More women to receive treatment for group B streptococcus infection

Woman with newborn on a drip

Guidelines from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists have recommended that all women who go into premature labour should have antibiotics to protect their baby from a potentially deadly infection

What are the guidelines?

Guidelines state that all women who go into labour before 37 weeks should be offered antibiotics as a precaution, even if their waters have not broken and the amniotic sac is still intact.

If you've tested positive for group B streptococcus earlier on in your pregnancy, you'll be offered antibiotics once you're in labour as well. You should also be offered antibiotics after 37 weeks as well if your waters break before you go into labour, and you'll be advised to have an induction, as this will reduce the amount of time that your baby is exposed to the bacteria.

Group B streptococcus can cause urine infections, so if you have one then you should be offered antibiotics as soon as it's been detected. And when you go into labour, you should also be offered antibiotics.

If you're thought to have an infection during labour, but the cause is unknown, then you'll be offered a course of general antibiotics to treat a range of bacteria, including group B streptococcus.

What is group b streptococcus?

Group B streptococcus is a bacteria that is found naturally in the body and usually causes no harm. Two in 10 women have the bacteria in their vagina and bowel. If you're a carrier, you probably won't know about it as it won't be harmful to you – and it's not sexually transmitted.

How do I know if I've got group B streptococcus?

Group B streptococcus can be detected by a routine test for other infections. This might be with a swab, or if you get a urine infection.

How can group B streptococcus affect my baby?

During labour and birth, many babies come into contact with group B streptococcus. For the vast majority of babies, there are no ill-effects. But one in every 2000 babies is diagnosed with group b streptococcus which can make the baby very unwell. Prompt treatment means that seven in 10 babies will make a full recovery, but 20% will have some form of disability. One in 10 babies will unfortunately die from the infection.

How high is the risk that my baby will develop group B streptococcal infection?

Your baby is at higher risk of infection if:

  • they're born prematurely, before 37 weeks. The earlier they are born, the higher the risk.
  • you've previously had a baby who had group B streptococcal infection
  • you have a high temperature during pregnancy
  • more than 18 hours have passed between your waters breaking and your baby being born

What are the signs and symptoms of group B streptococcal infection?

If your baby has group B streptococcus then they will show signs within 12 hours of birth. A baby at increased risk, they will be monitored closely for signs of infection. This means their general wellbeing, feeding, temperature, heart rate and breathing rate will be looked at by your healthcare team.

Symptoms of group B streptococcus include:

  • being excessively sleepy
  • being floppy
  • not feeding well
  • grunting
  • high or low temperature
  • abnormally fast or slow heart rate
  • abnormally fast or slow breathing rate
  • irritability
  • low blood pressure
  • low blood sugar

What are the risks of taking antibiotics during labour?

Taking antibiotics during labour can prove life-saving for babies, however some women are allergic to certain antibiotics. It's usually penicillin that is used to treat group B streptococcus, but if you're allergic to it, you'll be offered an alternative. You might have some temporary side effects from taking them including diarrhoea and nausea.

There's been some research as well that giving antibiotics to babies early on in their lives can put them at a higher risk of developing potentially serious allergies or asthma.