Have you ever had a urinary tract infection?  If so, you know just how uncomfortable — and sometimes downright painful — this problem can be. Unfortunately, it is a problem which affects many women when they are expecting a baby.  Read on to learn more about the problem — and why it’s so important to get it treated right away!

What is a Urinary Tract Infection?

Let’s start out with talking a bit about the urinary tract.  This tract is made up of two kidneys connected to the bladder by tubes called ureters.  The bladder has an opening called the urethra and the urine passes through the urethra when you go to the bathroom and pee.  A urinary tract infection (UTI) happens when bacteria get into the urinary tract from the urethra and starts to multiply.  Most often, the urethra and the bladder will get infected, but sometimes this infection can travel to the kidneys. While a UTI can happen to anyone, boys or girls, kids or grown-ups, pregnant women are even more at risk.

Why are Pregnant Women at Greater Risk?

There are many reasons why pregnant women are more at risk for UTIs than other people.  First, as the pregnancy progresses and the baby gets bigger, it starts to take up more and more room.  In doing so, it can press against the bladder and when a woman goes to the bathroom, it is hard for her to empty her bladder completely.  When bladder stays in the urine longer than it should, it can easily cause bacteria to start growing there. Once the baby is born, this problem will be taken care of.

There are also hormonal reasons why UTIs are a problem for moms-to-be. When a woman is pregnant, her body begins to make larger amounts of the hormone progesterone.  Progesterone relaxes muscles all throughout a woman’s body — including the muscles that surround the urethra. This can make it easier for bacteria to get into the urinary tract.  Pregnant women — and women in general — should be careful when going to that bathroom that the wipe from back to front so that bacteria from stool does not enter into the urethra.

How Does a Woman Know if She Has a UTI?

In most cases, women will know pretty quickly if they have a urinary tract infection!  The signs and symptoms of a UTI include:

  • Pain or burning during urination
  • Bloody, cloudy or smelly urine
  • Pain in the lower back or abdomen
  • Increased urgency (feeling of having to go to the bathroom)
  • Increased difficulty in urination

How is a UTI Diagnosed and Treated?

The good news is that in most cases, urinary infections are easy to diagnose and treat. If a doctor suspects a UTI, he or she will take a urine sample and send off to the lab, where the technicians there will look for the presence of things like white and red blood cells and bacteria.  The most common cause of an infection is the e.coli bacteria.

A UTI will be treated with a 3-7 day course of an antibiotic such as amoxicillin or penicillin. It is very important when taking an antibiotic, to take them as often as ordered and not skip doses or stop taking them even if the symptoms get better. It is also a good idea to take probiotic supplements which will help repopulate the intestines with healthy bacteria that can also be killed off by these drugs. This will help prevent problems like diarrhea.

Why is Treatment Important?

Treatment of a UTI is very important for anyone, but especially for moms-to-be.  Because if a UTI is left untreated, around 25% of them will spread up to the kidneys.  The infection is then known as pyelonephritis and is much more serious because when the kidneys get infected, this infection can sometimes spread to the bloodstream itself.  Bacteria in the blood are known as sepsis.  Both pyelonephritis and sepsis are very serious for pregnant women and can result in preterm labor (having the baby before it is ready) or a low birth weight.

Can UTI’s be Prevented?

Fortunately, there are many ways that women can prevent getting UTIs while they are pregnant — and most of them are very simple and easy to do! The best UTI prevention tips include:

  • Avoiding things the coffee and chocolate in the diet; these can irritate the bladder and make UTIs more likely.
  • Taking showers instead of baths; baths make it easier for bacteria to get into the urethra and if soaps, bath oils or other products with heavy scents are used, this can irritate the urethra and make it easier to get an infection as well.
  • Being careful of clothing; cotton underwear and loose-fitting clothing are the best things to wear to avoid getting an infection.
  • Wiping from front to back after going to the bathroom.
  • Drinking cranberry juice; this can turn the urine more acidic and make it harder for bacteria to grow in the urinary tract.
  • Staying hydrated; drinking lots of water means that a woman will urinate more and this will help keep the urinary tract flushed out.

So, while urinary tract health is very important during pregnancy, the good news is that in most cases, this problem is easy to recognize and treat – and treatment will avoid more serious complications like infections of the kidneys or the blood.  And there are also lots of simple ways that moms-to-be can even avoid the problem in the first place!