It’s time to talk about something every pregnant woman gets tested for in the third trimester- Group B streptococcus (GBS). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend that all pregnant women get a routine GBS screening at 35 to 37 weeks. This screening determines whether or not you carry the GBS bacteria. Before you jump to conclusions about this routine test, know that roughly 1 in 4 pregnant women test positive.

A positive test is less dramatic than it sounds! We have all the information you need to know about what the test entails and what you can expect if you are among the 25% of women who test positive. Here are answers to some of the most common questions our midwives are asked about GBS.

What Is GBS?

GBS, or Group B strep, is a bacteria that lives in our body’s digestive system. While it’s usually harmless, the bacteria can occasionally cause infections in people of all ages, pregnant or not. The bacteria can be found in the vagina, rectum, or surrounding area, so it is a special concern for any pregnancy because it can be passed to the baby during labor and delivery.

How Is GBS Contracted, and Can I Prevent It?

GBS bacteria are common in our digestive system, but can cause infection and unpleasant symptoms if they enter a part of the body that isn’t normally exposed to the bacteria. This includes the birth canal and surrounding area, which is why pregnant women are typically tested to avoid passing on GBS during delivery. The best way to prevent GBS from spreading to your baby is to get screened in the third trimester of every pregnancy and to use approved antibiotics to prevent infections.

What Does A GBS Test Entail?

The test for Group B Strep is quick and straightforward. It may be uncomfortable, but it certainly shouldn’t be painful. During one of your check-ups, your midwife will swab your vagina and rectum, or teach you how to do it yourself. The sample will then be sent to a lab, where it will be analyzed for the presence of the bacteria. Your midwife will explain GBS and answer any questions you might have. We will always keep you up to date on test results, and you can call with questions anytime.

I Tested Positive. What Happens Now?

If you test positive, you’re considered “colonized,” which is a scary-sounding way of saying that you carry the bacteria. It does not mean that you or your baby will get sick. Steps can be taken to prevent the bacteria from spreading to your baby during delivery. Your midwife will discuss your labor plan with you, including safe antibiotic options available for you to take during labor to prevent the spread of GBS. The antibiotics used to prevent early-onset GBS in newborns should be taken during labor, since the bacteria can grow back quickly.

The stats are on your side. Pregnant women who test positive for GBS and get antibiotics during labor have only a 1 in 4,000 chance of delivering a baby who will develop a Group B strep infection. Even if you don’t take the antibiotics, the chances of your baby contracting GBS are still just 1-2%.

How Can GBS Affect Me And My Baby?

In adults and newborns, GBS can cause sepsis, pneumonia, meningitis, and other infections. That sounds scary, but remember that carrying GBS does not mean that you or your baby will get sick! While you may have no symptoms if you’re a carrier, GBS infections can impact newborns more severely than other age groups. This is why you need to be screened for GBS in your third trimester to avoid passing the bacteria to your baby during delivery. A positive test is not a big deal – it simply means that you’ll be given antibiotics when you’re ready to give birth.

Is GBS Monitored After My Delivery?

Group B Strep disease in newborns is rare, and most babies with GBS will show signs of infection within the first few hours after birth. In the unlikely event that your baby does contract GBS, they will receive antibiotics and other treatments in the hospital.

The good news is that incidences of GBS have dropped dramatically over the years, from 1.7 cases per 1,000 births in the early 90s to 0.34 to 0.37 cases per 1,000 births in recent years. Don’t let GBS scare you. While you might not look forward to the GBS test – no one wants a rectum swab! – it’s quick and easy and will keep you and your baby safe.