About halfway through my fourth pregnancy, my OB-GYN informed me that I had a urinary tract infection (UTI). I would need to be treated with antibiotics.
I was surprised I’d tested positive for a UTI. I had no symptoms, so I didn’t think that I could have an infection. The doctor discovered it based on my routine urine test.
After four pregnancies, I had started to think that they were just making us preggos pee in a cup for fun. But I guess there’s a purpose to it. Who knew?
A UTI occurs when bacteria from somewhere outside of a woman's body gets inside her urethra (basically the urinary tract) and causes an infection.
Women are more likely to get UTIs than men. The female anatomy makes it easy for bacteria from the vagina or rectal areas to get in the urinary tract because they are all close together.
UTIs are common during pregnancy. That’s because the growing fetus can put pressure on the bladder and urinary tract. This traps bacteria or causes urine to leak.
There are also physical changes to consider. As early as six weeks gestation, almost all pregnant women experience ureteral dilation, when the urethra expands and continues to expand until delivery.
The larger urinary tract, along with increased bladder volume and decreased bladder tone, all cause the urine to become more still in the urethra. This allows bacteria to grow.
To make matters worse, a pregnant woman’s urine gets more concentrated. It also has certain types of hormones and sugar. These can encourage bacterial growth and lower your body’s ability to fight off “bad” bacteria trying to get in.
Signs and symptoms of a UTI include:
- burning or painful urination
- cloudy or blood-tinged urine
- pelvic or lower back pain
- frequent urination
- feeling that you have to urinate frequently
- nausea or vomiting
Between 2 and 10 percent of pregnant women experience a UTI. Even more worrisome, UTIs tend to reoccur frequently during pregnancy.
Women who’ve had UTIs before are more prone to get them during pregnancy. The same goes for women who’ve had several children.
Any infection during pregnancy can be extremely dangerous for you and your baby. That’s because infections increase the risk of premature labor.
I found out the hard way that an untreated UTI during pregnancy can also wreak havoc after you deliver. After I had my first daughter, I woke up a mere 24 hours after coming home with a fever approaching 105˚F (41˚c).
I landed back in the hospital with a raging infection from an undiagnosed UTI, a condition called pyelonephritis. Pyelonephritis can be a life-threatening illness for both mother and baby. It had spread to my kidneys, and they suffered permanent damage as a result.
Moral of the story? Let your doctor know if you have any symptoms of a UTI during pregnancy. If you’re prescribed antibiotics, be sure to take every last pill to knock out that infection.
You can help prevent UTIs during your pregnancy by:
- emptying your bladder frequently, especially before and after sex
- wearing only cotton underwear
- nixing underwear at night
- avoiding douches, perfumes, or sprays
- drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated
- avoiding any harsh soaps or body wash in the genital area
Most UTIs during pregnancy are treated with a course of antibiotics. Your doctor will prescribe an antibiotic that is pregnancy-safe but still effective in killing off bacteria in your body.
If your UTI has progressed to a kidney infection, you may need to take a stronger antibiotic or have an intravenous (IV) version administered.
Chaunie Brusie, BSN, is a registered nurse with experience in labor and delivery, critical care, and long-term care nursing. She lives in Michigan with her husband and four young children, and is the author of the book “Tiny Blue Lines.”