A Urinary tract infection (UTI), also called bladder infection, is a bacterial inflammation in the urinary tract. Pregnant women are at increased risk for UTI’s starting in week 6 through week 24.
A UTI occurs when bacteria from somewhere outside of a woman’s body gets inside her urethra (basically the urinary tract) and causes an infection.
Women are more likely to get UTIs than men. The female anatomy makes it easy for bacteria from the vagina or rectal areas to get in the urinary tract because they are all close together.
Why Are UTIs More Common During Pregnancy?
UTI’s are more common during pregnancy because of changes in the urinary tract. The uterus sits directly on top of the bladder. As the uterus grows, its increased weight can block the drainage of urine from the bladder, causing an infection.
There are also physical changes to consider. As early as six weeks gestation, almost all pregnant women experience ureteral dilation, when the urethra expands and continues to expand until delivery. To make matters worse, a pregnant woman’s urine gets more concentrated. It also has certain types of hormones and sugar. These can encourage bacterial growth and lower your body’s ability to fight off “bad” bacteria trying to get in.
- An urgent need to pee, or peeing more often
- Trouble with peeing
- A burning sensation or cramps in your lower back or lower belly
- A burning feeling when you pee
- Urine that looks cloudy or has an odor
- Blood or mucus in the urine
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Chills, fever, sweats, leaking of urine (incontinence)
- When bacteria spreads to the kidneys you may experience: back pain, chills, fever, nausea, and vomiting.
You’ll take a urine test. Your doctor will test it for bacteria and red and white blood cells. A urine culture may also be checked. It shows what kind of bacteria are in the urine.
How will the UTI affect my baby?
Any infection during pregnancy can be extremely dangerous for you and your baby. That’s because infections increase the risk of premature labor.
If the UTI goes untreated, it may lead to a kidney infection. Kidney infections may cause early labor and low birth weight. If your doctor treats a urinary tract infection early and properly, the UTI will not cause harm to your baby.
You can help prevent UTIs during your pregnancy by:
- emptying your bladder frequently, especially before and after sex
- wearing only cotton underwear
- nixing underwear at night
- avoiding douches, perfumes, or sprays
- drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated
- avoiding any harsh soaps or body wash in the genital area
Most UTIs during pregnancy are treated with a course of antibiotics. Your doctor will prescribe an antibiotic that is pregnancy-safe but still effective in killing off bacteria in your body. If your UTI has progressed to a kidney infection, you may need to take a stronger antibiotic or have an intravenous (IV) version administered.
How can I prevent a UTI?
You may do everything right and still experience a urinary tract infection, but you can reduce the likelihood by doing the following:
- Drink 6-8 glasses of water each day and unsweetened cranberry juice regularly.
- Eliminate refined foods, fruit juices, caffeine, alcohol, and sugar.
- Develop a habit of urinating as soon as the need is felt and empty your bladder completely when you urinate.
- Urinate before and after intercourse.
- Avoid intercourse while you are being treated for an UTI.
- After urinating, blot dry (do not rub), and keep your genital area clean. Make sure you wipe from the front toward the back.
- Avoid using strong soaps, douches, antiseptic creams, feminine hygiene sprays, and powders.
- Change underwear and pantyhose every day.
- Avoid wearing tight-fitting pants.
- Wear all cotton or cotton-crotch underwear and pantyhose.
- Don’t soak in the bathtub longer than 30 minutes or more than twice a day.
Some doctors also advise women who get a lot of UTIs to wear cotton underwear, take showers instead of baths, and avoid tight clothes that can trap bacteria near the urethra. While these are simple enough to do, none of them are supported by scientific data.