What Causes Yeast Infection During Pregnancy And How To Treat It

What Causes Yeast Infection During Pregnancy And How To Treat It

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Imagine a sore vagina that is so itchy that you cannot resist scratching, no matter where you are. Annoying, right? That’s how difficult yeast infection can be, and if it occurs during pregnancy, it simply adds to your woes. In some cases, it can pass on to your baby as well. MomJunction is here to give you all the information you need about yeast infection in pregnancy, and how you can manage it.

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What Is Yeast Infection?

Yeast infection, also known as vaginal thrush or vaginal candidiasis, is a fungal condition that develops when the yeast present in the vagina or intestinal tract starts to multiply. This will alter the balance of microorganisms in the vaginal region causing irritation (1).

What Causes Yeast Infection During Pregnancy?

The most common cause of yeast infections is a microscopic fungus known as Candida albicans. The fungus is naturally present in the intestinal tract and vagina and is not a problem as long as it remains in a stable state. But certain conditions can disturb the fungi, leading to overgrowth of the yeast and other microorganisms as well.

The factors that are responsible for the yeast infection are:

  1. Higher estrogen levels: The high amount of estrogen secreted during pregnancy stimulates your vagina to produce glycogen. This makes it convenient for the yeast to infest and grow. Estrogen also propels the speed of the growth, enabling the yeast to stick to the vaginal walls.
  1. Antibiotics and steroids: Intake of antibiotics and steroids is another reason for yeast infection, especially if you take them for a long period (2). While killing the bacteria for which they are indicated, these drugs also affect the good bacteria present in the vagina making it vulnerable to yeast multiplication.
  1. Sexual intercourse: High sexual activity can trigger a sudden yeast infection. If your partner has the infection, it would get transmitted to you during the intercourse (3).
  1. High blood sugar levels: If you have diabetes, you are likely to have a weak immune system. This would make you susceptible to yeast infections as well as other diseases (4).
  1. Douching: It is a process wherein the genital region is cleaned with a mixture of vinegar and water to keep the body parts clean during pregnancy. But sometimes, douching may trigger the growth of bacteria and lead to some infections including yeast (5).
  1. Birth control pills: If you were on birth control pills before conception, there is a chance that they affect the hormonal levels during pregnancy. Fluctuations in the hormones can aggravate the vaginal secretion, leading to yeast infections (6).

Yeast infection can happen anytime between your puberty and menopause. But you are more vulnerable during pregnancy.

Is Yeast Infection a Early Sign Of Pregnancy?

It could be, or it may not be. During pregnancy, the body system undergoes many changes affecting the yeast growth in the vagina which else remains stable. The unchecked yeast growth may cause white smelly discharge causing a yeast infection.

Why Are Yeast Infections More Common During Pregnancy?

Your body undergoes several changes during pregnancy, and it is not easy for it to keep up the chemical fluctuations in the vaginal region. Also, the sugar content is high in the vaginal discharge, making the yeast to survive and thrive.

Yeast infections mostly occur at the end of the second and third trimesters. The chances are relatively low in the first trimester.

As the chances for the infection are higher during pregnancy than normal times, should you worry about the effect it has on you and the baby?

Complications Of Yeast Infections:

Yeast infection is not always harmful but has adverse effects in certain cases:

  • If the pregnant woman has a weakened immune system, i.e., immunocompromised (for instance HIV infected), yeast infections could lead to serious gastrointestinal infections which will spread throughout the bloodstream.
  • Those who are on long-term nutritional supplementation would develop fatal blood-borne infections.

Whether or not you have the complications, it is good to be alert towards any signs of the infection.

Symptoms Of Yeast Infection:

The prominent symptoms of a yeast infection include:

  • Itchiness
  • Soreness
  • Burning and redness
  • Swelling
  • Odorless vaginal discharge that is white, creamy or cottage cheese-type in appearance (termed as leukorrhea)
  • Pain or discomfort during intercourse
  • Burning sensation while urinating
  • Swelling and redness of the vulva

You should not ignore these symptoms as they might be signalling towards some serious conditions such as bacterial vaginosis and sexually transmitted diseases. If you experience green, yellow or gray discharge along with itching and burning in the genital area, take it to your doctor’s notice.

Yeast Infection Treatment During Pregnancy:

Yeast infection is curable when diagnosed at an early stage. Your healthcare provider will diagnose the condition by performing a physical examination and testing a sample of vaginal discharge. Mild cases can be treated using home remedies whereas medical treatments could treat severe conditions (or yeast infections in the second and third trimesters).

Home Remedies For Yeast Infections:

Here are some natural products that will help you be free of the infection:

1. Yogurt:

Yogurt contains acidophilus and live bacterial cultures which stimulate good bacterial growth (7).

You can consume it directly or apply vaginally. For the vaginal application, choose unflavored yogurt. It can be used once or twice a day until the symptoms disappear.

2. Garlic cloves:

The anti-fungal properties of garlic help treat the yeast infection.

Place a freshly peeled clove in the vagina during bedtime. You will also get gel supplements which you can apply in the vagina. You will get relief in the morning. If you have any bleeding problems, you should not use garlic, as it can aggravate the condition.

3. Honey:

Honey is known to multiply the good bacteria in the intestinal tract, and thus treat infections. You should use raw or unheated honey for best results.

Apply some honey on the affected vaginal region, and let it remain for half an hour. Rinse it off using warm water and allow the area to dry completely. You can do it twice a day until the symptoms are gone.

4. Apple cider vinegar:

This is also anti-fungal.

Dab the affected region with apple cider vinegar for quick relief. You can add a cup of apple cider vinegar in the bathtub and relax in it for half an hour. Another alternative is to mix it with plain water and apply on the irritated and inflamed areas. Leave for some time until it dries and rinse off the area using water.

