does a quick swab of your vagina (and bottom). Think of it as a slightly less invasive pap smear. It’ll usually be done at the same time as your routine antenatal checkup when you’re around 35 to 37 weeks pregnant.
It is important to note that at this stage, screening for GBS is not standard in Australia. Many private obstetricians do test for it routinely, however, the protocol varies widely from hospital to hospital.
Some hospitals will only screen you if they believe you to be at risk. Risk factors include:
- Previously testing positive for GBS
- Having another baby with a GBS infection
- Your water has broken for more than 18 hours prior to your going into labour
- Going into labour pre-term
- Being in labour for an extended period of time
- Showing signs of infection yourself
How likely is Group B Strep going to be an issue?
According to RANZCOG, whilst 1 in 5 women tested will have GBS, only 1 in 200 of their births will suffer from a severe infection. This means that even if you are GBS positive, the likelihood of it causing any harm to your baby is slim.
I’ve tested positive, now what?
First of all, don’t stress.
It most likely it won’t affect you or your baby. And, on the off chance it does, your medical team are prepared. They know this is a possibility and will take necessary precautions.
If you’re having a C-section, it probably won’t be an issue at all. The nature of a caesarean birth means your baby won’t come into contact with any of the parts of you where GBS is present.
If you’re planning on delivering vaginally, your doctor will decide on the best course of action. The standard procedure in Australia is that you will be given antibiotics via a drip during your labour. After birth, your baby will then be monitored for any signs of infection.
If you’re wondering why they don’t just give you antibiotics beforehand, good question! This is because there’s a chance GBS may make itself comfy again prior to you giving birth.
How will I know if my baby is sick?
Infection doesn’t always show up immediately after birth but your baby will be watched closely in the hospital. If you know you have GBS but have received intravenous antibiotics for at least 4 hours during labour, the chance of your baby getting sick is very slim.
In the unlikely case, they do become unwell, there are two types of GBS infection you need to know about:
- Symptoms appear in the first 7 days of life, but most often on the first day
- Difficulty Breathing
- Symptoms appear between 7 days and 3 months old
- Difficulty eating or lack of appetite
If your baby shows any of these symptoms, make sure you seek out medical help immediately. GBS is very treatable but can cause serious complications such as meningitis, pneumonia and sepsis.
How to get help
If you’re pregnant, make sure you discuss GBS with your maternal health care provider. Whilst testing may not be routine, you should still be kept informed of all your options. If at any time you are concerned, you’re well within your rights to request a test.
After birth, it’s important to be aware of potential illness. If at any time you are concerned about the health of your baby, seek the advice of a doctor or midwife as soon as possible. Medical professionals always prefer that you err on the side of caution with little ones – they are too precious!
Overall, Group B Strep really isn’t something you need to worry too much about. It’s good to be aware, but it’s certainly not something you should be losing sleep over.
We’d much rather you spend your days thinking about fun things like choosing names and dreaming about your beautiful baby!
Read next …
- Birth Story: Mother’s heartbreaking GBS warning
- Pregnancy conditions, from the strange to the serious
- Why some mums lick their babies after birth