You’re pregnant and everything’s going great, right? But let’s talk about something serious for a sec: Group B Strep. It doesn’t sound like the most glamorous topic, but trust me, it’s important. Group B strep is a bacteria (not a sexually transmitted disease) that can cause serious illness and infection during pregnancy and childbirth. But the good news is, if it’s caught early, you can receive treatment during labor. And that’s why it’s super important to get tested for Group B Strep during pregnancy, so you and your doctor can come up with a plan to keep both you and your baby safe and healthy.
So, let’s dive into the nitty gritty of this disease and make sure you’re armed with all the info you need to kick it to the curb!
What is Group B Strep or GBS?
What is up with this thing called Group B Strep (GBS)? Basically, Group B Streptococcal infection or Group B Strep Disease is a bacterium that's totally normal and hangs out in our bodies without causing any trouble. But if you're pregnant, this little thing can sometimes cause problems for your baby during labor and delivery. That's why healthcare providers test pregnant women for group B strep around the 35–37-week mark. If the test comes back positive, no need to freak out—you'll be given some antibiotics during labor to keep the bacteria from getting passed on to your newborn, so they stay safe and healthy.
Is Group B Strep the Same as Strep Throat?
It's a common confusion, but the truth is, they're actually two different things. Strep throat is a bacterial infection that affects the throat and tonsils, causing symptoms like a sore throat, fever, and difficulty swallowing. It's caused by a type of bacteria called Streptococcus pyogenes, and it's usually treated with oral antibiotics. On the other hand, Group B strep, also known as Streptococcus agalactiae, is a bacterium that can be found in the intestines, urinary tract, and reproductive system of both men and women.
When to See a Doctor for the Group B Strep Test
As we briefly mentioned earlier, it is usually recommended to get the GBS test between 35 to 37 weeks of pregnancy. Completing this test is crucial, even if you think you don't need it. Why? Because if you are unknowingly positive and the disease is left untreated, Group B Strep can lead to serious illness in your little one. So, if you're in that 35-to-37-week window and haven't talked to your doctor about it yet, definitely schedule an appointment to get it done. It's a quick and painless test, and it's super important for the health of your baby.
How is Group B Strep Tested?
Testing for Group B Streptococcus is quick and simple and nothing you're not used to at this point in your pregnancy. No it's not another urine test, it's just a quick genital swab of your downstairs area (vagina and rectum). The data is sent off to the lab for testing and in a few days, they'll let you know if you're positive or negative for the bacteria. It's a pretty simple test, but super important for the health of you and your little one.
Risk Factors for Group B Strep Infection
Many countries test for GBS in women who are pregnant regardless of risk, but there are some countries that waive the screening test and go ahead and give antibiotics to pregnant women who have a chronic health condition or certain factors. These factors include:
Previously had a GBS infection during the delivery of a baby.
Has a UTI (urinary tract infection) caused by Group B Strep during pregnancy.
Baby is born before 37 weeks.
Water breaks early (for more than 18 hours).
Mom has a fever during labor.
Mom has a chronic medical condition or is immunocompromised.
Regardless of what type of screening your country chooses to do, it's important to stay informed about these risk factors and talk to your doctor about ways to lower the risk of passing the bacteria to the baby.
Signs or Symptoms of Group-B Strep
Most women don't experience any symptoms from GBS during pregnancy. However, some women experience infection during labor, and this can affect their newborn.
Curious to know what signs and symptoms you or your baby could experience from an infection?
High fever (over 100.4°F).
Shakes and chills.
Muscle and joint aches.
Trouble breathing or quick breathing.
Increased heart rate
Infection is treatable for both you and your baby, so don't worry! Make sure you talk with your doctor if anything feels off.
Does Group B Strep Affect Labor and My Birth Plan?
If you test positive for GBS, you will receive treatment by getting antibiotics (penicillin, ampicillin, or cefazolin) at the onset of labor. For pregnant women who are planning on having an unmedicated birth, a diagnosis of GBS should not change your birth plan. You can request to be attached to an IV pole while the IV antibiotics are administered (every four hours) to give you freedom to move around. Once your water breaks, GBS can cause a higher risk of infection so it's important to limit cervical checks at that point.
What if a Baby is Exposed to GBS?
Women who carry the bacteria and do not obtain treatment with antibiotics during labor, can pass GBS on to their little ones. In fact, Group B Strep can cause pneumonia, sepsis, or meningitis in 1-2% of babies exposed to GBS. Babies who get GBS will be monitored and treated with antibiotics following hours of birth. Early-onset disease in newborns is definitely not something to mess around with, but luckily there’s a way to protect your baby by getting tested for GBS before your due date.
If Mom doesn’t get tested or doesn’t know if she has GBS, doctors usually play it safe and give the baby antibiotics just in case, because again, you don't want to mess around with Group B Strep! Baby being exposed to GBS is a bummer, but it’s totally preventable if everyone’s on top of their game.
Some people carry Group B Strep bacteria without any issues, so GBS is usually harmless in healthy adults. But, like we've just discussed, GBS can cause serious infection to babies born to women with this disease. So don't stress too much about it, just stay on top of your prenatal appointments and follow your provider's recommendations to help prevent GBS infection and reduce the risk of Group B Strep being passed to the baby. And if you have any questions or worries, don't hesitate to chat with your healthcare team. They're there to help you out, mama!