5. Oregano oil:

Oregano oil contains flavonoids and phenols, which work in killing harmful pathogens and fungi. Also, the rich vitamins and nutrients in it strengthen your immune system. Therefore, it is the best remedy to treat candidiasis.

You can either take the oil orally or apply it on the affected region.

6. Calendula:

Here is another antifungal and anti-inflammatory product.

Apply some Calendula ointment or lotion on to the affected area. You can also crush a few of its leaves and use on the area. Repeat it thrice a day for complete relief.

7. Coconut oil:

The antifungal properties make it an excellent remedy for treating fungal infections.

Apply some oil over the affected area thrice a day for best results. You can also mix it with cinnamon oil.

8. Cranberry juice:

Unsweetened cranberry juice is known to treat urinary tract and fungal infections, and therefore it can be used for treating yeast infections in pregnant women.

Consume 100% unsweetened juice to improve pH balance.

9. Tea tree oil:

Tea tree oil contains terpinen-4-ol which kills fungi causing candidiasis. It also has alpha-terpinene and gamma-terpinene, which help in preventing the spread of candida. It restores good bacteria in the body and treats inflammation. Though an excellent remedy, you cannot use it without diluting.

Add ten drops of tea tree oil to one liter of water, and use it as a vaginal douche. You can also use apple cider vinegar instead of plain water. Apply to the infected region twice a day. You may also add certain essential oils to vinegar-tea tree oil mixture.

10. Olive leaf extract:

The extract is anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antifungal and antiviral. It helps restore good bacteria in the body.

Cut the leaves and immerse them in vodka. Store in a dark area for about a month. Strain the liquid and store it. You can apply onto the affected region thrice a day.

You may try any of the above remedies if the infection is mild. However, note that there is little scientific evidence to prove their efficacy. Therefore, seek your healthcare provider’s advice.

In most cases, the infection lasts for a week or two. But if the symptoms do not go away within a couple of weeks, you should go for medical treatment.

Medical Treatments For Yeast Infection:

Your doctor would prescribe medications based on the degree of the infection:

  • Over-the-counter and antifungal medication creams and suppositories are usually safe. The commonly prescribed ones are Clotrimazole (Canesten, Gyne-Lotrimin) and Miconazole (Monistat) (8). These creams are applied in the vagina.
  • Do not take any oral medications (such as flucanazole) for yeast infections without a doctor’s prescription. It is likely to increase the risk of congenital disorders such as autism in the baby.

However, some doctors may prescribe it in the second or third trimester, or the after baby’s arrival and while breastfeeding.

If you experience any irritation, talk to your doctor. Always complete the treatment course to make sure the infection does not come back.

Note: Medications can treat yeast infections only for a temporary period. The infection will often recur until post-delivery, and requires repeated treatments.

Treating any form of yeast overgrowth involves a three-step process: controlling the overgrowth or killing the fungus; taking probiotics (good bacteria that prevents and treats yeast infections) and a nutrient rich diet.

How Long Do Yeast Infections Last?

Irrespective of the treatment, they do not last longer than one to two weeks. Once the infection clears and sores are healed, you can use a starch-free drying powder or Nystatin powder as it helps prevent frequent infections.

How To Prevent Yeast Infections During Pregnancy?

Yeast infection is irritating, to say the least. Take steps to avoid the problem through hygiene. Though you cannot control the hormones, you can take steps to keep the genital region dry and allow proper air circulation.

Here are some tips to prevent yeast from spreading:

  • Wear loose cotton undergarments, which allow air circulation near the genital region.
  • Avoid wearing pajama bottoms and underwear during the bedtime.
  • Do not use scented soaps, bubble baths and hygiene sprays near the genital area. These things can increase the chances of infection.
  • Keep yourself dry after activities such as swimming and shower. Ensure your genital area is completely dry.
  • Avoid douching.
  • Wipe front to back of the genital area with a toilet paper. Back-to-front will increase the possibility of an infection.
  • Do not sit in a wet bathing garment for a longer time.
  • Eat a balanced diet containing good amount of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and non-fat dairy. Minimize the use of sugar and yeast products such as bread.

Can Yeast Infection During Pregnancy Affect The Baby?

No, yeast infections are not dangerous enough to affect your growing baby. But, if you have the infection at the time of labor, your child might contract it while passing through the birth canal. It will lead to yeast infection in the mouth, a condition known as thrush (9).

Your baby will develop white patches on the mouth — the sides, roof and also on the tongue. This fungus can come back to you when the baby is breastfeeding. However, the condition is not severe and can be treated easily. The treatment includes a mild antifungal medication for your baby and antifungal ointment for you.

What Happens When Yeast Infection Is Left Untreated?

Leaving a yeast infection untreated during pregnancy can cause a lot of discomfort.

  • Women with this infection have the risk of delivering preterm and underweight babies.
  • The infection can produce bad odor that is similar to the yeast smell we get from beer or bread.

Therefore, feel free to discuss any concerns about yeast infection, with your doctor. It is important to get any infection during pregnancy checked thoroughly, for the well-being of you and your baby. Sometimes, the infection comes along with other serious complications, such as sexually transmitted diseases that could go undetected because of the yeast condition.

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Rebecca Malachi

She is a Biotechnologist with a proficiency in areas of genetics, immunology, microbiology, bio-engineering, chemical engineering, medicine, pharmaceuticals to name a few. Her expertise in these fields has greatly assisted her in writing medical and life science articles. With 8+ years of work experience in writing for health and wellness, she is now a full-time contributor for Momjunction.com. She is passionate about giving research-based information to readers in need. Apart from writing, she is a foodie, loves travel, fond of gospel music and enjoys observing nature in silence. Know more about her at: linkedin.com/in/kothapalli-rebecca-35881628
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