Updated on Aug 22, 2023

Table of Contents

Get the Newsletter

Evidence-based health and wellness resources for fertility, pregnancy and postpartum.

Share via

What to Know About Group B Strep During Pregnancy

 Babylist Team Profile Photo
By Babylist Team | Updated on Aug 22, 2023
Image for article What to Know About Group B Strep During Pregnancy

Pregnancy brings with it a treasure trove of health conditions you’ve probably never heard of before. Group B strep may be one of them. So what is it exactly? Evaly Long, a licensed midwife with Hummingbird Midwifery 1 , helps us answer some of the most commonly asked questions about group B strep and pregnancy.

What is Group B Strep?

Group B Streptococcus (also called group B strep, or GBS) is a common type of bacteria that naturally lives in our bodies, specifically in our intestines and the urinary and genital tracts. It’s also very common—about one in four 2 pregnant people carry the bacteria.

If you’re a healthy adult, you don’t need to worry about GBS—it comes and goes on its own and is usually harmless. Most people won’t even know they have GBS unless it finds its way into their bladder. “If one has an infection with GBS in their bladder (a urinary tract infection, or UTI), they will probably feel an urgency to urinate but not much urine coming out, burning while urinating, or possibly aching around the pubic bone,” says Long. UTIs are easily treated with antibiotics. If you’re pregnant, GBS is something to be aware of because it can be passed along to your baby during delivery. This is why it’s important to get tested for GBS and have the proper treatment plan in place during delivery if you have it.

How Do You Get Group B Strep?

Unlike the flu or even the common cold, group B strep isn’t something you can catch by being around another person who has it—it occurs naturally in your body. You can’t get it from food or water either. According to Long, “it can be passed back and forth between sexual partners,” but it’s not considered a sexually transmitted disease.

Group B strep can also be passed from the birthing person to their infant during childbirth; A baby can contract it during a vaginal delivery if they are exposed to or swallow the fluids containing the bacteria.

What is the Group B Strep Test?

Here’s some good news—the group B strep test is a routine test that is quick, easy and painless, and takes place between 35 weeks pregnant and 37 weeks pregnant.

Your healthcare provider will test you by taking a swab of your vagina and your rectum during one of your regular exams. The sample will be sent to a lab, and your results will usually be available in a few days. In the case of early or unexpected delivery, it’s also possible to do several quick screening tests while you’re in labor—but this shouldn’t take the place of the standard GBS test if possible. And if you’re positive for GBS, there’s no need to worry. But more on that in a minute.

What are the symptoms of group B strep?

Most people who test positive for GBS won’t show any symptoms—the positive test simply indicates that you’re a carrier and not that you’ll necessarily pass it along to your baby. But there are some symptoms that may mean you’re at a higher risk of delivering a baby with group B strep. They include:

  • A previous baby with GBS

  • Fever (100.4 F or higher) during labor

  • Urinary tract infection that’s a result of GBS during your pregnancy

  • Labor and/or water breaking (also called ruptured membranes) prior to 37 weeks pregnant

  • Ruptured membranes 18 hours or more before delivery

  • An infection of placental tissues and amniotic fluid

You’re also at an increased risk for group B strep if you have a medical condition that affects your immune system, such as diabetes, HIV, liver disease or cancer.

If you are a carrier for GBS while in labor and you’re not treated, there is a 1-2% chance that your baby will get the infection and a slightly higher chance if you have the above risk factors.

How to treat Group B Strep

More good news here—the treatment for group B strep is simple and very effective.

If you’ve tested positive for the bacteria, you’ll need an intravenous (IV) antibiotic during labor and delivery. “The standard treatment when GBS is found in the vaginal-anal area is prophylactic antibiotics given through an IV during labor or after the bag of waters is open,” Long says, “typically this antibiotic is Penicillin unless one has an allergy.”

As soon as your labor has begun and you’ve been checked into the hospital, you’ll be hooked up to an IV to administer the antibiotics. It’s recommended that the antibiotics are given every four hours during active labor until your baby is delivered.

If you’re a group B strep carrier and you’re having a scheduled c-section birth before labor starts and before your water breaks, you most likely won’t need any medication, but you should still discuss your treatment plan with your doctor just to be sure.

How does group B strep affect baby?

Before you add this to your list of worries, it’s important to point out that with the right treatment, the statistics around properly treating and preventing your baby from contracting group B strep are very much in your favor.

A pregnant person who tests positive for GBS and gets antibiotics during delivery has only a 1 in 4,000 chance 3 of delivering a baby who will contract the bacteria. But if baby does get GBS, here’s what to know.

There are two kinds of GBS in babies: early-onset and late-onset.

Early-onset GBS presents within the first seven days of life and accounts for about half of all GBS infections in newborns. What are the symptoms to look for? “Usually the first signs will be in their breathing, such as continuous grunting or flaring their nostrils, rapid breathing (more than 60 breaths per minute), or the area around their nose and mouth turning blue (a serious sign that baby isn’t getting enough oxygen),” Evaly explains. It can cause pneumonia (a lung infection), sepsis (a blood infection), or meningitis (an infection of the fluid and lining around the brain). Babies with GBS that doesn’t develop into other problems are usually treated with IV antibiotics in the newborn intensive care unit.

Signs of late-onset GBS generally begin between seven days old and three months and include symptoms like coughing and congestion, trouble eating, fever, drowsiness, and seizures. It can cause sepsis and pneumonia. Early visits to your pediatrician are important. Hopefully, this information helps you understand the routine group B test during pregnancy, and the treatments available if you do test positive for GBS.

Pregnant woman holding her stomach on a bed with a plant in the background

Want evidence-based health & wellness advice for fertility, pregnancy, and postpartum delivered to your inbox?

Your privacy is important to us. By subscribing you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms & Conditions.

Expectful uses only high-quality sources, including academic research institutions, medical associations, and subject matter experts.

  1. "Hummingbird Midwifery"http://hummingbirdmidwifery.com/.

  2. "Find support"https://www.marchofdimes.org/find-support.

  3. National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, Division of Bacterial Diseases"Group B Strep (GBS)"Oct 18, 2022https://www.cdc.gov/groupbstrep/about/fast-facts.html.

Share via