You’re about a month out from giving birth to baby, which means you’ll be visiting your doctor more frequently. Somewhere between your 35-week and 37-week visit, your doctor will take a culture, swabbing your vagina and rectum. You may wonder, what they could possibly be testing for? But, don’t worry!
Your doctor is testing for a bacterium called Group B Streptococcus (group B strep, GBS). Commonly found in the urinary tract, digestive system and reproductive tracts, roughly one in four healthy adult women carry GBS at any given time. Usually GBS doesn’t result in any health problems, except when you are pregnant. It can present trouble for you and baby.
Whether you test positive or not, here’s what you should know about GBS to help protect you and your newborn.
How Does GBS Affect Me and My Baby?
For pregnant women, GBS can cause health problems such as urinary tract infections, pneumonia, bacteria in the blood and even sepsis. It can also cause post-partum endometritis and bacteremia. Women can even experience fever during labor.
“The biggest risk, however, could be for baby,” says Dr. Narinder Brar, DO, a Banner Health OBGYN at Arizona Maternity and Women’s Clinic Inc. “GBS is a naturally occurring bacteria and really is no harm to a woman but it can cause serious medical issues for the baby. This is why we emphasize treating not for mom but for her baby.”
While few who are exposed develop infection, those who are infected could develop life-threatening complications, including:
- Pneumonia, sepsis and meningitis, which are the most common
- Breathing problems
- Heart and blood pressure instability
- Gastrointestinal and kidney problems
I Tested Positive for GBS, What Now?
Patients with a positive screening culture for GBS, have a previous history of an infant born with early onset GBS disease or have GBS bacteria during pregnancy will be given antibiotics.
“For mothers diagnosed with GBS during pregnancy, intravenous (IV) antibiotics are recommended during labor to decrease the chances of the newborn getting the infection,” Dr. Brar says. “Treatment works best if done at least four hours before childbirth.
”Discuss with your doctor how to include IV antibiotics in your birth plan, so staff at the hospital are aware you’ll need it when you arrive. If you are having a planned C-section, talk to your provider about the risks vs. benefits of starting IV antibiotics well before your incision.
How Successful are Antibiotics in Treating GBS?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, your baby has a 1 in 200 chance of developing GBS if you do not get antibiotics during labor, compared to 1 in 4,000 if you do.
“Antibiotics, such as penicillin, are effective treatments for GBS in adults,” says Dr. Salina Baldwin, DO, a Banner Health OBGYN. “However, if you have had severe allergic reactions in the past, there are other antibiotics your doctor can give you.”
Dr. Baldwin also cautions from taking oral antibiotics, antibiotics before labor begins and birth canal washes. “These are ineffective at preventing GBS.”
Can I Get Treated Before Labor?
Unfortunately, if you get treated before labor, GBS can come back after you stop taking the medicine. That’s why it is crucial to get treatment during labor to get rid of GBS in your vagina quickly and keep your newborn from getting sick.
What If We Don’t Make It to the Hospital in Time?
Most providers will recommend if you are GBS positive to come to the hospital immediately after your water breaks, because GBS risk to the baby will go up the longer your water is broken. They will want to start you on antibiotics right away.
That said, sometimes you can’t gauge just how quickly your baby will come and may not make it to the hospital in time. If you don’t make it in time to receive penicillin during labor, your hospital or treating facility will watch your baby closely for signs of infection – usually 48 hours after birth. If your baby tests positive, they will need to stay longer in the hospital to receive IV antibiotics and be monitored for other symptoms.
Is There a Vaccine for GBS?
“Because GBS is normal bacteria that lives in the body, it’s only when you are pregnant that it’s a concern,” Dr. Baldwin said. “There currently is not a vaccine to prevent GBS infection, however, researchers are evaluating.”
Have you been tested for Group B Strep? To speak with a doctor, locate a Banner Health OBGYN near you. Our doctors are happy to answer any of your questions.