How to Treat Strep Throat While Pregnant

Woman in hospital gown clutches throat.
  • Common Strep throat is caused by two types of bacteria: Group A Strep (GAS) and Group B Strep (GBS).
  • Pregnant women are not more likely than others to get strep throat.
  • It's not typically dangerous to be pregnant and to get strep throat, as long as a medical professional is consulted.
  • Typically, treatment for strep throat during pregnancy includes two types of antibiotics: penicillin based medications such as amoxicillin and cephalosporin based medications such as cephalexin.

Strep throat isn't fun for anyone, but women who are expecting definitely shouldn’t have to deal with extra stress when they suspect they have strep throat.

Strep throat itself is not dangerous, but having a high fever can cause complications for pregnant women. Mothers can also pass strep throat infections to their children when giving birth.

In this article, we’ll cover strep throat, whether it affects pregnancy, and how pregnant mothers should deal with strep throat.

What is Strep Throat?

Typical Strep throat is a sore throat caused by two types of bacteria: Group A Strep (GAS) and Group B Strep (GBS).

These bacteria can cause both invasive and non-invasive diseases, so it's important to get checked for them. Roughly 11 million people from all over the world get strep throat infections each year.

Difference Between Strep Throat and a Normal Sore Throat

There are many different kinds of "sore throats", but they all have one thing in common: they make the throat scratchy, tender, and maybe even painful.

Strep throat is a sore throat caused by a certain type of bacteria. There are rapid strep tests that can tell if your sore throat is from GAS. GAS is the more serious type of Strep throat, and needs antibiotics.

A rapid strep test involves a quick throat swab. Within minutes, the test can show the presence of the GAS bacteria, which can cause strep throat or other types of bacterial infections.

The signs and symptoms of strep throat are very similar to those of a normal sore throat. In general, strep throat has the following symptoms:

  • Swollen lymph nodes (right below the earlobes)

  • Just a sore throat without cough/cold symptoms like a runny nose or congestion

  • White patches on the tonsils or back of the throat

Key Point: What are Lymph Nodes?

A lymph node is a small bean-shaped structure that is part of the body's immune system.

Lymphocytes (white blood cells) in the lymphatic fluid help the body fight off viruses and bacteria. Lymph nodes are where these white blood cells live.

What Causes Strep Throat?

As mentioned, strep throat is usually caused by exposure to the GAS bacteria. You may breathe in the bacteria when an infected person:

  • Talks

  • Coughs

  • Sneezes

Strep throat spreads through close contact between people. It is most common in places where kids are together, such as schools, playgrounds, and libraries. After these interactions, the illness can spread through households.

You will usually start to feel sick two to five days after you’ve been exposed to someone who had the virus. You are also highly contagious for the first two weeks, unless you start taking antibiotics.

Symptoms of Strep Throat

The severity of a strep throat infection differs from person to person.

A sore throat is one of the milder and most common symptoms people experience. Others have more severe symptoms, such as:

  • Chills

  • Difficulty swallowing

  • Fever

  • Headaches

  • Lack of appetite

  • Red, sore throat with white spots

  • Sudden fever, usually 101˚F or higher

  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck

  • Trouble swallowing

In some cases, a person can have strep throat without a fever, as is often the case with children. Less common strep throat symptoms include:

  • Intestinal symptoms

  • Nausea

  • Stomach pain

  • Vomiting

A rash can sometimes appear on a person with strep throat, and this rash is then called scarlet fever, or scarlatina. However, this is quite rare.

If a person has scarlet fever, the rash can show up before other symptoms do, or up to 7 days after. It starts as red areas of skin that develop small bumps.

The rash will likely go away in about a week, but a person may have skin peeling for a few weeks after the infection.

Is Strep Throat Dangerous During Pregnancy?

It's not dangerous to get strep throat while pregnant, as long as expectant mothers meet with a doctor and get treated right away when symptoms start.

Any prescribed antibiotics, such as penicillins or cephalosporins, should be safe for pregnant women to help treat strep throat.

The only symptom that could be dangerous to your baby is a high fever. There is a risk that the fetus won't grow properly if you have a high fever in your first trimester.

If you are pregnant and experiencing this symptom, it’s important to get rid of the fever as soon as possible.

If your fever doesn't go away on its own within a few hours, your doctor should be informed to monitor the health of your growing fetus and give you safe and effective treatment. This will hopefully get rid of the fever and bacterial infection.

Key Point: What is a Category B Drug?

The FDA established five risk categories — A, B, C, D, and X — to indicate the potential of a drug to cause birth defects if used during pregnancy.

Category B establishes that animal reproduction studies have failed to demonstrate a risk to the fetus, but that there are no adequate and well-controlled studies on pregnant women yet.

Examples of Category B drugs: metformin, hydrochlorothiazide, cyclobenzaprine, and amoxicillin

Can Taking Antibiotics Hurt the Baby While You’re Pregnant?

As safe as antibiotics are, a person should be cautious about how much they take, as they can be bad for a mother and her unborn. Take only the dosage of antibiotics your doctor prescribed.

Complete the course of the antibiotics you have been prescribed, even if you feel better. The full course is designed to eliminate the strep throat bacteria from your system.

However, do not keep taking antibiotics after the end of your course if they don't seem to help your symptoms after the first 24 hours. Instead, talk to your doctor about getting a new treatment plan.

The bacteria might have become resistant to the antibiotics, which means you may have to take a different kind of antibiotics that could have negative effects on you and your fetus. This is why you need to keep your doctor informed.

Home Care for Strep Throat During Pregnancy

A home remedy is never a replacement for prescribed medicine. However, there are some home remedies to help relieve the discomforts of strep throat, including:

  • Resting to allow your body to heal

  • Staying hydrated

  • Gargling with warm salt water

  • Avoiding cold liquids

  • Drinking caffeine-free herbal teas (such as chamomile or lemon tea with cinnamon)

Where Can I Learn More About Strep Throat During Pregnancy?

If you're experiencing some of the symptoms that we’ve covered in this article, you can meet with a U.S. based, board-certified doctor from your smartphone, computer, or tablet. Visit LifeMD to make your first appointment.

Dr. Banita Sehgal

Dr. Sehgal received her medical degree from Western University in Los Angeles and trained as Chief Resident at White Memorial Medical Center, also in Los Angeles. She’s been practicing medicine for 20+ years and has a specific interest in women’s health.

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This article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice. Consult a healthcare professional or call a doctor in the case of a medical emergency.

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