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What Is Group B Strep And How Will It Affect Labour?

During your pregnancy- usually toward the end between weeks 35 and 37- your obstetrician or midwife will do a swab test in your vaginal area. The results of that test usually come back within the week and you'll find out if you're Group B Strep positive or negative. But what does that all mean?

Group B Streptococcus (GBS) is a bacteria that lives in our intestines or genital area. For a healthy adult, this bacteria is harmless. But during a vaginal birth, if the newborn comes in contact with it, it can cause life-threatening illnesses such as pneumonia or meningitis.  Testing positive for GBS happens for 15 to 40 percent of all pregnant parents.  However, only one in 2000 babies born to a GBS positive birthing parent will develop an infection.

While the chances of baby developing an infection are low, anyone who tests positive for GBS will be treated with I.V. antibiotics during labour. That means your care provider will want you at the hospital sooner than the typical 4-1-1, especially if your water has broken at home. You'll then receive antibiotics every four hours until your baby is born. This means you'll need to have a continuous I.V. throughout labour, which can get in the way if you wanted to have a birth with few interventions or no pain medication. However, you can get an I.V. set up called a saline lock, which allows you to be detached from the pole between doses of medication. It'll allow you to walk around freely and get into different positions for comfort (should you choose to labour that way).

If you haven't been tested for Group B Streptococcus- or if your results aren't back before you go into labour- you'll be looked after as if you've tested positive. It's merely a precaution for for and your unborn baby. After all, it's better to be safe than sorry!

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Being GBS positive doesn't mean you need an automatic cesarean birth. It also doesn't mean you have to be transferred to obstetrical care if you have a midwife. You can still labour and give birth at home with a midwife if you tested positive for Strep B.

During labour- regardless of whether you're having a hospital birth or a home birth-  you'll also be monitored more closely for fever. This is especially true if your water has been broken for more than 18 hours. Other risk factors for baby becoming infected include labour starting before 37 weeks, if you've had a previous GBS infection or if your GBS infection was detected by a urinary tract infection (UTI) earlier in your pregnancy.

After birth, you'll again be monitored for a fever. Your baby will also be monitored for fever during your stay in the hospital, or by your midwife if you birthed at home. Again, it's all to ensure that you're both as healthy as can be.

So if you test positive for GBS, does that mean you need to be concerned? Not entirely. It's something that will need to monitored, but it shouldn't cause you to stress or be anxious during your pregnancy or labour.  To give you some perspective, most countries around the world don't test for GBS due to its incredibly small risk to baby. Therefore, Canada is being extra cautious in testing during pregnancy, and that helps limit the risk to your baby even further.

You can find out more about Group B Streptococcus on the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists website here.

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