Every woman worries about illness during pregnancy. Though viral infections, such as colds, are easily recognizable and just as easily treated for symptoms, other illnesses are not so benign. The biggest problem with a urinary tract infection in pregnant women is that often there are no symptoms to alert the women the infection is present. Because of the increased chances of an asymptomatic UTI, a gynecologist is usually proactive. The doctor will screen a pregnant woman on her first gynecological visit, and her subsequent ones, for a urinary tract infection. If one is found, it will be treated immediately and aggressively. Allowing it to spread is more than problematic. It can be dire to the health of the pregnant woman as well as her unborn child.
Pregnancy adds to your chances of a UTI
When a woman becomes pregnant her body undergoes changes, both hormonal and physical. She is considered to be immunocompromised due to these changes.
Progesterone increases during pregnancy. As a result, the muscles associated with the lining of the urethra begin to relax. This can give bacteria, such as E. coli, an easier path through their urinary tract than in a nonpregnant female.
Added to that problem there is the matter of an enlarged uterus. Its size may put pressure on the bladder and not allow it to empty the urine properly. When a small amount of urine is left behind to sit and stew the likelihood of bacteria multiplying and growing is greater. This condition is called urinary stasis.
Vesicoureteral reflux, which is a backward flow of urine that follows the ureters to the bladder and sometimes beyond it to the kidneys, can become an issue. This condition is most often found in babies or young children where it soon rectifies itself. However, it is also possible in pregnancy, and acts as a catalyst for a urinary tract infection.
A pregnant woman’s large belly makes cleanliness more difficult, especially cleansing places she is no longer able to see; namely the pubic area. Wiping from front to back is much more difficult and may allow for the spread of E. coli from the anus to the urethra.
UTI during pregnancy: What are the risks?
Statistics show that 10 percent of pregnant women get UTIs. While most urinary tract infections cause no harm to the pregnant female or her unborn child, and can be eradicated with antibiotic treatment, if the infection reaches the kidneys it becomes a more serious situation. Two percent of pregnancies result in this complication.
The risks of undetected or complicated urinary tract infections in pregnant women are as follows:
- Pyelonephritis — a kidney infection that can result in hospitalization with intravenous antibiotics
- Preterm birth — early labor and birth before due date
- Low birth weight for babies — less than five pounds, eight ounces
- Respiratory distress — labored breathing, low blood pressure, fast pulse rate
- Anemia — deficiency of red blood cells causing weakness and pale skin
- Pneumonia — lung infection, may be viral or bacterial
- Sepsis — infection of the bloodstream
- Increase in the chances of perinatal death
The first line of defense is preventative measures. As the article previously noted, some pregnant women are asymptomatic. They show no signs of an infection. Gynecologists are highly aware that this is a possibility. Therefore, they test for a urinary tract infection on the first visit and during each on thereafter. If you are concerned that the test hasn’t been done, then be proactive and ask for it.
Otherwise, the same preventive measures that work for women who aren't pregnant work for you, too. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids but avoid caffeine as it irritates the bladder. Stay clean. Wash the genitals daily, and before and after intercourse. Demand that your partner does the same. Go to the bathroom often, and empty the bladder completely, though due to the enlarged uterus this may be more difficult than usual. Take showers instead of baths. Eat healthy for you and your baby. Stay as mobile as possible. Do your best to wipe from front to back despite the large belly. Most of all, follow the doctor’s orders.
Symptoms of UTI
If pregnant patients are not asymptomatic, then the usual urinary tract symptoms will apply to them. Watch closely for them and seek treatment immediately, before the infection has a chance to invade the kidneys and cause unnecessary complications.
- Urgent need to urinate, which may already be plaguing mothers since the baby is sitting on the bladder.
- A pain that women describe as burning upon urination
- Inability to empty the bladder completely, less productive urination with more frequent trips to the bathroom
- White or cloudy urine indicating pus
- Odor in the urine that is offensive
- Pubic or pelvic pain
- Backache not associated with weight of baby
- Blood in urine; discolored pink, red, or very dark
- Fever, chills, nausea, vomiting
Any woman, or man for that matter, can suffer from urinary tract infection. They are often painful, and almost always irritating. They can ruin an otherwise lovely day. Most UTIs are not dangerous to anyone, including pregnant women. It is only when they are not discovered early or are left untreated that they become a problem.
Be watchful and vigilant during pregnancy. The doctor will test early and persistently for a UTI, but it is up to the mother to alert the gynecologist when symptoms suddenly arise. The appointments in the early stages of pregnancy are a month apart, leaving only the patient to notice a difference in her body during that time.