Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) during Pregnancy

A pregnant woman suffering from cramps

UTIs are unfortunately common in women even when you are not pregnant with about one in five women developing a UTI. However, pregnancy may increase your chances of getting a UTI as your body goes through rapid changes which can provide a conducive atmosphere for the intestinal and gastrointestinal bacteria to enter your urinary tract thereby leading to an infection or UTI. Urine infection in early pregnancy is fairly common. You have a higher chance of developing a UTI between the 6th and the 24th week of pregnancy.

What is Urinary Tract Infection?

A urinary tract infection or a UTI is the inflammation of your urinary tract due to bacteria. Although it is commonly associated with a bladder infection, a UTI may happen at any part of your urinary tract. This includes the kidneys which make the urine, the ureter which carries the urine to the bladder, the bladder where you urine accumulates and the urethra which carries urine out of your body.

UTIs are commonly caused due to the bacteria from the skin, vagina and the rectal area which enter into your urinary tract. There are different types of UTIs:

  • Bladder Infection or Cystitis: This happens when the bacteria accumulate and multiply in the bladder causing inflammation. It is common in women between 20 and 50 years of age who are sexually active.
  • Kidney Infection or Pyelonephritis: When the bacteria travel up the urinary tract and into the kidneys, they may infect or both the kidneys. A kidney infection is a serious complication during pregnancy. The infection may enter your bloodstream and cause life-threatening complications as well. It also increases the risk of preterm labour, low birth weight and has been linked to a higher risk of foetal mortality.
  • Asymptomatic Bacteriuria: If you have no symptoms even though there are bacteria in your urinary tract it is called as asymptomatic bacteriuria. When you are pregnant, if this is not treated, it can increase the risk of kidney infection. This is why doctors perform a urine test on your routine prenatal check-ups.

Why are UTIs so Common during Pregnancy?

Pregnancy hormones and your growing uterus make you more likely to get a urinary tract infection during pregnancy. The progesterone hormone causes the ureters to dilate and slow the flow of urine. Your expanding uterus also presses against the ureters making the flow of urine difficult. Your bladder will also have trouble expelling all the urine out of your body during pregnancy and some of may even flow back into the kidneys due to a condition called reflux. All of these increase the chances of bacteria multiplying and causing an infection. Moreover, during pregnancy, your urine is less acidic and has more glucose in it, giving bacteria a chance to multiply more freely.

What Causes Urine Infection during Pregnancy?

Some of the common reasons for developing a urine infection during pregnancy.

  • Changes in Your Body: Increase in hormones which cause a slower flow of urine in the ureters, added pressure on the bladder due to a growing uterus, and the inability to expel urine completely from the bladder can all contribute to a urine infection during pregnancy.
  • Bowel Bacteria: One of the common reasons for a urine infection is bacteria from the bowel. As the distance between the urethra and the rectum in women is very short, it is easier for bacteria like E.coli to travel into the urinary tract.
  • Sex during Pregnancy: Although sex during pregnancy is healthy, it may increase your chances of a UTI. The bacteria in your vagina get pushed into the urethra leading them into the urinary tract. Peeing before and after sex and rinsing the region after sex can help prevent UTIs.
  • Group B Streptococcus: These bacteria are commonly found in the intestinal tract and can lead to infections that cause painful urination during pregnancy.

In addition to these causes, if you have diabetes, have given birth to several children, are obese, or have a history of recurrent UTI, you may be at a higher risk of developing a UTI.

Signs and Symptoms of Pregnancy Urine Tract Infection

A pregnant woman holding her belly in pain

Here are some of the symptoms of urine infection in pregnancy that you may experience.

  • Pain or burning sensation during urination
  • Frequent need to urinate
  • A feeling of urgency as you urinate
  • Painful cramps in the lower abdomen
  • Blood or mucus in the urine
  • Fever, sweats and chills
  • Incontinence or leaking of urine
  • Pain during sex
  • Soreness or tenderness in the bladder area
  • Foul smelling urine
  • Urine looks cloudy
  • Back pain, nausea and vomiting (signs of kidney infection)

How is UTI Diagnosed in Pregnancy?

UTI is diagnosed with a urine culture. The urine is analysed for the presence of bacteria and you will be given pregnancy-safe antibiotics if you have an infection. Repeated urine culture at regular intervals during pregnancy is essential in order to ensure that the infection hasn’t returned. If the infection returns, you may be put on a low dose of antibiotics for the rest of the pregnancy.

Can Urine Infection be Dangerous during Pregnancy?

Urine infections if left untreated can become dangerous during pregnancy. This is especially true of kidney infections as they can be life-threatening to both the mother and the baby. It can also increase the risk of low birth weight in babies and preterm labour. If not treated effectively, there is a chance that it may return even after delivery.

How to Treat Bladder Infection during Pregnancy?

If you have a bladder infection during pregnancy, you will be provided with antibiotics to relieve the symptoms. It is important that you complete the course of antibiotics even though your pain is alleviated in a few days.

Are There any Natural Remedies for UTI?

There are several natural home remedies for UTI that you can try under directions from a health expert. Some of them are,

  • Vitamin C: Eating vitamin C rich foods like oranges can make your urine more acidic and inhibit the growth of bacteria.
  • Clove Oil: Clove oil has antifungal, antimicrobial and antiviral properties which can help prevent bacterial formation in the urinary tract.
  • Myrrh Oil: Topical application of myrrh oil can prevent bacteria due to its antibacterial properties.
  • Oregano Oil: Oregano oil also has anti-bacterial properties and can inhibit the growth of UTI causing bacteria like E.coli.

How can you Prevent UTI?

Following these simple steps can help you prevent a UTI,

  • Drink Plenty of Water: Stay hydrated and drink at least eight to twelve glasses of water every day. This can help flush out the bacteria from your urethra.
  • Pee when You Feel Like it: Do not hold your pee or ignore the urge to pee.
  • Wipe Front to Back: Have your bowel movement, always wipe from the front to the back in order to prevent bacteria from travelling from the rectum to your urethra.
  • Genital Hygiene: Use a mild soap and water to wash your genital area thoroughly.
  • Cranberry Juice: It is known to reduce the levels of bacteria and prevent new bacteria from settling in the urinary tract. However, it cannot cure an existing infection.
  • Avoid Feminine Hygiene Products: Do not use sprays, douches, and powders that can irritate your genital area and urethra. An irritated genital area provides a better breeding ground for bacteria.
  • Avoid Tight Panties: Do not wear panties that fit too tightly and wear cotton underpants if you can. This will keep your genital area dry and prevent bacteria from multiplying. Also, change your underwear every day.
  • Avoid Bathtubs: Try to use a shower instead of bathtubs as the latter can allow bacteria from the anus to enter the urethra. If you use a bathtub, ensure that you limit your time in it.

UTIs can be prevented with proper hygiene, hydration and care. This way you can stay clear of any risks that it may pose to your pregnancy. However, if you notice any signs of a urinary infection, it is best to seek medical help from your healthcare expert to alleviate the symptoms. Also, ensure that you go for regular check-ups and get a urine culture performed to keep a check on any urine infection that could be potentially dangerous.