How to Spot and Treat a Urinary Tract Infection During Pregnancy
Pregnancy is a time when your body is more prone to developing certain conditions, such as an infection of the urinary tract. Let's learn more about what it is, how to spot symptoms, and a few home remedies to alleviate the condition and even avoid contracting it.
While it is a common ailment at any point in your lives, being diagnosed with a urinary tract infection while pregnant can further complicate your life (especially if you have been having a hard pregnancy thus far) and may, in some cases if not treated in time, lead to more serious conditions.
For the uninitiated and lucky few of us who have not experienced even mild cases of urinary tract infections (UTI) yet, this is a bacterial infection of the urinary tract, and can affect:
- the bladder: leading to acute cystitis, or a bladder infection
- the urethra, called urethritis
- and sometimes in more serious cases, the kidneys leading to acute pyelonephritis, more commonly known as a kidney infection
An infection of the urinary tract usually occurs when bacteria on your skin and other areas stray into the urinary tract, multiply rapidly, and then lead to infection.
Urinary tract infection while pregnant
Are UTIs common during pregnancy?
According to a study, approximately 10 percent of pregnant mums will get a UTI at some point during their pregnancies, with women in between their 6th and 24th week of pregnancy being more prone to contracting the condition.
This is considered a common ailment during pregnancy, as the weight of the expanding uterus can partially inhibit the drainage of urine from the bladder, which might then lead to an infection.
However, although easily treatable with antibiotics when detected early, about 25 percent of untreated UTIs develop into kidney infections – a condition that carries life-threatening risks for the mother and baby.
It is important then, to recognise these following symptoms and seek treatment early if you suspect that you may have a urinary tract infection while pregnant:
- Experiencing urinary urgency, which is a sudden, intense and rapid onset of an urge to urinate. This is different from regular frequent urination that one experiences when pregnant.
- Urinary urgency coupled with very little amount of urine expelled.
- Experiencing pain or a burning sensation when urinating.
- Foul-smelling, cloudy, dark or blood-tinged urine.
- Pubic bone pain.
- Experiencing a low-grade fever and/or lower abdominal pain or discomfort, coupled with the symptoms.
- More serious symptoms which point to a severe infection that potentially signals a kidney infection requiring urgent medical attention would be chills, nausea, vomiting and/or high fever, as well as pain that is on one or both sides, occurring at the area between the upper abdomen or on the back.
However, in some cases, pregnant women experience asymptomatic UTIs and do not experience any symptoms at all. Do not worry though, as your doctor will usually screen you for possible urinary tract infection at your first prenatal appointment.
How do you get a urinary tract infection while pregnant?
There are several factors at play when it comes to figuring out what caused you to get a UTI. Physical changes including hormonal changes in your body that occur during pregnancy may make you more prone to developing the infection, as your body’s production of progesterone increases during pregnancy, leading to relaxing the muscles that line the urine-making urethras to relax. This can cause bacteria to rise up into the bladder, and in some cases the kidneys, more easily when pregnant. In addition, your expanding uterus can also thwart you from completely emptying your bladder when urinating, leaving behind a pool of leftover urine in which bacteria can thrive and multiply.
Here are some other reasons you may contract a UTI:
- Sex: Regardless of whether you are pregnant or not, the most common reason you contract a UTI is through sex. The bacteria present in your colon and vagina can get into the urethra during foreplay and intercourse, and vigorous or rough sex can lead to bladder inflammation which makes it an ideal situation for bacteria to thrive and multiply. Although sex during pregnancy is perfectly healthy (unless otherwise instructed by your doctor in the event of certain conditions), there are certain downsides to it, as it can potentially push bacteria existing near the vagina deep into the urethra during intercourse. You can avoid this by urinating before and after sex to displace the bacteria, and even rinsing off the genital area.
- Bacteria that is transported from the bowel to your urethra: The urethra is positioned close to the rectum, and poor hygiene, including wiping from front to back instead of back to front, can lead to bacteria that can cause a UTI by bacteria travelling into your urethra. In addition, Group B streptococcus bacteria, for which you will be tested later on in your pregnancy, may also lead to a UTI.
- Infrequent urination and other urinary tract abnormalities may also cause a UTI. You are also susceptible to a UTI if you have previously undergone urinary tract surgery.
