Reports say that the incidence rate of urinary tract infections for pregnant women could be as high as 8%. Is prevention for UTI in pregnancy possible? How can bladder infections affect you and your baby? Find out here.
Causes of UTI during Pregnancy
A urinary tract infection (UTI) is a bacterial infection in the urinary system. The infection can take place in any part of the urinary tract – from the kidneys and bladder, to the ureters and urethra.
Generally, women are prone to experience UTI, but during pregnancy, the risk is even greater because of the following physical and hormonal changes.
The growing uterus
While the uterus (womb) grows because of the developing fetus, it puts significant pressure on the urinary bladder. The added pressure makes it hard for you to empty your bladder fully. With leftover urine, UTI-causing bacteria can set in and cause infection.
During pregnancy, an increased progesterone level causes your urinary tract muscles to relax. This relaxation decreases bladder tone and may result in vesicoureteral reflux and urinary stasis.
Vesicoureteral reflux happens when the urine flows back up from the bladder to the kidneys, while urinary stasis means the urine stays much longer in the bladder. Both of these conditions increase UTI risk during pregnancy.
Finally, increased progestin and estrogen can reduce the lower urinary tract’s ability to fight off infection-causing bacteria.
70% of pregnant women develop glycosuria or the presence of sugar in the urine. Unfortunately, sugar encourages bacterial growth, which can lead to UTIs.
Besides these factors, don’t forget that UTI causes for non-pregnant women still apply to pregnant women. To learn more about these causes, check out this article.
Signs and Symptoms
If you have UTI while you’re pregnant, you might experience the following signs and symptoms:
- Urinary frequency, or the need to urinate more than usual
- Urinary urgency, or the feeling that you need to urinate immediately
- Discomfort or pain while urinating
- Back pain, which may indicate that your kidneys are infected
- Cloudy and foul or strong-smelling urine
- Presence of blood or mucus in the urine
- An increase or decrease in the amount of the urine
- Incontinence or leaking urine
- Fever, chills, and sweating
- Discomfort during sexual intercourse
- Cramps in the lower abdomen
There are also cases when women have bacteria in their urine, but they don’t exhibit any symptoms. This condition is called asymptomatic bacteriuria.
The most common way to check for UTI is through urinalysis and culture. In this test, the healthcare provider collects your urine and checks its appearance, content, and concentration. They will also try to find the bacteria that can cause UTI.
Because asymptomatic bacteriuria is possible, the doctor might order urine testing even if you don’t exhibit any UTI symptoms.
If lab results show that you have bacteria in your urine or that you’ve developed bladder or kidney infection, the doctor may order monthly urine testing.
Treatment and Home Remedies
Before we talk about UTI prevention in pregnancy, let’s first understand the most common treatment plan and home remedies.
The go-to treatment plan for UTI during pregnancy is antibiotic therapy. The doctor chooses antibiotics that do not harm the baby, such as amoxicillin, penicillin, and erythromycin.
The treatment also depends on the pregnancy stage. Some studies indicate that taking antibiotics like nitrofurantoin and sulfamethoxazole during the first trimester may cause birth defects.
Together with your antibiotic treatment, you can also do the following to treat UTI at home:
- Drink plenty of water. Water helps dilute urine and flush out the bacteria.
- Urinate when you feel the urge. To help flush out bacteria, urinate when you feel the urge. Don’t forget to wipe your genital area gently from front to back.
- Ask your doctor about cranberry juice. Some studies show evidence that pure cranberry juice without added sugar prevents bacterial attachment to the urinary tract. This might help eliminate and prevent UTI; however, do not consume cranberry juice to treat UTI unless your doctor gives you their approval.
- Ask your doctor about vitamins. The American Pregnancy Association states that vitamin C, beta-carotene, and zinc help fight off infection. Ask your doctor if it’s okay for you to take these vitamins while you’re pregnant.
- Avoid sexual intercourse during your treatment. You might get another infection as sexual activity is a common risk factor for UTI.
The best prevention tips to reduce the risk of UTI in pregnancy are:
- Drinking at least 8 glasses of water daily.
- Urinating and gently washing your genital area before and after sex.
- Refraining from using harsh feminine products.
- Wearing cotton underwear and avoiding tight-fitting pants.
- Avoiding foods that might irritate the bladder, such as sugary foods, alcohol, and caffeinated drinks.
- Taking showers instead of soaking in the bathtub.
Please note that the practices listed in the home remedies section are also helpful in the prevention of UTI in pregnancy.
Without treatment, UTI can progress into kidney infections. When the infection spreads to the kidneys, the risk for the following complications increases:
- Preterm labor
- Low birth weight
- Acute respiratory distress syndrome
- Bacteremia (presence of bacteria in the blood)
The good news is, if you receive appropriate and early treatment for UTI, it will not cause harm to you and your baby.
It’s relatively common for pregnant women to experience UTI, so if you notice any signs or symptoms, consult your doctor immediately. With proper antibiotic treatment, UTI won’t cause complications. To reduce your risk of UTI during pregnancy, follow the prevention tips which include drinking plenty of water, urinating when you feel the urge, and wiping the genital area gently from front to back.
Learn more about Being Pregnant here.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.