While it is a common ailment at any point in your lives, being diagnosed with a urinary tract infection or UTI in pregnancy 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.
What is UTI
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 lead 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.
UTI in Pregnancy
UTI (Urinary Tract Infection) is one of the most common infections in pregnancy. It can cause a lot of discomfort and even lead to serious complications, so it’s important to take care of your symptoms immediately. If you’re experiencing UTI symptoms, please see your doctor as soon as possible.
Is UTI During Pregnancy Common
UTIs during pregnancy are a common ailment. Photo: iStock
According to a study, approximately 10 per cent 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 urine drainage from the bladder, which might lead to an infection.
However, although easily treatable with antibiotics when detected early, about 25 per cent of untreated UTIs in pregnancy develop into kidney infections. This condition carries life-threatening risks for the mother and baby.
UTI Pregnancy Symptoms
It is important, then, to recognise the following symptoms and seek treatment early if you suspect that you may have a UTI during pregnancy:
- Experiencing urinary urgency 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 a 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 in 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; your doctor will usually screen you for a possible urinary tract infection at your first prenatal appointment.
Pregnant woman having pelvic pains
Causes of UTI During Pregnancy
Several factors are at play when figuring out what caused you to get a UTI during pregnancy. Physical changes, including hormonal changes in your body during pregnancy, may make you more prone to developing the infection, as your body’s production of progesterone increases during pregnancy, relaxing the muscles that line the urine-making urethras relax.
This can cause bacteria to rise 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 during pregnancy:
Whether pregnant or not, the most common reason you contract a UTI is through sex. The bacteria in your colon and vagina can enter the urethra during foreplay and intercourse, and vigorous or rough sex can lead to bladder inflammation, making it ideal 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 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 in your pregnancy, may also lead to a UTI.
This and other urinary tract abnormalities may also cause a UTI. You are susceptible to a UTI if you have previously undergone urinary tract surgery.
This includes diabetes (including gestational diabetes), obesity, sickle cell disease, and a history of recurrent UTIs, which 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 damage to your nerves that control your bladder due to a physical injury or conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis.
UTI in Pregnancy Treatment
Seek early medical assistance if you experience symptoms, or test positive, for a UTI. Photo: iStock
Seek early medical assistance if you suspect you may be experiencing a UTI during pregnancy. 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 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 lower urinary tract infections, will often go away on their own. A better option to treat a mild UTI while pregnant is practising natural remedies that have been proven safe and preventive measures. Speak to your doctor before consuming any medications.
Despite being safe, there may be individual intolerances to the substances in some of the remedies for consumption. Below are detailed ways to reduce your chances of contracting a UTI in pregnancy.
How to Avoid Getting a UTI While Pregnant
Drink plenty of water and stay hydrated, aiming to get at least eight servings of liquids daily. 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 the chances of developing a UTI in pregnancy.
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 emptying your bladder.
Not completely emptying out your bladder poses a problem and can increase your chances of contracting a UTI. Photo: iStock
Cranberry juice is your friend
Consuming unsweetened cranberry juice has been touted as a safe way to acidify urine. It prevents 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.
Consume food rich in Vitamin C
You may also increase your general intake of Vitamin C. And take supplements to boost your levels and strengthen your immune system. Vitamin C has been linked to reduced chances of E. coli being present. It can prevent urinary tract infections.
It is also linked to increased acidity levels in the urine. This 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 drinks can cause inflammation, making it easier for bacteria to thrive. This also includes alcohol, but that is on the list of prohibited foods for a pregnant mother.
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 are important to foster healthy gut flora, which acts as a defence mechanism for your body. Fermented foods such as probiotic yoghurt and kimchi, are natural sources of probiotics.
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. 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 skin 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.
Reduce cross-contamination of bacteria in faecal matter from the anus by wiping yourself front to back.
Pay attention to vaginal infections
Treat vaginal infections early, as they may often lead to a UTI if left untreated.
Wear comfortable and loose clothing
Comfort is key, especially during pregnancy, as light and loose-fitting clothes and innerwear allow air to pass through and keep the urethra dry. It is best to wear cotton underwear and avoid pants that are too tight and restrictive.
If you suspect that you have UTI while you’re pregnant, consult your gynaecologist without delay.
Image Source: Stock
Updates from Pheona Ilagan
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