- Pre-existing conditions such as diabetes (including gestational diabetes), obesity, sickle cell disease, and a history of recurrent UTIs, can also put you at a higher risk of developing a UTI during pregnancy. You are also at a higher risk of developing a UTI if you have experienced damages to your nerves that control your bladder due to a physical injury, or conditions such a Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis.
Treating a urinary tract infection while pregnant
Seek early medical assistance if you suspect that you may be experiencing a UTI. Further, your doctor will usually order a urinalysis or urine culture test to detect any possible UTIs at different stages in your pregnancy.
If you test positive for the infection, depending on your results, your doctor may prescribe an antibiotics course to be completed over 3-7 days. If you are in discomfort at the very onset, you will probably be prescribed to start the treatment even before your results come in. Upon medication, your symptoms should subside within 3 days, and you are recommended to complete the course of medication even if symptoms subside earlier. Common antibiotics safe for consumption by pregnant women include amoxicillin, erythromycin, and penicillin.
Most mild cases of UTIs, especially those of the lower urinary tract infection, will often go away on their own, and a better option to treat a mild UTI while pregnant is practising natural remedies that have been proven to act as safe, preventive measures. Speak to your doctor before consuming any remedies; despite it being safe, there may be individual intolerances to the substances present in some of the remedies for consumption that are detailed below on ways to reduce your chances of contracting a UTI.
Here are our top tips on a few measures you can take to avoid getting a Urinary tract infection while pregnant:
- Get adequate hydration: Drink plenty of water and stay hydrated, aiming to get at least eight servings of liquids a day. This can help flush out bacteria from your urinary tract by making you urinate more, thus flushing toxins out of your body faster and reducing chances for developing a UTI.
- When you got to go, you got to go: Urinate immediately whenever you feel the urge to do so. Urinate frequently, and spend a few extra minutes trying to completely empty out your bladder.
- Cranberry juice is your friend: Consuming unsweetened Cranberry juice has been touted as a safe way to acidify the urine, and prevent E. coli and the growth of bacteria from adhering to the bladder. However, although it is safe to drink cranberry juice, speak to your doctor before taking any pills and boosters containing cranberries.
- Vitamin C: You may also increase your general intake in Vitamin C and take supplements to boost your levels and strengthen your immune system, as Vitamin C has been linked to reduced chances of E. coli being present and can prevent urinary tract infections. It is also linked to increased acidity levels in the urine which can kill off bacteria. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables rich in Vitamin C, such as red peppers, oranges, and kiwi.
- Avoid caffeine, chocolate, and citrus juices: Avoid substances that irritate the bladder. These items can cause inflammation that may make it easier for bacteria to thrive. This also includes alcohol, but that is on the list of prohibited foods for a pregnant mother.
- Maintain a healthy diet: Lead a healthy lifestyle and maintain a healthy diet throughout your pregnancy. Avoid unhealthy food, and consume wholesome foods rich in nutrients.
- Be proactive in taking your probiotics: Probiotics is important to foster healthy gut flora, which acts as a defense mechanism for your body. Fermented foods such as probiotic yoghurt and kimchi, are natural sources of probiotics.
- Clove oil: Touted for its anti-bacterial, antimicrobial, antiviral, and antifungal properties, clove oil has been linked to killing off E.coli present on your body’s surface and topical applications of clove oil can help lower your chances of contracting a UTI. However, consult a doctor before application, as it may be too harsh on some skins and may have other adverse reactions.
- Stay away from harsh feminine products: Avoid using strong feminine products such as deodorants, douches, powders, and soaps, that contain harsh perfumes and other ingredients that may lead to irritation.
- Good practices during sex: Urinate before and after sex, and cleanse your genital area with water. This will help keep genital bacteria at bay. Use a lubricant or lubricated condoms while having sex to reduce excess friction which can lead to micro-tears and trauma. Avoid using spermicides, and lubricated condoms that contain spermicides.
- Wipe front to back: Reduce cross-contamination of bacteria present in faecal matter from the anus, by wiping yourself front to back.
- Pay attention to vaginal infections: Treat vaginal infections early as it may often lead to a UTI if left untreated.
- Wear comfortable and loose clothing: Comfort is key, and especially so during pregnancy as light and loose-fitting clothes and innerwear allow air to pass through and keeps the urethra dry. It is best to wear cotton underwear and avoid pants that are too tight and restrictive.