You probably don’t think about going pee that much – after all, it’s something that you do every day!  But sometimes things can make it difficult or painful to go pee. One of these things is called a urinary tract infection and it can happen in babies and big kids, too. Read on to find out more.

Let’s Find out about the Urinary Tract

The urinary tract is actually pretty simple. Everybody – you, your parents, your baby brother or sister – has two kidneys. They are small and located at the lower part of your back, one on each side of your body. The job of the kidneys is to make sure that there aren’t any waste products in your blood: all the blood in the body flows through the kidneys many times a day to get cleaned up.

The kidneys take those waste products and make urine. The urine travels from the kidneys down to the bladder in two tubes called ureters. Once it gets to the bladder, it exits the body from a small tube called the urethra, which happens when a person goes pee. Doctors call going pee urination.

So What’s a Urinary Tract Infection?

A urinary tract infection – called a UTI for short – happens when germs get into the urinary tract and start to grow there. It is a common problem: about 8% of girls and 2% of boys will have this problem, either as babies or when they get older.

What Causes a UTI?

The most common cause of a UTI is when germs that come from the digestive tract get into the urethra and then travel to the bladder and other parts of the urinary tract.  These germs come from a baby’s poo and can easily get into the urethra when a baby soils his or her diaper.

How Do You Know if Someone Has a UTI?

When a grown-up or an older kid gets a UTI, it can really hurt to go pee and you have to go pee a lot more often than usual. Babies however, don’t seem to get this symptom – or can’t tell anyone about it if they do! Parents should suspect a UTI, however, if a baby:

  • Comes down with a fever
  • Has urine that smells strange or is cloudy or bloody
  • Has less energy than usual
  • Is fussy or irritable
  • Loses his or her appetite and/or starts to throw up

When Should You Get Immediate Help?

Parents should get help immediately – from their doctor or a hospital – if a baby:

  • Has a very high fever
  • Appears to have pain in their tummies
  • Cannot stop vomiting
  • Gets really sleepy
  • Starts to shiver

These can be signs of sepsis. Sepsis happens when the germs in the kidneys spread to the blood and the go throughout the body. Sepsis is a serious condition and sometimes babies who get septic will have to go to the hospital for extra care to help them get better.

What Will the Doctor Do?

Parents who think their baby might have a UTI need to go and see their baby’s doctor.  The doctor will check a baby, ask their parents about the signs and symptoms a baby is having, and get a urine sample from the baby. They will send this urine sample to the lab, where it will be checked for germs and other signs of an infection.

If a doctor suspects that there is something else going on aside from just a UTI, he or she will order other tests. These include:

  • Renal ultrasound. This allows the doctor to get a “picture” of the baby’s kidneys to make sure that there is nothing wrong with them.
  • Micturating cysto-urethrogram. Okay, that’s a big word! This is a test which allows the doctor to check to see if the urine is flowing backwards from the bladder back up into the kidneys. This is called urinary reflux and can easily cause urinary infections.
  • Renal scan. This tests allows the doctor to find out if there is any scarring in a baby’s kidneys, which can affect how well they work.

How do You Treat a UTI?

To treat a UTI, a doctor will prescribe medications called antibiotics. These medications will help to kill off the germs in the urinary tract.   It is also a good idea for parents to get the baby to drink as much fluid as possible. This will increase urination and help to flush out the kidneys and get them back to normal.

It is also important for parents to clean a baby really, really well when they change their diapers so that germs cannot get from the digestive tract to the urinary tract.  If a baby is constipated, this can also affect how well a baby can empty his or her bladder, so treating constipation can help treat the urinary tract as well!

So, as long as a baby doesn’t get sepsis, urinary tract infections are usually pretty easy to treat with antibiotics and drinking a lot of extra fluids.  And changing diapers often and keeping baby clean can prevent them from happening in the first place!