UTIs are even more common during pregnancy. Unfortunately, they’re more dangerous too.
Somewhere between 2 and 10% of pregnant women experience UTIs, according to research. To layer on the bad news, UTIs tend to reoccur at higher rates while expecting.
An untreated UTI in pregnancy can lead to preterm birth and even fetal death. But how do you know if you have an infection? And what should you do about it?
In this guide, you’ll learn about UTI pregnancy symptoms, treatment, and prevention.
What Is a UTI When Pregnant?
A urinary tract infection (UTI) is a common infection in the urinary system. Most people with a UTI have an infection in the lower urinary tract (cystitis), which consists of the bladder and urethra. However, the infection can spread to the kidneys (pyelonephritis), which becomes serious. According to experts, pyelonephritis is the most common serious medical condition in pregnancy. It can pose life-threatening risks to your baby.
What causes a UTI? The urinary tract becomes infected when bacteria enter the urethra. The bacteria often come from the skin or rectum.
Although men can get UTIs, women are more likely to experience them. That’s because the urethras are shorter and located closer to the rectum—giving bacteria a better chance to enter. Especially during pregnancy, you’re more likely to get a UTI.
UTI with Pregnancy Symptoms
When you get a UTI with pregnancy, you may not show symptoms at first. In fact, 7% of pregnant women with UTIs show no symptoms.
When you do experience symptoms, they may include:
- Pain while peeing
- Burning sensation while peeing
- Increased frequency of urination
- The urge to urinate despite having an empty bladder
- Cramping in the lower abdominal area or pelvic pain
- Cloudy urine
- Bloody urine (pink, brown, or red)
- Strong-scented urine
If a UTI has spread to your kidneys, the symptoms may include:
- Low back pain
If you think you have a UTI, don’t assume. Other illnesses can have similar symptoms to a UTI. For example, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can also cause pain and burning while urinating. To be sure, talk to your doctor, who can determine whether a UTI is the correct diagnosis. To check if you have a UTI, your doctor may:
- Ask questions about what you’re experiencing
- Perform a physical exam
- Order a urine test
Why Do UTIs Happen During Pregnancy?
Anyone can get a UTI, but they’re more common during pregnancy. Before exploring what causes UTIs during pregnancy, let’s first discuss what increases your risk for UTIs in general.
General Risk Factors for UTIs
Every UTI is caused by bacteria, but what makes bacteria transfer more likely? There are a few factors:
- Sexual activity. Intimacy can encourage bacteria in that area to transfer. For example, your partner may accidentally transfer bacteria from your rectal area to your urethra. Having sex can also worsen
- Hygiene practices. Always wipe front to back. This way, bacteria from your rectal area aren’t pushed forward.
- Women are more likely to get UTIs because of their anatomy. But there’s other ways your anatomy affects your UTI risk. Those with weak bladders or muscle spasms may be at a bigger risk. Damage to bladder-controlling nerves can also be a contributor.
UTI Pregnancy Causes
During pregnancy, UTIs are also caused by bacteria. It may be easier for bacteria to enter or grow in the urethra for several reasons:
- Added pressure. Your growing baby belly puts added pressure on our bladder and urinary tract. This, combined with hormones that cause your body to relax, makes you less likely to fully empty your bladder. When you don’t fully void, urine stays in your body. This can seal in the bacteria, allowing it to grow.
- Change in vaginal flora. During pregnancy, the flora in your vagina changes, which may make some more susceptible to UTIs.
- Urine changes. Pregnancy causes urine changes like the level of hormones and sugar present. This is another factor that may encourage bacteria to flourish.
- Ureteral dilation. During pregnancy, the urethra tends to expand. This may also help trap bacteria.
- General causes. Your UTI may be caused by the general factors above, not relating to pregnancy. This is especially true if you experienced UTIs before pregnancy.
Prevention for UTIs When Pregnant
You might not be able to mitigate the pregnancy factors that make UTIs more likely. For example, the pressure of your uterus won’t change until after birth. However, there are a few general factors you can control. Combined, this can help you lower your overall risk for UTIs when pregnant. Steps you can take include:
- Drink water. Keeping hydrated ensures your body has enough fluids to flush out any potential bacteria.
- Pee after sex. Some experts recommend peeing after sex. In theory, this may help flush out potential bacteria transferred during sex. However, the research on this suggestion is contradictory and voiding may not help some women.
- Avoid tight and wet clothing. Tight and wet clothing can give bacteria the perfect environment to transfer and grow. Change out of wet clothing ASAP, including bathing suits and sweaty gym clothes.
- Urinate when you need to. When you feel the need to go, go and try to void completely. This gets urine out ASAP, giving any potential bacteria less time to grow.
- Try natural cranberry products. Some research suggests that natural cranberry juice, cranberry products, and cranberry extract may help prevent UTIs and stop them from reoccurring. It’s important to know that there’s not enough high-quality, large-scale research to state this as fact. Still, it probably won’t hurt to try. (Note: cranberry products may be a preventative method, but it’s not a treatment for UTIs).
- Wipe front to back. To prevent rectal bacteria from entering your urethra, wipe front to back every time.
UTI In Pregnancy Treatment
After your doctor confirms you have a UTI, they will recommend the best treatment. Typically, this consists of taking antibiotics. In cases of severe UTIs that are affecting the kidneys, a patient may need to be hospitalized.
Keep in mind that, especially during pregnancy, it’s important to get your UTI medically treated. You may be tempted to try at-home remedies first, but the more you prolong the UTI, the worse it can get. Consider that experts say UTIs that spread to the kidneys may be caused by inadequate treatment of the original UTI.
There’s another reason to seek treatment: it could affect your baby if you don’t. Studies show that untreated UTIs can lead to preterm birth and even fetal loss.
If your doctor determines you have a UTI, they will likely prescribe antibiotics. You might worry that the medication will harm your baby. However, your doctor will choose the antibiotic safest for you. Also, keep in mind that it’s safer to be treated with antibiotics than risk it spreading to your kidneys—which carries risk for your baby.
Make sure to take the antibiotics as instructed. Don’t skip a dose and take the full course, even if you feel better. The full course typically lasts 3-7 days.
When starting antibiotics, your symptoms may initially worsen. However, they should improve within 72 hours.
If the UTI has spread to your kidneys, your infection is serious. It also poses risks to your baby, like preterm birth.
Many people with pyelonephritis are given antibiotics through an IV rather than oral antibiotics. Staying in the hospital vs at home will also allow the nurses and doctors to more closely monitor your condition, ensuring it doesn’t worsen.
Drink plenty of water and other fluids, like herbal teas or soups. More fluids allow you to flush out the bacteria that’s causing your infection. People who have kidney, heart, or liver disease may have to limit fluid intake, so talk to your doctor beforehand.
When you need to use the washroom, don’t hold it in. When you go, try to completely empty your bladder. This may help flush out the bacteria that caused your infection.
Summary: UTI Pregnant Precautions
UTIs are common for women, especially during pregnancy. You may not always experience symptoms. If you do, you’ll most like notice a burning when you pee and lower abdominal cramping or pain. You might also feel the need to urinate frequently but when you sit down, you’re unable to go.
Despite them being common, UTIs can be dangerous if left untreated. After a doctor confirms your infection, they’ll prescribe you antibiotics to kill the bacteria causing the infection. If the UTI spreads to your kidneys, it’s considered serious and you may be admitted to the hospital for IV antibiotics.
Do You Have a Fetal Doppler?
Fetal dopplers are handheld devices that detect your baby’s heartbeat while still in the womb. The sound of your baby’s heartbeat creates a magical bonding experience for the whole family.