Group b Strep Infection Pregnant Woman Baby Risk Test Treatment Bacteria Explained what

Group B strep is a type of bacteria. It lives in the vaginal, anal, and gastrointestinal tracts of at least 25, and possibly as many as 50 percent, of healthy women. Although usually harmless, it causes serious infections in pregnant women and newborn babies. 

Most individuals never hear about group B strep until they or a loved one becomes pregnant. Many people go their entire lives never knowing they are infected. However, to a few vulnerable infants the bacteria can prove to be dangerous and deadly. 


It is worth noting that group B strep is not a sexually transmitted disease and does not indicate that a woman is unclean in any way. Pregnant women, who are colonized with group B strep, can develop severe urinary tract infections, as well as infections in the placenta, uterus, or amniotic fluid. They are also at an increased risk for pre-term delivery, labor complications and even more tragic stillbirth, or late miscarriage. 

However, most pregnant women who test positive for group B strep will not experience any signs, symptoms, or ill effects. The real trouble is the threat of passing on the bacteria to a delicate and vulnerable newborn. For this reason, mothers should be carefully monitored for any signs or symptoms of infection. 

Group B strep may be passed from mother to baby either through the womb in utero, or because of contact with the vaginal canal during delivery. A colonized mother cannot infect her baby through breastfeeding. 

Approximately 50 per cent of babies born to mothers with group B strep become infected. Of these only one or two percent will develop what is known as severe group B streptococcal disease.  Common sense dictates that a woman who has given birth to an infected baby in the past is at a higher risk for passing group B strep on to any future infants.

Passage of group B strep from mother to baby also has a higher likelihood of occurring when many hours pass between a mother’s water breaking, and the delivery of the newborn. An elevated body temperature during delivery is also considered a sign of increased risk

Of all the babies exposed to group B strep each year, only a small fraction have problems. However, the babies that do develop infections because of group B strep can become very sick. They develop devastating illnesses including pneumonia, septicemia, or meningitis. Meningitis is infection of the lining of the brain, brain fluid, and spinal cord. When left untreated meningitis may lead to hearing and vision loss, learning disabilities, seizures, and even death. 

Signs and symptoms of a group B strep infection in newborn babies include fever, trouble feeding or breathing, and excessive irritability, lack of alertness, extreme fussiness, limpness, and dangerously low body temperature. 

For the most part, the infection associated with group B strep is divided into two categories, early and late. Early group B strep neonatal sepsis usually appears within 24 hours of delivery. However, signs may show up as late as seven days after. Of all newborns affected by group B strep infections, this category makes up approximately 80 percent.  Fortunately, most babies with an early onset of group B strep neonatal sepsis, who are closely monitored and carefully treated, can indeed be expected to make a full recovery.

Less fortunate are cases of late group B streptococcal neonatal sepsis. In this scenario, the disease shows up one week, to three months after birth. In this case, the bacteria are much more likely to cause meningitis. Sadly, one in ten of these babies die of blood poisoning, pneumonia or meningitis related symptoms. One in five will permanently be affected by cerebral palsy, blindness, and deafness and/or learning impairments.


The test for group B strep is easy, and painless. Most doctors routinely perform this test between 35 and 37 weeks of pregnancy. A quick swab is taken from both the rectal and vaginal areas. Because group B strep is quite common, and not generally a matter for concern most doctors will wait until your next appointment to share the result. If the test has not been done before a woman goes into labor, the hospital will do the swab once she has been admitted. 

Testing positive for group B strep indicates that a woman is a carrier. It does not mean that they will experience any signs or symptoms or that their baby will be affected. A positive test simply means that there is a chance. 

The test for group B strep in potentially infected babies is a bit more extensive and involves analysis of blood or spinal fluid. However, most babies are considered healthy based simply on observation which out rules typical signs and symptoms.

Of all healthy pregnant women tested for group B step, about twenty-five percent have a positive result. Fifty percent of untreated women will pass the bacteria on to their baby. Group B strep affects about one in ever 2000 babies born in the Unites States each year.  


In the case of most healthy women, who test positive for group B strep, the only concern will be for baby’s safety during delivery. For this reason, most women will not be treated for the bacteria as simply being colonized poses little threat to a healthy adult. 

To avoid passage from mother to baby most obstetricians will recommend an antibiotic IV during labor. The most common antibiotic used is penicillin; however, adjustments can be made for mothers with related allergies. Any good doctor will weigh the benefits of protecting the baby against the risks of creating a negative reaction in the mother. 

One out of every 200 babies born to mothers who carry group B strep and are not treated with antibiotics; develop signs and symptoms of infection. The numbers change to just one in 4000 in cases where the mother is treated.

There are also herbal remedies which may be helpful when taken 2-3 weeks before labor and delivery.  Studies on these remedies are less proven at this time, however many midwives, herbalists, and homeopathic physicians do trust this method as being equal to antibiotics in effectiveness.

Currently there is debate as to whether all women who test positive for group B strep should be treated. There are some undeniable risks to the indiscriminate use of antibiotics. Though harm to a baby due to the bacteria is rare, the results in those babies who do have negative reactions can be devastating if not fatal. Pending further research and discussion, a woman’s doctor is the best source of information. Together they should weigh each side and make an individualized decision, based on all available information.