Urinary Tract Infections During Pregnancy: Symptoms, Causes and Remedies

A sense of urgency to go to the restroom only to find it challenging and painful can be the hallmark of a urinary tract infection.

When you go, discomfort, cramping, and burning sensations can make it virtually impossible to get comfortable. 

A urinary tract infection, coupled with being pregnant, just isn’t something you want to deal with. Let’s look at what causes urinary tract infections during pregnancy and how to tell if you have one. 

We’ll also help you find the underlying cause and give you some pregnancy-safe remedies to help you deal with them. 

What Are Urinary Tract Infections

Urinary tract infections, also called “UTIs,” are infections that develop in your urinary tract due to bacteria.

The urinary tract comprises an upper and lower tract, and UTIs generally affect the lower tract.

  • The upper urinary tract includes the kidneys and ureters. The kidneys filter fluid and excrete waste into the ureters, which carry urine to the lower urinary tract. 
  • The lower urinary tract includes the bladder and urethra. The bladder holds urine until it eliminates through the urethra. 

A UTI can develop into an upper urinary tract infection or kidney infection if left untreated. 

Symptoms of Urinary Tract Infections

You might not know if you have a urinary tract infection, especially if you’ve never had one. Symptoms of a urinary tract infection include: 

  • Pain, burning, or discomfort during urination (acute cystitis)
  • Frequent urination
  • Very little urine eliminated even though it feels you need to go
  • Cloudy urine, dark-colored urine, mucus, or even blood in the urine
  • Fever, chills, and sweats
  • Pain in the genital area
  • Waking during the night to eliminate urine
  • Strong urine odor
  • Discomfort, pressure, or lower back pain (sometimes mistaken for early pregnancy cramps)

You likely have a urinary tract infection if you experience more than one of these symptoms. Unlike a viral infection, a urinary tract infection requires antibiotic treatment. 

Causes of Urinary Tract Infections During Pregnancy

Bacteria spread from other body parts are a common cause of urinary tract infections. Let’s look at the most common ways of getting a UTI. 

E.coli Bacteria

Women are especially prone to urinary tract infections because of their anatomy.

The location of the urethra is very close to the anus, which can lead to an increased risk of bacteria, like E.coli (escherichia coli), reaching the urethra and spreading upward into other parts of the urinary tract. 

Sexual Intercourse

Bacteria can also spread to the urethra during sexual intercourse.

This is why it is crucial to urinate after sexual intercourse or sexual activity to reduce the bacteria that enter the urethra. 

Location of the Uterus

During pregnancy, the uterus grows and expands. It sits directly on top of the bladder, which can cause pressure and lead to trouble eliminating urine.

When urine collects in the bladder, a urinary tract infection can begin. 

Bladder Leakage

It isn’t uncommon to experience a few surprise bladder leaks during pregnancy.

This is again due to the increased pressure of the uterus sitting on the bladder. If you experience leaks, urine can sit inside your underwear and potentially irritate the urethra, exposing it to bacteria that could cause an infection. 

Dilation of the Urethra

As early as the beginning of the first trimester, the urethra begins to dilate.

The expansion of the urethra can allow urine to remain there longer, exposing parts of the urinary tract to bacteria and possibly leading to an infection. 

Urine Concentration

When you’re pregnant, you will pass additional waste in your urine that you usually don’t pass when you aren’t pregnant. Sugars and hormones are typical in your urine, which can make your urine more concentrated, especially if you aren’t drinking enough water

The more concentrated your urine, the more likely you are to experience an infection. 

Risk Factors for Urinary Tract Infections During Pregnancy

Urinary tract infections during pregnancy are fairly common, with up to 10 percent of pregnant people experiencing them at least once during their pregnancies.

However, certain lifestyle habits and underlying medical conditions can make you more susceptible to a UTI while pregnant. These include:

  • Sexual activity
  • Anemia (low iron)
  • Less access to prenatal care
  • History of UTIs
  • Dehydration 

If you have a history of urinary tract infections, talk to your healthcare provider about the likelihood of developing one during pregnancy. 

