Why Am I Being Tested for Group Beta Strep and How Does it Affect my Pregnancy?

Group Beta Strep Pregnant

Group beta strep, also known as GBS or strep B, is a naturally occurring bacteria in the digestive and lower reproductive tracts of both men and women. Anyone can carry GBS. In fact, these bacteria are common. Approximately 1 in 4 pregnant women carry GBS, which can be passed from mother to baby before and after birth.

Pregnant women, typically between their 36th and 37th week of pregnancy, will be tested for GBS with a vaginal and rectal swab. Some women may have positive cultures show up in their urine tests prior to this point, bypassing the need for this second test. GBS status can change throughout pregnancy, which is why the swab test is given near the end of the third trimester.

The presence of the GBS bacteria can lead to infections in babies, due to their underdeveloped immune systems. While most babies that are exposed to the bacteria are not infected, GBS infections can cause sepsis, meningitis and pneumonia, so it is important for you and your doctor to be aware.

What Happens if I Test Positive for GBS?

If you test positive for Strep B, don’t worry. Being a carrier of GBS does not mean you are infected or that your baby will be infected. However, it is important that your doctor is aware of these bacteria so that you can receive IV antibiotics once your labor begins, helping to protect your baby from infection. The antibiotics typically take about four hours to become effective.

Can My Baby Be Exposed to GBS After Birth?

After birth, your baby is still at risk for exposure to GBS. Early-onset GBS disease could occur if your baby is infected in the first six days of life. Late-onset GBS disease could occur if your baby is infected after that first week of life through his or her first three months. Hand washing is especially important to protect your baby from exposure to these bacteria after birth.

Signs that your baby is experiencing a GBS-related infection after birth:

  • Fever or low or unstable body temperature
  • High-pitched cries or whimpering
  • Abnormal breathing
  • Projectile vomiting
  • Body stiffening or jerking
  • Infection at base of umbilical cord
  • Pale or blotchy skin
  • Uninterested in feeding
  • Other unexpected changes in your baby’s behavior or appearance

While most babies that are exposed to GBS will not be infected, it is important to talk to your doctor about the signs and symptoms to look for once you leave the hospital with your little bundle of joy.

Your team with UofL Health is prepared to provide the best care for you and your baby, regardless of your test results.

UofL Physicians – Maternal-Fetal Medicine, part of UofL Physicians – OB/GYN & Women’s Health, is here to support you and your baby before, during and after pregnancy. Call 502-588-4400 to schedule an appointment.

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Article by: Tiffany Tonismae, M.D., FACOG

Tiffany Tonismae, M.D., FACOG, is a maternal-fetal medicine and high-risk obstetrician with UofL Physicians – OB/GYN & Women’s Health. Dr. Tonismae specializes in high-risk pregnancies that include diabetes and hypertension in pregnancy, multiple gestations and fetal anomalies. She has researched extensively involved management of extremely preterm pregnancies as well as mental health disorders and substance use disorders in pregnancy. Dr. Tonismae is also certified in perinatal mental health, and she is an assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Women’s Health with University of Louisville School of Medicine.

All posts by Tiffany Tonismae, M.D., FACOG
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