Group B Streptococcus Infection in Babies

What is group B streptococcus in babies?

Group B streptococcus (GBS) is a type of bacteria. It can be found in the digestive tract, urinary tract, and genital area of adults. If you're healthy, GBS infection usually does not cause problems before pregnancy. But it can cause serious illness for a newborn baby. It may cause sepsis, pneumonia, meningitis, or seizures.

What causes GBS infection in a baby?

About 1 in 4 of those who are pregnant have GBS in their rectum or vagina. During pregnancy, you can pass GBS to the baby. A baby can get it from your genital tract during birth.

Which babies are at risk for GBS?

Newborns are more likely to get GBS infection if you have:

  • Preterm labor

  • Early breaking of water (rupture of membranes)

  • A long time between rupture of membranes and birth

  • Internal fetal monitoring during labor

  • Fever

  • A past pregnancy with a baby who had GBS

  • African-American or Hispanic ethnicity

  • GBS in urine (bacteriuria) with this pregnancy

What are the symptoms of GBS infection in a baby?

Newborn babies with GBS usually have signs in the first 24 hours after birth. These signs may include:

  • Being fussy, very sleepy, and having breathing problems (signs of sepsis)

  • Breathing fast and making grunting noises (signs of pneumonia)

  • Having breathing problems and periods of not breathing (signs of meningitis)

  • Having a change in blood pressure

  • Having convulsions (seizure)

Babies who get GBS a week or so after birth may have signs such as:

  • Decreased movement of an arm or leg

  • Pain with movement of an arm or leg

  • Breathing problems

  • Fever

  • Red area on the face or other part of the body

Someone who is pregnant may have GBS without symptoms. When they do have symptoms, they may include:

  • Having to urinate often, having an urge to go, or pain when urinating

  • Fever

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Pain in your side or back

  • Sore uterus or belly 

  • Fast heart rate

How is GBS diagnosed in a baby?

Most newborns with GBS infection have signs in the first few hours after birth. Your baby's healthcare provider will test your baby’s body fluids, such as blood or spinal fluid.

How is GBS treated in a baby?

Newborn babies who are ill with GBS infection may need care in the newborn intensive care unit (NICU). They are usually given IV (intravenous) antibiotics. Your baby may need other treatments if the infection is severe or if they have meningitis or pneumonia.

What are possible complications of GBS?

GBS infection may cause chorioamnionitis during pregnancy. This is infection of the amniotic fluid, sac, and placenta. It can also cause a postpartum infection (endometritis). Urinary tract infections caused by GBS can lead to preterm labor and birth. If you have GBS during pregnancy, it's more likely you'll need a cesarean delivery. It also makes it more likely to have heavy bleeding after delivery.

GBS is the most common cause of serious infections in newborns. GBS infection can lead to meningitis, pneumonia, or sepsis. Meningitis is more common in a baby who has a GBS infection within a week to several months after birth.

What can I do to prevent GBS in my baby?

Everyone should be tested for GBS during their pregnancy. This is part of routine prenatal care. In late pregnancy, your healthcare provider can test for GBS. They do this by taking a swab of your vagina and rectum during a pelvic exam. They can also test your urine for GBS. The swab or urine is sent to a lab to grow the bacteria. Tests are usually done during 36 through 37 weeks of pregnancy. The results may take a few days. Someone with GBS may test positive at certain times and not at others.

If you test positive for GBS during pregnancy, you will get IV antibiotics during labor. This lowers the risk that your baby will get the infection. Penicillin is the most common antibiotic given. Tell your healthcare provider if you have any medicine allergies.

If you have not been diagnosed with GBS, you may be given antibiotics before labor and birth if you have certain risk factors. These include:

  • GBS infection in a previous baby

  • Labor or waters breaking (rupture of membranes) before 37 weeks (preterm) 

  • Rupture of membranes 18 hours or longer before delivery of a full-term pregnancy

  • Fever during labor

Some babies still get GBS even with testing and treatment. Research is being done to make vaccines to prevent GBS infection.

When should I call my baby's healthcare provider?

Most newborns with GBS have signs before they go home from the hospital. But some babies do not show signs until later. They may include:

  • Decreased movement of a leg or arm

  • Pain with movement of a leg or arm

  • Breathing problems

  • Fever

  • Red area on the face or other body area

 If your baby has any of these symptoms, get them medical help right away.

Key points about GBS in babies

  • GBS is a type of bacteria. It can be passed from you to your newborn baby.

  • A baby infected with GBS can develop serious illnesses.

  • You are screened for GBS in late pregnancy. Treatment can be given before labor and birth.

  • A history of GBS in a past pregnancy increases the risk of having it again. Tell your healthcare provider if you have ever had a GBS infection.

  • Early treatment is important for a baby with a GBS infection.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare provider:

  • Know the reason for the visit and what you want to happen.

  • Before your visit, write down your questions.

  • At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Write down any new instructions your provider gives you for your child.

  • Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed. Understand how it will help your child. Also know what the side effects are.

  • Ask if your child’s condition can be treated in other ways.

  • Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.

  • Know what to expect if your child does not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.

  • If your child has a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.

  • Know how you can contact your child’s provider after office hours. This is important if your child becomes ill and you have questions or need advice.

Online Medical Reviewer: Donna Freeborn PhD CNM FNP
Online Medical Reviewer: Irina Burd MD PhD
Online Medical Reviewer: Stacey Wojcik MBA BSN RN
Date Last Reviewed: 8/1/2023
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