Mother and Baby

Everything you need to know about Group B Strep

Group B Streptococcus (GBS) is a bacteria that many people carry, it has no symptoms or side-effects, but late on in pregnancy, it can cause problems.

When hearing a medical word you may not have heard before your first thought is to probably google it, so we've taken all the information and put it in one place with everything you need to know about GBS.

What you need to know about Group B Strep:

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1) What is it?

Group B Strep is a bacteria which 20-40% of adults carry without knowing. It's not a sexually transmitted disease and very rarely causes infections in adults.
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2) Who it affects

GBS very rarely causes complications during pregnancy and before labour, but it is most common in newborn babies with two babies a day developing group B Strep infection. 
Treatment can be given to babies who develop GBS infection but sometimes it can cause long-term disabilities or even be fatal if not treated early. 
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3) What are the symptoms?

There are no symptoms associated with GBS which is why so many people are completely unaware that they have it. 
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4) How you can be tested

In the UK group B Strep isn't routinely tested and has a *random selection approach*, unless your midwife requests any samples to be tested further. Although you might not be tested at your routine appointments, you can pay to have a test done. You can order a home test for £35 here. 

Testing between 35-37 weeks of pregnancy is recommended as it allows time to put a labour plan in place and you can be offered antibiotics. It's not recommended to test before 35 weeks of pregnancy as you can pick up GBS within the next five weeks and after 37 weeks it might be too late if your baby is born early. 
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5) What can you do?

There are factors that can make you a high-risk group for group B strep such as if it has shown up in a previous labour or urine sample approaching labour. 
Make sure you ask your midwife or doctor questions rather than googling answers, they will be able to advise on what you can do approaching labour. 
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6) What happens during birth

If you are a carrier of GBS, prevention is very important. Intravenous antibiotics, such as penicillin G or vancomycin, should be given to the mother during labour and ideally 4-hours before delivery, which can help reduce the risk of infection in newborn babies by over 80%. 

If you're planning on having a waterbirth, treatment for GBS in labour shouldn't affect this.
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7) If your baby is born early

If you have gone into labour prematurely, before 37 weeks, you are considered high risk. So it's important to know the signs of early-onset and late-onset GBS infection, as well as symptoms of meningitis. 
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8) Early-onset GBS

Early-onset GBS infection happens within the first 6 days and in two-thirds of newborns with the infection. ​It is potentially preventable when Mums who's babies are at raised risk of developing the infection are given antibiotics in labour.
Symptoms of early-onset GBS infection usually show within the first 12 hours after birth and identified at the maternity unit.

Symptoms to look out for are: 

- Seems to be working hard to breath or not breathing at all
- Very sleepy and/or unresponsive
- Inconsolable crying
- Being unusually floppy
- Not feeding well or not keeping milk down
- Have a high or low temperature/ hot or cold to touch
- Have changes in their skin colour (including blotchy skin)
- Have an abnormally fast or slow heart/breathing rate
- Have low blood pressure (identified by tests done in hospital)
- Have low blood sugar (identified by tests done in hospital)
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9) Late-onset GBS

After the first 6 days, up to a third of baby's with the infection happen between age 7-30 days and is very rare after the age of three months. Most symtpoms can be associated with meningitis and early diagnosis is important. 

Symptoms to look out for:

- Being irritable with high pitched or whimpering cry
- Trance-like expression
- Floppy or may dislike being handled
- Tense or bulging fontanelle (soft spon on babies heads)
- Turns away from bright light
- Involuntary stiff body or jerking movements
- Pale, botchy skin
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10) Don't panic

The most important thing to remember is not to worry about what could happen or worry if you might be over-reacting. There is no reason to feel guilty if your baby develops group B Strep infection, its not mum or dads fault. 
Trust your natural instincts and ask your midwife questions - write them down before appointments so that you don't forget! 


For more information, visit the Group B Strep Support page which offers health professional's advice and support for families affected by GBS.

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  • Author: Samantha Ball Samantha Ball
  • Job Title: Freelance writer

Samantha is a mum of one, in a house full of boys. Her hobbies are long hikes, coffee tasting, and being a bit of an *obsessive* cleaner.

She also runs a blog Student Mum Diaries about what it’s like to be a student mum. 


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