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Is my unborn baby at risk of early-onset group B streptococcus (GBS) infection?

Early-onset group B streptococcus (GBS) infection is rare. One in every 2,000 newborn babies in the UK and Ireland is diagnosed with a GBS infection.

What is early-onset GBS?

Early-onset GBS in babies is a GBS infection that begins in the first week after birth.

GBS stands for group B streptococcus, a common bacterium found in the bowel and vagina of about 20% of women in the UK. It usually causes no harm.

Many babies come into contact with the GBS during labour or birth. This causes no problems for the vast majority, but a small number of babies may become seriously ill if they are infected.

Although the infection can make a baby very unwell, most babies make a full recovery with prompt treatment.

What increases the risk of early-onset GBS?

Infection is more likely if:

  • your baby is born before 37 weeks of pregnancy – the earlier your baby is born, the greater the risk
  • you previously had a baby with a GBS infection
  • your baby is born more than 18 hours after your waters broke
  • you have a high temperature during labour

To reduce the risk of infection, mothers of high-risk babies are offered antibiotics during labour.

Testing for GBS

Pregnant women are not routinely screened for GBS in the UK, but it is sometimes detected when tests for other infections are carried out.

This leaflet from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists tells you more about GBS infection in newborn babies (PDF, 141kb).

Further information:

Page last reviewed: 06/05/2016

Next review due: 06/05/2018