Bacterial infections cause considerable problems for pregnant women and their babies, including early delivery and newborn infection. The most common and dangerous infection is caused by Group B Streptococcus (GBS). Over the years, several strategies were developed to prevent this infection, such as culturing pregnant women or treating them based upon certain known risk factors associated with this infection.
As of December 2002, the Center for Disease Control and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have announced new recommendations for screening for GBS infections during pregnancy. It’s now recommended that pregnant women be cultured both vaginally and rectally at 35 - 37 weeks of pregnancy for GBS*. If women are found to carry the bacteria, antibiotics should be given during labor—this treatment greatly reduces mom and baby’s risk of developing GBS. *There are two exceptions to these recommendations for culturing: 1. Women with GBS in their urine, detected by culture; and, 2. Women with a prior history of a child infected by GBS. In either of these situations, the women do not require vaginal and rectal culturing. Instead, they will always be treated for GBS during labor.
Penicillin is the best treatment for GBS and is given intravenously during labor. For those who have a genuine allergy to penicillin—warning signs include hives, shortness of breath or loss of consciousness—there are alternatives. Unfortunately, they are not as effective and may not protect mom or her newborn. Therefore, it is very important to discuss the exact nature of your penicillin allergy. I mention this because many of my patients tell me they have an “allergy” to penicillin and their impressions may not be accurate. Comments I’ve heard include: “All my family is allergic to it”; “I get a yeast infection with penicillin”; or “I don’t remember but my mom said I am.” None of these represents a true allergy and should not disqualify a carrier of GBS from getting the appropriate—and most effective—treatment. Speak with your health care provider about your risk for Group B Streptococcus infection and the important steps you can take to protect your baby.
Our parenting advice is given as suggestions only. We recommend you also consult your healthcare provider, and urge you to contact them immediately if your question is urgent or about a medical condition.