What is group B streptococcus (strep b or GBS) and how will it affect me, or my baby, during pregnancy?
Group B streptococcus (GBS) is a bacteria that can live in our bodies quite harmlessly but it can pose a problem for pregnant women because of the risk of passing it to your baby during delivery.
At a glance
- Group B strep is a bacteria that can harmlessly live in our bodies
- If detected during your pregnancy, you'll be offered intravenous antibiotics in labour to protect your baby
- Most babies are unaffected by the bacteria and have no problems after birth
Who does it affect?
Around 25% of mums-to-be will carry the group b streptococcus bacteria in their vagina or digestive system without any cause for concern, but some mums and babies will be at more risk from the infection than others.
If you've had a previous baby who was infected with GBS, there is a 10 fold risk increase for your next pregnancy, and if you have been found to carry GBS in this pregnancy or the infection has been detected in your wee at any point during this pregnancy, the risk of your baby developing a GBS infection is 4 fold.
How is it tested for?
Your midwife can take a vaginal or rectal (bottom) swab to see if you are carrying GBS, and if you are, you will be given antibiotics to treat it.
Will it harm my baby?
It might be decided to give you an intravenous antibiotic drip once you are in labour to stop your baby picking up the infection during delivery. Although it sounds very serious and worrying, it is worth bearing in mind that most babies are unaffected by the bacteria and have no problems after birth.
In rare cases, GBS infection in newborn babies can cause life threatening problems, and even more rarely, it could cause miscarriage, premature labour or stillbirth.
If your baby does pick up a GBS infection – and those babies who do, tend to develop the symptoms within 12 hours of birth – it is highly likely they will make a full recovery. Only one-in-five who survive the infection will be left with a permanent health issue.
Sometimes babies can develop GBS seven or more days after birth. In these circumstances, it is likely they caught the infection from someone else, rather than from you during delivery.
If you are worried about GBS, or have been told you have it, you can get more information and advice from the Group B Strep Support organisation.