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What is group B strep and what are the risks?

Group B strep (GBS) is a type of bacteria called streptococcal bacteria that’s usually found in the rectum or vagina. It’s very common in both men and women (about 20-40% of women carry it), although most people won’t realise they have it as it’s normally completely harmless.

GBS is also common in pregnant women and in most cases will not harm the baby. However, there’s a very small risk (about 1 in 1750 pregnancies) that the bacteria could spread to your baby during labour and make them ill. In the worst cases, GMS can lead to serious conditions including sepsis, pneumonia and meningitis.

If testing shows that you are carrying GBS or you've previously had a baby who was diagnosed with GBS, you will be offered antibiotics through a drip throughout your labour. If the infection does spread to your baby, they will be given antibiotics.⁠

Testing for group B strep is not routinely offered to pregnant women in the UK. But it's sometimes found by chance when you have a urine sample or vaginal or rectal swab taken for other reasons. Speak to your midwife if you're concerned about GBS. You can also pay for a test privately.⁠

Most of the time a baby will develop GBS very soon after birth. But occasionally they can develop the infection up to three months after birth, so it's important to be aware of the symptoms:⁠

  • Being floppy or unresponsive
  • Grunting when breathing or working hard to breathe⁠
  • Very fast or slow breathing
  • Very fast or slow heart rate
  • An unusually high or low temperature
  • Changes in their skin colour or blotchy skin⁠
  • Not feeding well or vomiting milk up⁠ 

If your baby develops these symptoms, you need to call 999 and get seen in the emergency department as soon as possible.