UTI During Pregnancy: Causes, Symptoms, Risks And Treatment

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A urinary tract infection (UTI) is a bacterial infection that causes inflammation in the urinary tract. Escherichia coli (E.coli) is the most common bacteria responsible for the condition (1) (2). UTI during pregnancy is common, with about eight percent incidence (3) due to hormonal changes and urinary stasisiXUrinary retention due to incomplete emptying of the bladder from increased pressure of the growing uterus (2). The infection can be effectively treated with antibiotics upon early diagnosis. But, if left untreated, it can cause severe complications for the mother and the baby. Learn all about UTIs in pregnancy and ways to help prevent complications.

In This Article

Risk Of UTIs By Pregnancy Trimester

The risk of UTIs is the highest between weeks six and 24 due to the changes in the urinary tract (1). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 41% of UTIs occur in the first trimester, followed by the second with half the occurrences and the third with 11.8% (3).

Symptoms Of UTI In Pregnancy

Frequent urgency to pee during pregnancy

Image: IStock

UTIs during pregnancy may either be symptomatic or asymptomatic. According to performed research, two to seven percent of pregnant women with UTIs are asymptomatic (2). The common symptoms of UTI  during pregnancy include (1):

  • Burning sensation, discomfort, or pain while peeing
  • Frequent urgency to urinate with a complete inability to hold the urge
  • Disturbed sleep due to an increased frequency of urination
  • Passing of blood or mucus with urine
  • Lower abdominal pain or cramps
  • Urinary incontinenceiXUnintentional urine leakage due to the loss of bladder control accompanied by fever, chills, and sweats
  • Sudden increase or decrease in the amount of urine
  • Foul-smelling urine with a cloudy appearance
  • Nausea, vomiting, and back pain if the infection affects the kidneys
  • Painful sexual intercourse

You should call your doctor upon experiencing any of the above symptoms.

Causes Of UTI In Pregnancy

Although UTI may happen to pregnant and non-pregnant individuals, certain factors may increase the risk of its occurrence in pregnancy. Some common causes are:

  • Pregnancy hormone:Progesterone relaxes the smooth muscles and causes urinary tract dilation. This enables urinary stasis by helping prevent complete emptying of the bladder while peeing (2) (4).
  • Uterus size: The growing uterus puts pressure on the bladder, causing urine retention while peeing (5). Urinary retention leads to bacterial growth (4).

protip_icon Caution
The longer the urine stays stagnant in the body, the more time it gives bacteria to grow (4).

Other risk factors
  • Hygiene practices: The common UTI-causing bacteria E. coli and other microorganisms are present in the stool (5). Thus, you may increase the risk of contracting UTI if you wipe yourself from back to front after defecating (4).
  • Underlying conditions: Some conditions, such as sickle cell anemiaiXAn inherited blood disorder that alters the morphology of red blood cells and gestational diabetesiXPregnancy-induced diabetes put you at an increased risk for UTI as these conditions lower the body’s disease-fighting capacity (4).

UTI Diagnosis In Pregnancy

Urine tests during pregnancy

Image: IStock

The doctor may begin with your health history and physical examination (6). Then, they may recommend a urine test to look for disease-causing bacteria and white and red blood cells (5). Since UTIs are common in pregnancy, a urine culture test is usually a part of the prenatal checkups carried out in the first prenatal visit or at 12 to 16 weeks pregnant (7). Asymptomatic UTI needs to be treated with antibiotics if the culture shows a high number of bacteria.

protip_icon Did you know?
Not all urine tests during pregnancy are for checking UTIs. In the third trimester, urine samples may be taken to check for gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, and STDs such as chlamydiaiXA sexually transmitted disease caused by a bacteria called chlamydia trachomatis (C. trachomatis). and gonorrheaiXA sexually transmitted disease caused by a bacteria called Neisseria gonorrhoeae. (4).

Treatment Of UTI In Early Pregnancy

Antibiotics treatment for UTI during pregnancy

Image: Shutterstock

UTI in early pregnancy is commonly treated with a three- to seven-day course of oral antibiotics such as amoxicillin, ampicillin, cephalosporins, nitrofurantoin, and trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole. The doctor may prescribe medications that are safe for both the mother and the developing fetus, considering the gestational age and importance of prenatal care. However, if the infection recurs, you may be given a longer course of antibiotics with lower doses (2) (4). This is usually combined with urine alkalinizer and plenty of fluid intake orally.

If the infection spreads to the kidneys, causing pyelonephritis, the antibiotics need to be administered intravenously at the hospital (4).

protip_icon Experts say
According to ACOG, the commonly used UTI antibiotics sulfonamides and nitrofurantoin may be used after ruling out other antimicrobial therapies since the former may increase the risk of congenital disabilitiesiXStructural or functional anomalies present at birth (3).

Complications Of UTI In Pregnancy

UTI may cause premature birth

Image: Shutterstock

UTI may cause complications in pregnancy if left untreated in the early stages. Some of them include (1) (5):

In extreme cases, untreated UTI may cause fetal death (5). These complications can be prevented if you are mindful of the early symptoms.

protip_icon Quick fact
Pyelonephritis, or kidney infection caused by UTI, is considered the most severe health condition in pregnancy (2).

