With all the amazing things to think about when you’re pregnant — like baby names or nursery decorations — one thing you don’t want to have your mind on is your bladder. However, urinary tract infections are a common occurrence in pregnancy, affecting around 1 out of 10 moms-to-be. Find out how to recognize and treat them below — as well as why a urinary tract infection or UTI during pregnancy is so important to clear up.
What is a Urinary Tract Infection?
Your urinary tract consists of two kidneys connected to your bladder by tubes called ureters. The kidneys form urine as they filter out your blood and this travels down to the bladder. Once there, it exits your body through another tube called the urethra when you go to the bathroom. When bacteria enters the urethra and starts to grow there, this is termed a urinary tract infection or UTI.
What Causes a UTI During Pregnancy?
There are multiple causes of urinary tract infections, including:
- Sex. One of the most common culprits, sex (especially when vigorous) can cause bladder inflammation and make an infection more likely.
- Improper hygiene. If you do not wipe from front to back after you go to the bathroom, bacteria from your stool can enter into the urethra and cause an infection. This is also very common.
- Placement of a catheter. A catheter is a thin rubber tube placed in your bladder to help drain urine. Catheters put you at a greater risk for urinary infection since bacteria can easily spread up the catheter and into the urinary tract.
To make matter more difficult, physical changes that take place in your body during pregnancy also make you more vulnerable to UTI’s. For one thing, higher progesterone levels relax the muscles around the urethra and make it easier for bacteria to get in. Also, as the pregnancy progresses, the uterus can put pressure on the bladder and make it hard to empty the bladder entirely. Urine that stays in the bladder longer than it should is major risk factor for infection.
What are the Symptoms of a UTI?
Fortunately, the symptoms of a UTI during pregnancy are usually easy to spot. They can include:
- Feeling an increased urge to urinate
- Pain or burning during urination
- Difficult urination
- Bloody, cloudy or smelly urine
- Pain in the pubic area or lower back
What are Ways Women can Treat and Prevent a UTI?
If you have any of the symptoms listed above, it is very important to report this to your doctor at once. He or she will usually take a urine sample and then put you on an antibiotic such as amoxicillin or penicillin. It is very important to treat a UTI during pregnancy because, if left unchecked, you can develop an infection in the kidneys (called pyelonephritis) or in your bloodstream (called sepsis). These can be potentially life-threatening for you and your child and can cause preterm labor or a low birth weight.
The good news? There are lot of things you can do to prevent a UTI from happening to begin with! They include:
- Drinking at least 8 8-ounce glasses of water a day. This will keep you hydrated and prevent infection by making sure your urinary tract is flushed out.
- Drinking cranberry juice. Cranberry juice makes your urine more acidic and prevents the growth of bacteria. Make sure to get 100% pure cranberry juice and not a juice mix in order for it to be effective.
- Wiping from front to back. This helps prevent bacteria from your stool from entering into your urethra.
- Practicing good sex hygiene. Again, sex is a common culprit for UTI’s. In order to reduce this risk, make sure to empty your bladder before and after sex, use a water-based lubricant if you are experiencing some vaginal dryness and wash with warm water before sex.
- Avoiding strong soaps, bubble baths and similar products. Strong dyes or perfumes in your soap, bubble bath or other personal care product can irritate your urethra and vaginal area and make it more likely for an infection to begin.
- Saying “no” to douching. Forget the commercials! Douching is not a good hygiene practice and is actually very bad for you. It changes the pH balance of your vaginal area and increases your risk for UTI’s – as well as problems like vaginal yeast infections.
- Choosing your clothing with care. Tight-fitting clothing can also increase your UTI risk: where looser-fitting clothing instead and make sure to wear cotton underwear, which also for better air flow to the area and discourages bacterial growth.
So now you have the low-down on urinary tract infections — and why they are so important to treat, especially when you are pregnant and wanting to protect not just your health but the health of your unborn baby. The good news is, however, that they are simple to treat once they are detected and there are many ways you can prevent them from happening in the first place.