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

Early-onset GBS (group B streptococcus) infection is rare and affects about 1 in 2,000 babies born in the UK and Ireland each year.

What is early-onset GBS?

GBS stands for group B streptococcus. It is one of many bacteria that can be present in our bodies. It usually causes no harm.

About 25% of women carry the bacteria in their vagina. This means that many babies come into contact with the bacteria during labour or birth. GBS causes no harm to most babies, but a small number of babies may become seriously ill if they are infected.

In early-onset GBS, symptoms of the infection begin in the first week of life, and usually within the first 12 hours.

What increases the risk of early-onset GBS?

There may be a higher risk of your baby developing a GBS infection if:

  • you have previously had baby with a GBS infection
  • GBS is found in your urine during tests that were carried out for other purposes, for example to check if your bladder and kidneys were functioning normally
  • GBS is found during vaginal and rectal swabs that were carried out for other purposes, for example to check if you had an infection inside your vagina
  • you have a high temperature during labour
  • you go into labour prematurely
  • you give birth more than 18 hours after your waters have broken

As a precaution, mothers of high-risk babies can be given antibiotics during labour. These will be given through a vein (intravenously).

In the UK, pregnant women are not routinely screened for GBS.

Find out more about treatment for GBS.

What are the symptoms of early-onset GBS?

Symptoms of an early-onset GBS infection include:

  • being floppy and unresponsive
  • poor feeding
  • grunting when breathing
  • irritability
  • an unusually high or low temperature
  • unusually fast or slow breathing
  • an unusually fast or slow heart rate

Find out more about symptoms of GBS.

Babies who have symptoms of an early-onset GBS infection should be treated with antibiotics as soon as possible.

Read the answers to more questions about pregnancy.

Further information:

Page last reviewed: 02/12/2011

Next review due: 01/12/2013