The human urinary tract provides all the necessary conditions required for multiplication of bacteria. During pregnancy, the uterus expands, and the belly increases in size. Also, there is a rush of hormones. All this compression of the muscles and the warmth in the skin allows them to grow at a faster rate. Also, it can be pretty challenging to keep the perineal area clean due to the expanded belly. This makes the growth of bacteria in the gastrointestinal area elevated. Sometimes, the symptoms of urinary tract infections are not visible initially. This can complicate the problem further. The good thing is that this problem can be treated easily.
What is Urinary Tract Infection?
The urinary tract is the passage to remove excess water and wastes. The human excretory system is composed of the two kidneys, two ureters, the urinary bladder, and urethra. The kidneys produce the urine. The ureters originate from the kidneys, and through these, the urine is passed into the urinary bladder, where it is stored until it is passed out through the urethra. Sometimes, the bacteria on the surface of the skin enter the urinary tract. The urinary tract infection occurring in the bladder is called acute cystitis, and the one occurring in the urethra is called urethritis. In some critical cases, the kidneys can get affected, and lead to acute pyelonephritis.
Around 5 out of 100 women are at risk of at least one urinary tract infection during the nine months of their pregnancy. Those who catch it once have a high probability of getting it again. Bladder infection or acute cystitis is common in general, but kidney infections are more common in expectant mothers.
Symptoms of UTI
The functioning and hormonal balance of every woman is different. But UTI symptoms are somewhat consistent in all. If the following symptoms are felt, one must consult a doctor immediately.
- Dark, foul-smelling urine.
- Frequent urination.
- Urge to urinate even when there is a small amount of urine.
- Low fever.
- Burning sensation during urination.
- Pain in the lower abdomen.
- Chills, nausea, vomiting, high fever.
- Pain on both sides of the abdomen or back is a sign of kidney infections.
What Causes a UTI In Pregnancy?
Urinary Tract infections are common among pregnant women. This happens because the growing fetus puts pressure on the urinary bladder and the tract. This causes the bacteria to trespass into the urinary tract, leading to infections and leakage of urine. In the sixth week of pregnancy, almost all pregnant women go through urethral dilation, where the urethra expands until the delivery. A bigger urinary tract with an expanded bladder causes the urine to become more still in the urethra. This allows the bacteria to multiply further.
The matter worsens because the urine of a pregnant woman is more concentrated and contains certain kind of hormones. These promote the growth of bacteria and lowers the body’s ability to ward off harmful bacteria.
Some causes that might lead to urinary tract infection in women during pregnancy are as follows:
- Physical and chemical changes in the body: Women are at a greater risk of UTIs than men as their urethra is shorter, making it more convenient for bacteria to enter the tract. But pregnant women are more at risk. Hormonal changes encourage bacteria to travel up the urinary tract, and the larger bladder makes it more difficult to empty out all the urine. This makes the women carrying multiples more prone to UTIs.
- Bowel Bacteria: Bacteria responsible for UTIs come from various origins. The most common, E. coli originates from bowels. As urethra is close to the rectum. These bacteria can easily invade our urinary tract. Proper cleaning of the rectum from front to back can help keep the bacteria away from the urethra.
- Sexual Intercourse during pregnancy: Being sexually active during pregnancy is perfectly safe. But the one risk it involves is the potential threat of UTI. The bacteria around the vagina may get pushed into the urethra. Hence, it is important to urinate before and after sex and to rinse the genital area after sex.
- Group B streptococcus: This bacterium is mostly found in the intestinal tract. It can also lead to UTIs during pregnancy. This infection, if found during the pregnancy can be treated with antibiotics if needed.
There are also some factors which can make a woman prone to urinary tract infections. If any of these factors are noticed, they should be discussed with the doctor. Some of these factors are:
- Maternal diabetes.
- History of UTIs.
- Having birthed several children.
- weight issues and obesity.
- Frequent sexual activity.
- Damage to nerves that control the bladder.
- Previous urinary tract surgery.
Diagnosis and treatment of UTI in Pregnancy:
The standard procedure to diagnose a UTI in pregnancy or in general is a urine culture. In case you are diagnosed with a UTI during pregnancy, the doctor will prescribe you some antibiotics, which are pregnancy-safe, for around two weeks. These will help your body to get rid of the bacteria. The full course of medication should be completed, and the water intake should be high. The doctor would recommend you to stay in the hospital if the infection has reached your kidneys, where antibiotics are given through IV.
Prevention of (Urinary Tract Infections) UTI in Pregnancy
Urinary tract infections can complicate pregnancy. Even though all protective measures are taken, UTI may still emerge. There are some steps that can be taken to avoid UTIs during pregnancy
- Being hydrated: Drinking sufficient water may increase the number of bathroom visits, but it helps to flush the bacteria out of the body.
- Wearing cotton inners: Cotton helps to keep the genital area dry, and this helps in avoiding infections as bacteria grow in moisture. The underwear can be skipped while sleeping, as it allows the area to air out.
