West Valley Medical Center - December 27, 2016

When I started this blog, I promised to share every gory detail of pregnancy. And I meant it, truly, it’s just that there haven’t been many gory details thus far. I didn’t have morning sickness, there’s been no action in the mucous plug department. No nipple leakage, no embarrassing bladder incidents. Sorry, but the first 38 weeks of pregnancy have been pretty darn unremarkable.

But here’s a factoid for you: I learned last week that I’m a carrier for Group B strep. Not gory, but interesting … at least for nerds like me. And it’s a great excuse to do some pregnant Googling — a habit I’ve been avoiding lately for my own sanity. Here’s what I found out:

What is Group B Strep?

You’ve heard of strep throat, right? This isn’t that. But it’s related. Kind of. Strep throat is an infection caused by Group A streptococcus bacteria. If you’re exposed to strep A bacteria (through droplet contact — like someone sneezing or coughing around you), you may develop an infection. But you can also be a carrier of the bacteria and never get sick.

Group B strep is kind of like that. Many people carry the Group B streptococcus bacteria (GBS) in their bodies — typically in their digestive, urinary or reproductive tract — and never have any symptoms. In fact, unless you’re a pregnant woman, you’d probably never even know you were a carrier.

How Do You Get It?

You don’t, not really. It’s not like an STD (although that’s a common misconception) — it just occurs naturally in the bodies of some adults. Fun Fact: Did you know that, right now, you have more than 400 species of bacteria living in your intestines alone? The human body is a fascinating thing.

Why Does It Matter for Pregnant Women?

About 25 percent healthy, adult women are carriers for GBS and the vast majority will never have any related symptoms or issues. The most common problem would be a urinary tract infection during pregnancy, although there are some very rare complications like chorioamnionitis (an infection of the amniotic fluid and placental tissue). But, for the most part, GBS poses little risk to adults.

The real issue is that, during labor and delivery, the bacteria can be passed from mother to child. This occurs in about 1-in-200 births (when the mother is a GBS carrier). And although it doesn’t typically make adults sick, it can be very harmful to babies. Newborns with GBS have the potential to develop sepsis (a blood infection), pneumonia and meningitis within just a few hours of birth.

How Do I Know if I Have GBS?

In your third trimester, usually between 35-37 weeks, your provider will perform a simple test to determine whether you’re a GBS carrier. I had my test at 37 weeks. They do a quick swab of your vagina and your rectum … yes, I said rectum. But seriously, calm down. It’s a very shallow swab and it’s over before you even know it happened. Your test results come back in about 48 hours and the provider or nurse will explain them to you.

Is It Treatable?

Very. Remember, 25 percent of all women are carriers, so the doctors and nurses up on our Family Maternity Center treat GBS all the time. If you’re pregnant and previously tested positive, you’ll be started on intravenous antibiotics (penicillin or something similar) as soon as you arrive at the hospital for delivery. Then you’ll continue to receive doses every four hours or so throughout your labor. With antibiotic treatment during labor, the risk of transmitting GBS to the baby drops to 1-in-4,000.

Can’t I Just Take Antibiotics Before the Birth?

I had the same question, and the answer is no. Take my case, for example. If I took antibiotics now — at 38 weeks — it might temporarily reduce the bacteria in number, but they could easily recolonize by the time I go into labor (bacteria are really good at that), potentially putting the baby at risk. Treating GBS during active labor is the most effective way to protect the baby from infection.

Does your brain hurt from all the learning I just dropped on you? I figured. But if you remember nothing else, remember this: You didn’t do anything to put your baby at risk — lots of people have Group B strep. And with testing and appropriate treatment, the chances of it affecting your baby are very slim.

Resources for Nerds Like Me

American Pregnancy Association

Baby Center

March of Dimes

Stanford Children’s Health