So you tested positive for GBS during your pregnancy . . . now what?
If you test positive for Group B Streptococcus, also called Group B Strep or GBS, during pregnancy, you have done a great thing by merely getting the test. This can pave the way for solutions that help ensure you and your baby will stay healthy and safe.
Indeed, it can feel unsettling to find out that your test for Group B Strep came back positive. But having GBS in your body generally will not cause you any harm. In fact, a lot of women who are GBS positive don’t even know they have it. They are simply carriers of the bacteria and do not have an infection or any symptoms. Furthermore, there are natural ways to help prevent or lower GBS in your body through the intake of probiotics and other dietary foods.
The most significant risk of having GBS is to your baby when your baby goes through the birth canal where GBS may reside. In most cases, your doctor has already tested you and knows you have GBS, so your healthcare professional will start giving you antibiotics intravenously about every four hours before you deliver.
If you’ve tested positive, your next step is to talk with your midwife or doctor about options for you and your baby. Read on to learn about what GBS is, what kinds of treatment options are available, and how to prevent it.
What is GBS in Pregnancy?
Group B Strep is bacteria typically found in the intestine, genital area, and rectum in about 25% of all pregnant mothers.1 Most pregnant women colonized by the bacteria have no symptoms, but GBS can spread to babies before or during birth, leading to potentially life-threatening situations.
For pregnant mothers, the GBS test is usually performed by a doctor or midwife between the 35th and 37th weeks of pregnancy. During pregnancy, a woman can pass GBS to her baby. A baby can get it from the mother’s genital tract during the birthing process. It’s essential to get tested during pregnancy for prevention purposes and to develop a birthing plan that will protect the baby.
For pregnant moms, GBS can cause infections in the bloodstream, placenta, or urinary tract. For the infant, consequences can include potentially life-threatening infections such as meningitis, pneumonia, and sepsis.
Which Babies are Most at Risk?
Newborns are more likely to get Group B Strep infection if the mother has:1
- Preterm labor
- Early breaking of water (rupture of membranes)
- A long time between rupture of membranes and birth
- Internal fetal monitoring during labor
- A past pregnancy with a baby who had Group B Strep
- African-American or Hispanic ethnicity
- Group B Strep in urine (bacteriuria) during pregnancy
How Does a Mother Get a GBS Test?
Testing should be done for subsequent pregnancies, even if a mother tests negative during her first pregnancy. The test is usually administered between weeks 35 and 37 and is called a culture. Simple, inexpensive, and painless, a medical professional uses a large cotton swab to collect samples from the vagina and rectum. Those samples are sent to a lab for testing, and your healthcare provider will notify you if you test positive for GBS.
What are the Symptoms of GBS Infection in a Baby?
Newborn babies with Group B Strep usually have signs in the first 24 hours after birth. These signs may include:2
- Fussiness, lethargy, and having breathing problems (signs of sepsis)
- Rapid breathing and making grunting noises (signs of pneumonia)
- Periods of not breathing (signs of meningitis)
- Change in blood pressure
- Convulsions (seizure)
Babies who get Group B Strep 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
- Red area on the face or other part of the body
What are the Symptoms of GBS Infection in a Mother?
While symptoms do not always present themselves in pregnant women who test positive for Group B Strep, sometimes symptoms do appear. Symptoms in mothers look like this:
- Fast heart rate
- Frequent urination
- Frequent urge to pee
- Pain when urinating
- Nausea and vomiting
- Pain in the mother’s side or back
- Sore uterus or belly
How is Group B Strep Treated in a Baby?
Newborn babies with Group B Strep infection may need to receive care and treatment in the newborn intensive care unit (NICU), often in the form of IV antibiotics.3 If the baby has meningitis, pneumonia, or a severe infection, other treatments may be required.
How is GBS Treated in a Mother?
If you have a positive GBS test and do not have any symptoms or complications, the treatment is starting intravenous (IV) antibiotics at the beginning of labor or the rupture of membranes (when your water breaks). Antibiotics are a type of medication that kills bacteria. Penicillin or ampicillin are the IV medications that doctors typically use to treat group B streptococcus during labor and delivery.
If you are allergic to penicillin, your doctor will give you a different antibiotic instead. Make sure to tell the doctor or midwife delivering your baby that you are allergic to penicillin. Likely it will be written in your health chart, but it’s always good to remind your provider at the time of birth.
Can You Prevent GBS in Pregnancy?
Start taking probiotics.
The best way to treat GBS without antibiotics is to improve the quality of good bacteria inside your body.4 Sounds funny, right? But your intestines and digestive system, as well as your genital area, naturally contain good bacteria that support a strong immune system. Sometimes, though, your body could use more healthy bacteria and may have lost some beneficial bacteria during times of stress or bodily inflammation. For this reason, you can help your body fight harmful bacteria (like GBS) by intaking more healthy bacteria, both through a nutritious diet and by intentionally seeking out probiotic food and supplements.
What are probiotics?
Probiotics can lower the number of harmful bacteria in your gut that cause illness or inflammation, including Group B Strep.4 Probiotics are live microorganisms that help our body digest food, destroy disease-causing cells, and produce vitamins. These good bacteria blends contain various microorganisms, and the most common are bacteria that belong to groups called Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. L. Rhamnosus is a good bacteria that is particularly effective in combating GBS.
Eating more probiotics can help promote healthy vaginal flora (bacteria), which may lower your chances of getting or retaining GBS and passing it on to your baby. These naturopathic remedies have been shown to help significantly, but always remember to consult with your healthcare provider first before trying a homeopathic plan.
How do I get more probiotics?
The best way to increase your uptake of probiotics or “helpful bacteria” is by eating fermented foods like sauerkraut, Kimchi, pickled foods, Kefir, and yogurt. Many of these fermented foods can be found at your local grocery store.
Additionally, eating raw produce is essential because raw fruits and vegetables contain fiber and a diversity of helpful probiotic bacteria, all of which your gut benefits from. In a study from Frontiers in Microbiology, researchers found that the average apple contains about 100 million bacteria on the inside, fleshy part.5 That’s good news for your gut!
How else can I improve my diet to prevent GBS?
- Take a probiotic supplement before bed
- Continue your uptake of probiotics (whether through food or supplements) through pregnancy and breastfeeding
- Eat a rich and nutritiously dense diet
- Drink plenty of water (10 cups per day when pregnant)
- Lower your sugar intake
- Lower your intake of foods containing white flour
- Eat lots of protein, fruits and vegetables, and healthy fats, especially omega-3 fatty acids
- Eat lots of garlic
- Increase your intake of collagens (through bone broth or supplements)
- Get a good night’s sleep
- Prioritize rest and relaxation to reduce inflammation in your body