Antibiotics for labour and delivery

We recommend antibiotics in labour either because we suspect that there might be an infection or to reduce the risk of developing an infection.

Please let us know if you might be allergic to any particular antibiotics so we can arrange for one of the alternatives. We routinely recommend the use of intravenous (given through a drip)antibiotics during labour if:

  • Your temperature in labour is above 38°C or above 37.5°C for more than two hours.
  • You have had Group B Streptococcal infection (GBS) at any time in the current pregnancy or delivered a baby in the past who had a GBS infection.

Group B Streptococcus (GBS)Show [+]Hide [-]

GBS infection is very common, can come and go, and is harmless toyourself. However, if GBS is present at the time of birth it can occasionally affect your baby (the chance is less than 1 in 100) and your baby may become seriously ill. Antibiotics can be life-saving and given as early as possible after labour starts or if the membranes break even if there are no contractions.

One in every 2,000 newborn babies in the UK is diagnosed with a GBS infection. Although the infection can make the baby very unwell, with prompt treatment the majority (seven out of 10) recover fully. However, two in 10 babies with GBS infection will recover with some level of disability, and one in 10 infected babies will die. Overall the UK and Ireland risk of a newborn baby dying from GBS is one chance in 17,000.

If I had GBS in a previous pregnancy should I be given antibiotics during labour?

If you were a carrier in a previous pregnancy but your baby was not affected, it is not currently recommended to have antibiotics during labour in this pregnancy.

Why are all women not tested for GBS during pregnancy in the UK?

There is no clear evidence that routine testing for GBS does more good than harm. Many women carry the bacteria and for the majority their babies are born safely and without developing an infection. Screening all women late in pregnancy cannot predict which babies will develop GBS infection. A negative swab test does not guarantee that you are not a carrier.

So you may be given a negative result when in fact you do carry GBS in your vagina. Also most babies who are severely affected from GBS infection are born prematurely, before the suggested time for screening. If all carriers of GBS had antibiotics then a very large number of women at very low risk would receive treatment they did not need. Research has linked antibiotics given to babies very early in their lives to a higher than normal risk of developing asthma and other allergies which can be serious and overusing antibiotics risks strains of bacteria becoming resistant.

This is why screening all women in pregnancy to find GBS carriers is not routinely offered in the UK.


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