During pregnancy, a woman is at higher risk of contracting certain infections due to the changes happening in her body while the baby is developing. The rapid increase in hormone production along with the physical changes that come with pregnancy can put significant stress on the body and make it easier for bacteria to develop, especially in areas around the pelvis.
Urinary tract infections (UTI) are one of the most frequently acquired infections during pregnancy, and for many pregnant women, the infection will recur throughout gestation. UTI's are usually not a cause for concern as they can be treated successfully with standard antibiotics, but expecting mothers should be cautious about the potential risks involved as an untreated UTI can spread to other areas of the body and cause complications for the baby.
The key to handle a UTI is a careful initial assessment, as well as ongoing assessments of the woman's urinary status, are an important part of quality prenatal care.
A UTI is a bacterial infection that affects the urinary tract and bladder. Bacteria collects inside the woman's urethra and spreads to the bladder, causing uncomfortable symptoms. Anyone can get a UTI, but women are more likely to get one due to their urethra being much shorter. A short urethra makes it easier for bacteria to spread into the body. Pregnant women are at an even higher risk of getting UTI's because of the hormonal changes occurring in the body and the physical development of the baby.
Hormones trigger the woman's body to start ureteral dilation, which is when the urethra expands throughout pregnancy. An enlarged urinary tract can allow more bacteria to collect inside of it, which speeds up the rate of infection. As the fetus grows inside the mother, it begins to put pressure on the bladder as well. This can trap bacteria in the urinary tract and cause urine to leak. Leaking urine or failing to completely empty the bladder can be the source of infection. Additionally, a pregnant woman's urine is more concentrated than usual. The urine is filled with certain hormones and sugar. This can encourage bacterial growth and make it harder to fight off the infection.
Several symptoms could indicate you have a UTI. A woman may experience one or multiple symptoms depending on how far along the infection is. Some women aren't immediately aware they have an infection, which is why pregnant women need to have their urine regularly screened. Symptoms of a UTI include:
- Burning or painful urination
- Cloudy or bloody urine
- Foul or sweet-smelling urine
- Frequent urination
- Constantly feeling like you have to urinate
- Pelvic or lower back pain
- Nausea or vomiting
If you've had a UTI before, it can be easy to quickly identify the symptoms. Women who have had prior infections or have had several children are more prone to getting them during pregnancy. Pregnant women who start exhibiting signs of a UTI should go to the nearest health facility to get tested as soon as possible.
Diagnosing a UTI is relatively simple. Once you go see the doctor, they'll have you provide a sample of urine. The urine is then tested for bacteria and doctors will measure the amount of white blood cells. Once the bacteria is detected, the doctor can confirm the diagnosis and start treatment.
The first-line treatment for a UTI is a standard course of antibiotics. Doctors will make sure to prescribe you an antibiotic that is safe for your baby, such as amoxicillin or penicillin. It may take up to a week or more to fully get rid of the infection, but symptoms usually subside within the first two days. There are also over the counter medications for a UTI that can provide immediate relief for pain and burning during urination.
A minor UTI that is localized in the urethra and bladder will most likely not cause any harm to your baby. However, if a UTI is left untreated, the infection can spread up through the ureters and into your kidneys, leading to a kidney infection. A kidney infection is much more serious than a UTI and can cause pregnancy complications.
The big concern is that a urinary tract infection causes contractions that, if not stopped, can lead to preterm labor. Babies delivered prematurely are subject to much greater risk than a baby delivered at or closer to the baby's due date.
Kidney infections, also referred to as acute pyelonephritis, are known to cause preterm labor and low birth weight. Delivering a child before their due date and having a low birth weight can put the child at a high risk of contracting illnesses and other health conditions. In severe cases, the infection can spread into the bloodstream, resulting in sepsis. Sepsis requires emergency treatment and can lead to miscarriage or death of the mother. Symptoms of a kidney infection include high fever, chills, and vomiting, along with regular UTI symptoms.
The good news about UTIs is that there are several ways to help prevent them. If you are dealing with recurrent UTI's, it may be beneficial to try some of the methods listed below. It's important to know that some pregnant women will get UTI's regardless of taking preventive measures because of the way pregnancy is affecting their body. Some ways to prevent a UTI include
- Using the bathroom frequently, especially before and after sex
- Wearing cotton underwear
- Avoiding wearing thongs
- Avoiding douches, perfumes, or sprays
- Staying hydrated by drinking water throughout the day
- Using fragrance-free and gentle soaps around the genital area
- Wipe from front to back when using the bathroom
- Use a water-based lubricant
- Take showers instead of baths
- Don't wear pants that are too tight
- Regularly drink unsweetened cranberry juice
If you get a UTI during pregnancy, try not to get too worried. A UTI is highly treatable and with the use of antibiotics, there are no long-term complications for you or your baby. Still, it's important to meet with your doctor as soon as you start experiencing symptoms. If your UTI isn't improving within a few days of treatment, you may need a different type of antibiotic or a higher dosage. UTIs are usually a normal part of pregnancy and multiple infections do not always mean something is wrong with your body. While you have an infection, make sure to get lots of rest and do not overexert yourself until you start feeling better.
If your baby was born with a birth injury that may have been related to a failure to diagnose and treat a UTI or other type of infection during pregnancy, you may be entitled to financial compensation. The birth injury lawyers at Miller & Zois can help investigate your case and determine if you have a valid claim. Call us at 800-553-8082 or contact us online.