Prevention Of UTI In Pregnancy

Although it may not be possible to prevent UTI completely, you may lower your risks by following these measures (1):

  • Drink ten to twelve glasses of water each day to maintain proper hydration
  • Avoid refined foods, alcohol, sugar, caffeine, and fruit juices
  • Consume unsweetened cranberry juice regularly

An anonymous blogger and mother of two shares how cranberry supplements helped her prevent UTI during her second pregnancy. She says, “Well, when I was pregnant with Giuliana, I had a UTI almost constantly & had to be on antibiotics quite a bit. It was awful. When I was seven months pregnant, I got a kidney infection & had to be hospitalized. It was so painful!! and very scary. So, this time around, I am doing everything I can to prevent that from happening again. So far, it (cranberry supplement) has helped tremendously! I have not had a problem yet (i)!”

  • Take vitamin C, zinc, and beta-carotene supplements to boost your immune system
  • Do not hold the urge to pee
  • Clean your genital area by blotting it dry and avoiding rubbing
  • Ensure to pee before and after sexual intercourse
  • Prefer cotton underwear and change them regularly
  • Avoid harsh soaps, douchesiXWashing or cleaning the inside of the vagina with water or mixture of fluids. , antiseptic creams, and feminine hygiene products
  • Avoid tight-fitting pants
  • Do not soak yourself in a bathtub for more than 30 minutes or more than twice a day

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Can a UTI cause contractions during pregnancy?

If UTI causes pyelonephritis (kidney infection), toxins released from bacteria may cause uterine contractions, leading to premature labor (2).

2. Can UTIs affect pregnancy tests?

UTI with high white and red blood cells and nitrite levels may sometimes result in a false positive pregnancy test (8).

3. Is it safe to have sex during a UTI while pregnant?

It is usually suggested not to engage in sexual intercourse during a urinary tract infection (UTI) while pregnant until the condition resolves completely to reduce the risk of complications (1).

UTI during pregnancy is common but treatable. However, it may lead to severe consequences if left untreated. So, expectant mothers should be vigilant in identifying the initial symptoms of a UTI and seek medical attention. Early diagnosis and treatment are crucial to help prevent complications, such as preterm labor and low birth weight. Thus, it is essential to stay aware and take the necessary preventative measures to avoid infection for a healthier and safer pregnancy.

Infographic: Tips To Help Prevent UTI In Pregnancy

Although urinary tract infection in pregnancy is seldom alarming if treated on time, its symptoms can be uncomfortable and interfere with a healthy and happy pregnancy. This infographic discusses useful measures and tips to help you prevent contracting the infection and thereby avoid possible complications. Scroll down to learn more about it.

tips to help prevent uti in pregnancy (infographic)

Illustration: Momjunction Design Team

Key Pointers

  • UTI is a common infection in pregnancy that occurs due to increased progesterone levels and growing uterus size.
  • Common symptoms include a burning sensation while peeing, frequent urination, and low stomach pain.
  • It is harmless as long as it is diagnosed early and treated with antibiotics.
  • Untreated UTI in pregnancy may cause premature labor and low birth weight.
  • Drinking plenty of water, taking immunity-boosting supplements, and following proper hygiene measures can help manage UTIs.
UTI during pregnancy_illustration

Image: Stable Diffusion/MomJunction Design Team

UTI during pregnancy is common and can harm both the mother and the fetus. However, it can be avoided. Learn some advice on how to prevent UTI while pregnant in this video.

Personal Experience: Source

References

MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
  1. Urinary Tract Infection During Pregnancy.
    https://americanpregnancy.org/healthy-pregnancy/pregnancy-complications/urinary-tract-infections-during-pregnancy/
  2. Patricia J. Habak and Robert P. Griggs Jr (2022); Urinary Tract Infection In pregnancy.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK537047/#__NBK537047_dtls__
  3. Antibiotics Dispensed to Privately Insured Pregnant Women with Urinary Tract Infections — United States 2014.
    https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/67/wr/mm6701a4.htm
  4. UTIs during pregnancy are common and treatable.
    https://utswmed.org/medblog/utis-during-pregnancy/
  5. Why Are UTIs Common During Pregnancy;.
    https://wfmchealth.org/maternity-health-care/why-are-utis-common-during-pregnancy/
  6. Urinary Tract and Kidney Infections in Pregnancy.
    https://www.nationwidechildrens.org/conditions/health-library/urinary-tract-and-kidney-infections-in-pregnancy
  7. Screening for Asymptomatic Bacteriuria in Adults: Recommendation Statement.
    https://www.aafp.org/pubs/afp/issues/2020/0415/p489.html
  8. Pregnancy test (beta hCG).
    https://www.gloshospitals.nhs.uk/our-services/services-we-offer/pathology/tests-and-investigations/pregnancy-test-beta-hcg/
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