What is Group B Strep and how does it effect pregnant women and their babies?

new born baby with mother

Here at Secret Saviours we are supporting Group B Strep Awareness month by sharing information and useful links so all expectant mothers are fully aware of the risks to their baby if they catch it from mum during labour.  We believe being forearmed is forewarned as the saying goes so even though it is very rare for a baby to contract Group B Strep from their mothers we support the movement to stop any baby becoming infected with GBS, and consequently lessening the number of babies who become seriously ill with Group B Step, have long term physical or mental complications or even die.

To show our support we will be donating 1p from every £1 in sales during Group B Strep awareness month, to raise awareness and keep babies in the UK safe. Together we can make a real difference to the quality of expectant mums and babies’ lives.

Before you read on please remember that even though Group B Strep is the UK’s most common life-threatening infection in newborns, and the most common cause of meningitis in babies under three months old, most of these infections are preventable.

What is Group B Step?

Group B Step is a type of bacteria called streptococcal bacteria. It is very common in both men and women and normally lives in the intestines, rectum or genital tracts. It is not a sexually transmitted disease, it isn’t something you catch like flu or a cold and you can’t get it from food or water. It actually just lives in the body naturally and most of  the 25% of men and women who live with the bacteria have no symptoms at all.

How does Group B Strep effect you in pregnancy?

Between one and four out of every 1,000 newborns contract Group Strep B from their mothers during birth. Most babies will not develop a GBS infection even if their mother is carrying the bacteria, however in rare situations the bacteria can lead to life-threatening complications in babies, such as meningitis, pneumonia or sepsis.

There is a higher chance of a baby becoming unwell with Group B Strep infection if they are born prematurely or if the expectant mother has a temperature or any other sign of infection during labour. Another high risk is if mum-to-be hasn’t started going into labour 24 hours after her waters have broken.

What happens to a baby with Group B Strep?

Early onset GBS

In the UK most babies with a GBS infection are of early onset (this means their symptoms begin to show within the first six days of life). This early-onset infection affects 1 in every 1,750 babies and is usually noticeable at birth or very soon after and presents as sepsis with pneumonia.

Medical professionals and midwives will be on hand to spot symptoms, but expectant mums should also remain vigilant. These are some of the symptoms you should look out for: 


Typical EOGBS infection symptoms 

  • Grunting, noisy breathing, moaning, seems to be working hard to breathe when you look at the chest or tummy, or not breathing at all.
  • Being very sleepy and/or unresponsive
  • Inconsolable crying
  • Being unusually floppy
  • Not feeding well or not keeping milk down
  • Having a high or low temperature (if parents have a thermometer), and/or be hot or cold to the touch
  • Having changes in their skin colour (including blotchy skin)
  • Having an abnormally fast or slow heart rate or breathing rate
  • Having low blood pressure (identified by tests done in hospital)
  • Having low blood sugar (identified by tests done in hospital) 


Most early-onset GBS infections can be prevented by testing and treating an infected mother. However if medical professionals suspect a newborn baby has a GBS infection, tests will be done (a blood and fluid sample may be taken) and if GBS is suspected your baby will be given antibiotics as soon as possible. Even if your baby shows no sign of GBS, treatment will be continued for at least 36  hours and all tests will need to come back negative before the antibiotics are stopped

Late onset GBS

Up to a third of GBS infections in babies are of late onset, occurring after the baby’s first 6 days, usually as meningitis with sepsis. It is uncommon after a baby reaches one month old and very rare after the age of three months.

Late-onset group B Strep infections occur in around 1 in every 2,700 babies in the UK and Ireland and with less support from medical professionals at this time we recommend mums keep an eye out for any signs mentioned in the panel above as well as additional signs that indicate baby may have meningitis.


Typical LOGBS infection symptoms (in addition to EOGBS symptoms) 

  • Being irritable with high pitched or whimpering cry, or moaning;
  • Blank, staring or trance-like expression;
  • Floppy, may dislike being handled, being fretful;
  • Tense or bulging fontanelle (soft spot on babies’ heads);
  • Turning away from bright light;
  • Involuntary stiff body or jerking movements; and/or
  • Pale, blotchy skin.


Testing and treating expectant women has not been shown to prevent these rare, late onset GBS infections, so stay vigilant and contact your doctor or dial 999 if you recognise any of the signs of GBS in your baby. But remember – late onset GBS is extremely rare.

How do you test for and treat Group B Strep during pregnancy?

Simple tests reveal if a pregnant woman has GBS and the good news is intravenous antibiotics during labour will prevent almost all cases of early onset GBS. Although late onset GBS is rare, there are currently no known ways of preventing an infection occurring, so until a vaccine is developed it is important to keep an eye on your baby up until they are three months old.

Pregnant mum in hospital bed

In the UK pregnant women are not routinely tested for Group B Strep – this is because  even though many women carry the GBS bacteria most babies are born safely and do not carry the infection. However mums-to-be can pay £50 for a private home-testing kit - Group B Strep Support has a list of private providers that sell GBS tests and use the ‘gold standard’ Enriched Culture Medium (or ECM) test for group B Strep as recognised by Public Health England and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. Whilst at this expensive time of life this is yet another cost, knowing you are GBS free will put your mind at rest during labour, allow you to get the treatment you need if you have the bacteria and most importantly allow medical professionals to keep an eye on baby once they are born.


Key Things to remember:

  1. Group B Strep is just one of many bacteria that normally live in our bodies – it is not a sexually transmitted disease.
  2. In the UK testing for GBS is not offered as part of anti-natal care and so will only be found if a pregnant woman happens to have a swab or urine test close to the time of birth
  3. There are reliable tests available privately however – see here for details 
  4. It is very rare for babies to contract GBS from their mothers but mums-to-be will be offered intravenous antibiotics during labour if they are known to carry the bacteria. This will prevent most babies from contracting the bacteria during labour.
  5. If a baby is found to have symptoms of GBS in the first 6 days of life they will be given antibiotics immediately.
  6. Late onset GBS is even rarer – but women with GBS should remain vigilant for the first three months of baby’s life


Please don’t let this information ruin your pregnancy experience and labour – this is the most precious time for you and Group B Strep is rare.  Stay vigilant and if you are a woman who prefers to know, then test privately or talk to your midwife about your worries.

newly born baby holding hands with mum