Group B Strep (GBS) is one of many bacteria that live in our bodies, normally in our gut and for some women in the vagina. Around 20-40% women in the UK will carry this bacteria, usually with no symptoms or side effects. Most babies born to women who have GBS will have no problems, but a small number of babies can develop serious infections after birth. The risk of your baby becoming unwell with GBS infection is increased if: your baby is born before 37 weeks, if you have a temperature while you are in labour, or if your waters break before you go into labour.
GBS screening is currently not offered to all pregnant women on the NHS. It may be identified in a urine sample or on a vaginal/rectal swab if taken. You can buy a home test for peace of mind. For more information about available tests, visit the Group B Strep Support (GBSS) website: www.gbss.org.uk/TestingforGBS.
If you are found to have GBS in pregnancy you may be offered antibiotics in labour to reduce the risk of this bacteria crossing over to your baby during birth. Having antibiotics in labour, ideally 4hrs before birth, will minimise the risk of this infection developing in babies.
If your baby is born at full term (after 37 completed weeks) and you received antibiotics through a drip in labour at least 4 hours before giving birth then your baby may not need special monitoring after birth. If your baby is felt to be at higher risk of GBS infection and you did not get antibiotics through a drip at least 4 hours before giving birth then your baby will be monitored closely for signs of infection for at least 12 hours. This will include assessing your baby’s general wellbeing, heart rate, temperature, breathing and feeding.
If you have previously had a baby affected by GBS infection then your baby will be monitored for 12 hours even if you had antibiotics through a drip in labour. The chance of your baby developing GBS infection after 12 hours is very low and neither you nor your baby will need antibiotics after this time unless you or your baby becomes ill.
If your newborn baby develops signs of GBS infection, they should be treated with antibiotics straight away. Having GBS still means you will be able to breastfeed after birth if you want to.
Most babies who develop GBS infection become unwell in the first week of life (which is known as early-onset GBS infection), usually within 12-24 hours of birth.
Babies with early-onset GBS infection may show the following signs:
• grunting, noisy breathing, moaning, seeming to be working hard to breathe when you look at their chest or tummy or not breathing at all
• be very sleepy and/or unresponsive
• be crying inconsolably
• be unusually floppy
• not feeding well or not keeping milk down
• have a high or low temperature and/or their skin feels too hot or cold
• have changes in their skin colour (including blotchy skin)
• have an abnormally fast or slow heart rate or breathing rate
• have low blood pressure *
• have low blood sugar *
*Identified by tests done in hospital
If you notice any of these signs or are worried about your baby, you should urgently contact your healthcare professional and also mention GBS.
If you want to know more about GBS visit https://gbss.org.uk/ and speak to your midwife and discuss your specific questions you may have.