Remedies for Urinary Tract Infections During Pregnancy

Most of the time, your doctor will need to prescribe you a pregnancy-safe course of antibiotics to help clear a urinary tract infection.

Although they can go away on their own, a urinary tract infection that is left untreated has the potential to spread to your kidneys and other parts of your urinary tract.

Kidney infections have links to early labor and low birth weight, both of which could cause potential harm to your baby. 

To determine whether or not you have a urinary tract infection, your doctor will do a urine test (urinalysis) by doing a urine culture. 

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Preventing Urinary Tract Infections During Pregnancy

The best way to prevent urinary tract infections when pregnant is to take good care of yourself, get adequate prenatal care, and follow a few simple tips.

1. Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate!

Drinking plenty of water is critical for preventing urinary tract infections.

Making sure your urine is a pale yellow to clear when eliminating helps you know you are getting enough fluid. 

Increasing your fluid intake helps dilute your urine which can help you avoid the collection of concentrated bacteria in your bladder. 

If you do have a UTI, increasing your fluids is a must. Diluting your urine will help you experience less pain and discomfort when you use the restroom.

Drinking pure cranberry juice can help to detach unwanted bacteria from the bladder.

2. Urinate Before and After Sex

Using the restroom before and after sex can help reduce the bacteria your urethra comes in contact with during intercourse. 

3. Wear Cotton Underwear

During pregnancy, you’ll likely notice that your hormones cause you to sweat differently than before.

Wearing loose and comfortable clothing is key to staying cool and avoiding excessive sweating. 

Cotton underwear is the best option for pregnancy, as it doesn’t cause sweating and is non-irritating on your skin. 

4. Avoid Most Feminine Hygiene Products

Most feminine hygiene products (especially douches) are largely unnecessary, but the fragrances and chemicals they contain could irritate your urethra and lead to a urinary tract infection. 

Avoid douching completely while pregnant. Studies show there is a link between douching and premature birth.

5. Blot Dry, Never Rub

After urinating, use cotton tissue to blot yourself dry gently. Never rub or drag tissue across your urethra, as this can cause irritation and lead to infection.

Additionally, wiping front to back is essential to avoid transferring bacteria from the anus to the urethra and vagina. 

Likewise, avoid scrubbing your genitals with a rag or sponge when you bathe. Warm water on a soft cloth is enough to pat yourself clean. If you have an active bladder infection, using a flow of water to clean yourself is the best practice.

6. Increase Vitamin C

Your prenatal vitamin probably contains high levels of vitamin C and zinc, but increasing your daily amounts of these vitamins and minerals can help support your immune system and help you avoid infections.

Before you start any supplement or dietary change, check with your doctor for medical advice about whether it’s a safe option for your pregnancy

When To See a Doctor

If you suspect you have a urinary tract infection, you need to see your doctor right away.

An antibiotic treatment that is safe for your pregnancy can clear up the infection and prevent it from spreading to other parts of your urinary tract. 

If left untreated, urinary tract infections can spread into the upper urinary tract and kidneys.

Untreated UTIs can lead to preterm labor, preeclampsia, sepsis, or kidney infections. If treated early, UTIs should clear up quickly. 

Staying Healthy While Pregnant

Pregnancy will lower your immune system. You may get sick more frequently or develop recurrent urinary tract infections.

Taking care of your body can help you avoid illness, but if you develop symptoms of a UTI, it’s important to see your doctor. 

A pregnancy-safe antibiotic may be the best option for recovery if you develop a urinary tract infection during your pregnancy. Your doctor will help you decide what is best for you and your baby. 

References, Studies and Sources:

Urinary Tract Infection During Pregnancy: Symptoms & Prevention | American Pregnancy.org 

Definition of urinary tract – NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms | Cancer.gov 

Urinary tract infection (UTI) – Symptoms and causes | Mayo Clinic 

Urinary tract infections in pregnancy: old and new unresolved diagnostic and therapeutic problems | NCBI 

Urine Infection in Pregnancy | Patient 

Douching | Office on Women’s Health