Preventing Prenatal Infections

Prenatal Infection Prevention Month

February is International Prenatal Infection Prevention Month to raise global awareness concerning mother-to-child prenatal infections, of which the most prevalent type is Group B Streptococcus (GBS.)

GBS is the leading cause of infection in babies age three months and younger. It can cause:

  • neurological or functional impairments
  • blindness
  • hearing loss
  • cerebral palsy
  • significantly delayed development
  • and potential risks resulting in stillbirth or miscarriage.

GBS is a naturally occurring bacteria within human digestive and lower reproductive tracts. It can occur on its own, in someone with no prior sexual experience and can be passed between sexual partners or through oral contact.

One of four women carry GBS or are GBS-colonized. GBS is transient, meaning women can test GBS-negative but become GBS-positive later in pregnancy and vice versa.

Because of underdeveloped immune systems, babies in utero through age 6 months may become infected with GBS. There are three GPS types affecting babies: pre-natal onset, early onset and late onset.

You can increase your chances of having a healthy baby by preventing infections before and during pregnancy using known preventative measures and establishing healthy pregnancy behaviors.

Preventative Measures

Fortunately, most prenatal infections can be prevented. Implement the Hygiene Rule:

  • H – Handwashing helps – everyone should wash hands prior to handling baby, eating, preparing food and after bathroom use.
  • Y – Yes to prenatal care – GBS testing is a standard completed during women’s first prenatal visit each pregnancy.
  • G – Good food prepared safely – adhere to safe food handling, healthy cooking temperatures and sanitary kitchen practices
  • I – Immunizations – for mom, baby and all family members
  • E – Evade others’ bodily fluids – avoid potential contamination and infection spread
  • N – No to unnecessary invasive procedures which may spread GBS to babies in utero
  • E – Environmental precautions – avoid pet feces contact, particularly cats (and reptiles, turtles and rodents) during pregnancy.

Pre-Natal Onset GBS

Pre-natal onset GBS occurs in babies before birth and can cause miscarriages or stillbirths.

You can protect your unborn baby by having a urine culture screening for GBS and other bacteria during your first prenatal visit.

If GBS-positive, oral antibiotics are prescribed with a recheck one month after treatment. Intravenous GBS antibiotics are administered during labor and delivery regardless of future GBS test results in the pregnancy if any reportable GBS amounts occur in subsequent urine cultures.

Pre-Natal Onset GBS: Symptoms and Risks

See your provider if you:

  • experience vaginitis symptoms while pregnant, as GBS can cause external vaginal burning and irritation and unusual discharge (in form, odor or amount.)
  • have frequent, painful urination or bladder infection symptoms.

Contact your provider immediately if you:

  • have decreased or no fetal movement after 20th week of pregnancy or any unexplained fever, as these are signs of GBS infection within unborn babies.

Avoid unnecessary invasive procedures, which may move GBS closer to baby where GBS is able to cross through intact membranes. This can cause pre-term labor and premature membrane rupturing. Call your doctor immediately if you experience:

  • Water breaking
  • More vaginal discharge than usual or change in discharge
  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Increased pelvic or vaginal pressure
  • Lower abdominal or period-like cramps
  • Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
  • Dull lower backache
  • Regular or frequent contractions

Early Onset GBS

Early onset GBS occurs within babies’ first week and is the only GBS type with a recommended prevention strategy.

The U.S. standard is for all pregnant women to be routinely tested with a vaginal/rectal swab test during their 36th or 37th week of each pregnancy unless a urine culture for the current pregnancy previously indicated GBS-positivity. Doing so alerts doctors to potential false negative readings due to antibiotic or vaginal medication usage.  The test determines within 95- to 98-percent accuracy a woman’s “GBS colonization status” at delivery if delivery happens within 5 weeks of testing.   

Cesarean-sections may not completely prevent GBS infection; however, risk of early-onset GBS infection is extremely low for full-term babies during planned C-sections performed before labor and waters break.

Risk for early onset GBS lowers to one of 4,000 babies when GBS-positive women receive IV antibiotics during labor. GBS-positive women not receiving IV antibiotics during labor showed marked increase in babies’ infection risk, with one of 200 babies afflicted. 

Late Onset GBS

Late onset GBS can occur in babies over one week through several months.

Unfortunately, there are no prevention protocols. Additionally, babies’ GBS risk exposure increases due to widening contact with others.

Most importantly, GBS is a very fast-acting bacteria – an otherwise healthy-looking baby can become critically ill in just hours.

Recognizing signs and getting prompt medical treatments are imperative for better outcomes. 

Late Onset GBS Symptoms

  • High-pitched cry, shrill moaning, whimpering
  • Marked irritability, inconsolable crying
  • Constant grunting as if constipated
  • Projectile vomiting
  • Feeding poorly, refusing to eat, not wakening for feedings
  • Excessive sleeping or not easily awakened
  • Fever, low or unstable temperature (cold hands/feet with fever)
  • Blotchy, red, tender skin
  • Blue, gray or pale skin due to lack of oxygen
  • Fast, slow, difficult breathing
  • Body stiffening, uncontrollable jerking
  • Listless, floppy, or not moving a limb
  • Tense or bulgy spot on top of head
  • Blank stare
  • Infection (pus/red skin) at umbilical cord base or in head puncture for internal fetal monitor

Prepare early by speaking with your Capital Women’s Care team about GBS risks prior to becoming pregnant or welcoming a new baby into your family.

Our Mission

The providers of Capital Women's Care seek the highest quality medical and ethical standard in an environment that nurtures the spirit of caring for every woman.


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