What's the deal with GBS?


What is GBS?

Group B Streptococcus, also know as Group B Strep (or GBS), is a common bacteria that lives in the intestine of most healthy individuals. It lives in the body naturally and cannot be spread by touch, intercourse, or things you eat/drink. Many adults are carriers of GBS and are unaware because there are usually no symptoms. While GBS presents as either minor infections, or not at all, in adults, it can sometime pose a risk to newborns who may be exposed to the bacteria during vaginal delivery.

1 in 4 women carry GBS during their pregnancy and will be treated by their healthcare provider during labor as GBS can be passed to a newborn when passing through the birth canal. During your 35th-37th week of pregnancy your healthcare provider will test you. This is a quick swab of the vagina and rectum. It typically takes 1-2 days to get your results back from the lab.

What happens if I’m GBS positive?

If your lab results come back positive, this may not be what you had hoped. GBS is easily treated with IV antibiotics during labor. It is important to remind your healthcare provider or nurses of your GBS test results to confirm that IV antibiotics are given promptly during childbirth. This will prevent the newborn from catching the infection as they pass through the birth canal. The antibiotics do not cure GBS, they simply suppress the bacteria enough so that it is not present in such high amounts when the baby passes through the birth canal. When given the IV antibiotics during labor, the chance of your newborn getting GBS goes from 1 in 200 down to 1 in 4,000.

If you test positive from GBS, a majority of hospitals will require you and your baby to stay 48 hours instead of 24 hours after birth. This is to make sure that your baby does not present any symptoms of early-onset GBS before returning home. Be sure to ask your healthcare provider about their policy regarding GBS positive births so that you can be best prepared.

What if I’m having a Cesarean?

For women having a scheduled C-section and are GBS positive there is no need for antibiotics. If you are GBS positive and have an unexpected C-section you will be given IV antibiotics as an extra precaution, especially if your water has broken and you have begun active labor prior to the C-section.

How is GBS treated during childbirth?

The most common antibiotic given is penicillin or ampicillin, both are safe for you and your baby. If you are allergic to penicillin, your healthcare provider can give you another antibiotic instead. Minor reactions that occur with penicillin such as a mild rash occur in 4% of women. Be sure and ask you provider if you have questions.

What does GBS look like in newborns?

GBS in newborns is rare when the antibiotics are given. In cases of premature birth, ruptured membranes, or UTI (caused by GBS) there is a chance your newborn could catch another disease from exposure to GBS. There are two types of GBS seen in newborns; early-onset and late-onset. Early-onset occurs during the first week of life, although tends to present on the first day of life. Symptoms can be fever, trouble breathing and extreme drowsiness. Early-onset can be serious causing pneumonia, sepsis or meningitis. These are all treated with IV antibiotics and require a few days stay in the hospital. Late-onset occurs after the first week through three months of life. Symptoms include; fever, coughing, congestion, drowsiness, trouble eating or seizures. Late-onset GBS can also cause meningitis or sepsis. These are serious diseases that require immediate treatment of IV antibiotics and hospitalization.

Are there any ways to prevent GBS or lower my chances of having a positive GBS test result?

Being on antibiotics during birth, seems unfavorable to most, understandably. There are many ways to “trick the test” with just a google search. Methods such as; Apple cider vinegar as a vaginal rinse, consuming garlic or using it as a vaginal suppository, eating bacteria rich foods like yogurt and taking loads of probiotics. Tricking the test is possible but it does not mean that the GBS in your body is gone. It has merely been suppressed enough to be undetected by the lab. The GBS will grow back and the risk of exposure during birth is still present. It is important to receive the GBS test to get the most accurate results, to ensure a healthy mama and baby.

Are there alternatives to antibiotics?

Not currently. There is currently not an alternative method that is as effective as antibiotics. Although there is an version of Penicillin called Penicillin G that is better for the microbiome than traditional penicillin or ampicillin. Researchers are beginning to develop a vaccine to prevent GBS in expectant mothers and newborns, but nothing has been released yet.

How can I help myself and my baby have a healthy microbiome after receiving antibiotics?

By taking a daily probiotic you can begin to cultivate healthy bacteria back into your microbiome. If you are breastfeeding these probiotics will pass through your breast milk for baby to also receive the benefits. You can also eat and drink foods that promote good bacteria such as yogurt, kefir, kimchi, and kombucha.

Can I encapsulate my placenta if I’m GBS positive?

Yes, only if the placenta is treated and encapsulated properly. The administration of IV antibiotics during labor and birth and the correct treatment and preparation of the placenta after birth make it safe to consume. At High Country Doulas, we steam the placenta prior to encapsulation, we do the entire process in your home to diminish the exposure to outside germs. Speak with your provider and your High Country Doulas postpartum placenta specialist to ensure it is the right choice for you. If you are interested in this service click here!

In summary, with early detection and IV antibiotics given during labor the likelihood of a newborn catching GBS is very low.

For more information on GBS check out: March of Dimes , the CDC or Evidence Based Birth.