- Don’t hold in urine: It is a lot better to run to the bathroom every ten minutes than holding in urine, as it can put you at a high risk of UTIs. Also, whenever you go to the bathroom, make sure you expel out all the urine. Before sleeping too, empty out your bladder.
- Avoid feminine hygiene products: Powders, perfumes, gels, soaps, sprays, etc. cause irritation in the delicate vulnerable area.
- Cleanliness: It is very important to clean your genital area well, from front to back, to avoid the growth of bacteria there in the first place.
- Healthy diet: Eat a healthy diet suitable for pregnancy, and stay physically active. Some dieticians recommend eating yogurts or consuming probiotics is highly helpful. But probiotics should be taken with the consultation of a practitioner. Have a little sip of it, every now and then, but don’t drink too much of it, as it has high amounts of refined sugar.
- Good hygiene: Keep your crotch and genitalia very clean and free of irritation by rinsing thoroughly during the shower, especially after sexual intercourse.
Also Read, 10 Foods to Stay Away from During Pregnancy
Tips to Fight Urinary Tract Infections
The above-mentioned tips can help steer off the threat of UTIs to a certain extent. But still, these may not prove to be a hundred percent guarantee. So here are some tips and home remedies to fight urinary tract infections.
- Drink lots of fluids: hydration helps to flush out the bacteria in the tract, thereby, decreasing the risk of infection. A survey which examined participants with long term urinary catheters showed that people with low urine output were at a high risk of UTIs. A study held in 2003 examined 141 girls and indicated that girls with low fluid intake and infrequent urination had a risk of developing UTIs. Another study monitoring 28 women kept a check on the hydration status of the women and measured their urine concentration. It was concluded that more fluid intake led to a decreased risk of UTIs.
- Increase in intake of Vitamin C: Increased intake of Vitamin C can help fight against urinary tract infections. Vitamin C increases urine acidity, and this helps in killing off the bacteria that cause infections in the first place. A study of UTIs in pregnant women conducted in 2007 monitored the effects of taking 100 mg of Vitamin C every day. It was concluded that Vitamin C had a positive effect, as it decreased the risk of UTIs by half. Fruits and vegetables are rich in Vitamin C. One serving of red peppers, grapefruit and kiwifruit contain the required amount of Vitamin C required.
- Unsweetened cranberry juice: This is one of the most effective remedies for treating a urinary tract infection at home. Cranberries prevent bacteria from adhering to the urinary tract, thereby preventing infection. Recent studies show that women who drank a 240 ml serving of unsweetened cranberry juice every day for nearly 24 weeks had fewer UTI cases, compared to ones who didn’t. Another study revealed that cranberry products lower the number of UTI cases, especially in women who have had a previous case of the infection. A 2015 study concluded that treatment of UTIs with cranberry juice capsules cuts off the risk of urinary tract infections by half. But still, there are some studies that show that cranberries may not be as effective. An overview of 24 studies consisting of around 4,400 participants gave mixed conclusions about the benefits of cranberries in UTIs. But it should be kept in mind that these benefits are gained only from unsweetened cranberries only.
- Taking Probiotics: Probiotics are beneficial microorganisms that consumed through food or supplements. They encourage a healthy digestive tract and a healthier gut. Probiotics are found in kefir, kimchi, kombucha, fermented foods, and probiotic yogurt. The use of probiotics leads to enhanced digestive health and better functioning of the gut. Some studies also show that the consumption of probiotics leads to a decreased risk of UTIs. Other studies reveal that Lactobacillus, a common probiotic strain, helped prevent UTIs in adult women. Some other experiments found that taking both probiotics and antibiotics was more effective at preventing recurrent UTIs. Surveys and studies show that probiotics can increase levels of good gut bacteria and reduce side effects associated with antibiotics.
- Practicing some healthy habits: Avoiding UTIs can be done by practicing just a few healthy and hygienic habits. It starts with having clean and healthy bathroom habits. First and foremost, it is important to take care that you don’t hold urine for too long. Preventing urinary tract infections begins with practicing some hygienic and good bathroom habits. First, it’s important not to hold urine for too long. This can lead to a buildup of bacteria, resulting in infections in the urinary tract. Finally, whenever you use the toilet, make sure you clean from front to back. Wiping from back to front can cause the spread of bacteria to the urinary tract. Also, urinating after intercourse can help in the elimination of bacteria.
Pregnancy is a very tender stage and all care should be taken to maintain the health and comfort of the female. With some females, the symptoms of UTI might not be too obvious. But still, if these symptoms are even felt in the slightest, these should be reported to a doctor. If left untreated, it can lead to further complications, causing fetal growth restriction, preterm birth, preeclampsia, etc. Similarly, prenatal visits and urine tests are very important. In case of any complication or unusual symptoms, consult the doctor to the soonest.