First off, congrats! A little one’s on the way. This is a very exciting time. But sometimes — like when you get a urinary tract infection (UTI) during pregnancy — it can seem like more than you bargained for.
A UTI is a common urinary system infection that’s usually caused by bacteria. It’s one of the most frequent illnesses in pregnancy — as many as 20 percent of women may experience it when they’ve got a baby on board.
As if you didn’t already have enough going on down there, amiright?
Why the heck is this happening? That’s a valid question. And the answer is: Many factors might be coming into play.
- You have biologically female parts. (Since your bits are really close together, it’s easy for bad bacteria to travel around.)
- You’re sexually active.
- You’ve had a UTI before.
- You have diabetes.
- You have a higher body weight.
- You don’t have the best hygiene habits.
- You’re getting older.
- You have a structural problem in your urinary tract.
The pregnancy multiplier
Pregnant folks are also subject to the amplifiers below. Joy.
- Hormones galore: During pregnancy, your urine gets more concentrated and contains bacteria-promoting hormones and sugar.
- Body dynamics: Pregnancy causes certain physiological changes that can increase bacterial presence and make it even easier for bacteria to enter your urinary tract.
Pain, peeing, and puking? Oh, my! The list of symptoms includes many of the usual suspects:
- pain or burning while urinating
- frequent need to pee
- urge to pee despite having an empty bladder
- urine leaks
- cloudy, discolored, or bloody urine
- foul-smelling pee
- pressure, tenderness, achiness or cramps in your midsection
- chills, sweats, or a fever
- pain during sex
Be on the lookout for these telltale signs of a UTI. But the truth is that 2 to 11 percent of pregnant folks don’t experience any symptoms.
When to see a doctor
Proper prenatal care is key to staying on top of any health concerns, including UTIs.
See a doctor right away if you experience any of the symptoms typically associated with UTIs. If you catch the infection early, you can nip it in the bud and get back to concentrating on how to decorate the nursery.
If a UTI isn’t treated, it can spread to your kidneys. Symptoms of a kidney infection tend to be more severe and can include:
- mid-back pain
- nausea or vomiting
Kidney infections are bad news. They require immediate medical care, so visit your doctor ASAP if you have these symptoms.
Many conditions, such as STIs or other gynecological infections, have similar symptoms to a UTI. So it’s important to know for sure what you’re dealing with.
Only your healthcare provider can confirm a UTI diagnosis. They’ll do a simple urine test to check for signs of bacteria. (That’s why you’re always peeing in a cup! Lightbulb moment.)
What should you get when you just want it to go away? Your doctor will prescribe certain treatments based on the specifics of your case.
A UTI is usually resolved with a 3-day round of antibiotics such as:
Symptoms often disappear within a few days of starting the meds. (Yay!) But it’s essential to finish the full course of antibiotics to make sure your infection is completely gone.
If you’re feeling discomfort, ask your doctor about taking an over-the-counter pain reliever. A heating pad may help with soreness in your belly or back. You can also wear clothing that’s most comfy for your midsection while you heal.
Surely there are ingredients lurking in the pantry that will fix this sitch? Sorry to burst your bubble, but science says your UTI probably needs conventional treatment.
Still, nature’s cupboard may supplement your medicine cabinet. Here are some natural home remedies that show promise:
- Try cranberry juice or supplements. In theory, compounds in this fruit kill bugs that make you sick. Research doesn’t back this up, but there’s no harm in trying it. Talk to your doctor about this if you have to watch your blood sugar.
- Drink a lot of water. This will dilute your urine and help flush out bacteria that’s hanging out in your bladder.
- Eat foods with probiotics. They bolster the “good” gut bacteria that help prevent and cure illnesses. This is a good idea right after taking antibiotics, since those can wipe out the good gut bacteria with the bad.
- Healthy eating is on the menu. Eat nutrient-dense whole foods that nurture your healing body.
- Go for the garlic. This potent herb may be effective in snuffing out the bacteria linked to UTIs.
- Some supplements reportedly help provide relief from UTI symptoms or help eliminate the infection. Talk to your doctor about adding d-mannose, marshmallow root, uva-ursi, goldenseal, or vitamin C.
Run your DIY treatments (especially supplements) by your doctor before starting them to make sure there are no issues with your alternate (or additional) care plan.
Sometimes things aren’t clear-cut or don’t go according to plan. Health is one of those things.
Complications from a UTI or its treatment are rare, but some risks are particular to pregnant people and their babies. If needed, you can address these with your doctor:
- Untreated UTI. Not treating your UTI is the biggest threat, much more so than any of the items below.
- Persistent infection. If the antibiotics don’t do the trick, your doctor may try a different medicine, run more tests, or refer you to a specialist.
- Kidney infection. If the infection spreads to your kidneys, your doctor will need to determine the best options for treating this condition.
- Side effects of antibiotics. These can range from a minor rash to a serious illness (like an antibiotic-resistant infection or C. diff).
- Impacts on baby’s health. UTIs can result in premature births, low birth weight, or both.
- Death. It’s super rare for a pregnant person or their baby to die as a result of a UTI during pregnancy. But in some cases, an infection or an adverse reaction to medication could lead to death or miscarriage.
Thankfully, there are many ways you can help prevent a UTI. If you’re especially prone to UTIs, here are some ways to minimize your risk:
- Stay hydrated.
- Pee regularly and whenever you need to.
- Wipe from front to back when you go to the bathroom.
- Don’t use douches, powders, sprays, or perfumed products in or near your genitals.
- Wear clean undies with a cotton crotch, but sleep without panties on.
- Avoid pants that don’t “let ya breathe.”
- Avoid refined sugar, alcohol, caffeine, spicy food, and nicotine.
- Ask your doctor about taking vitamin C, beta carotene, and zinc to boost your body’s infection-fighting powers.
- Urinate before and after sex.
- Use a physical barrier (like a condom) during sex.
- Don’t have sex while you have a UTI or while you’re recovering from one.
- Keep anything that has touched your anus (and hasn’t been thoroughly cleaned) away from your genitals.
Pregnant people are especially prone to UTIs as a result of physiological and situational changes that occur during pregnancy.
Be mindful of the symptoms and, if you think you might be sick, talk to your healthcare provider as soon as possible. Many people don’t have any symptoms with a UTI, which is why routine checkups are so important.
An untreated UTI could lead to a serious illness that could impact your and your baby’s health. Fortunately, diagnosis and treatment are readily available. Complications from a UTI or its treatment are rare. And better still, there are many ways you can minimize your chances of getting a UTI.