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Rather like clouds and rain, bacterial infections happen, and one might hit you while you are pregnant. Most bacterial infections are mild, and most go away on their own or are easily treated with antibiotics that are safe to use during pregnancy. But not all are only minor inconveniences, and some can be a serious problem during pregnancy.
Bacterial infections are infections caused by microscopic single-celled organisms called bacteria. Other common types of infections are caused by viruses or funguses. Some conditions like pneumonia or vaginal infections can be caused by either bacteria, viruses, or fungi.
Bacteria are all around us, in us, and on us. Most are benign, meaning that they don’t cause us any problems. It is normal and healthy to have bacteria on our skin and in our intestinal system. These bacteria are benign, and even help us by keeping bad bacteria under control. Some bacteria are perfectly safe in one part of the body, like our intestines, but cause an infection in another part, like our vaginas.
Most bacterial infections are relatively minor, but there are some that can cause problems for you or your baby during pregnancy.
A serious type of food poisoning, listeriosis, is caused by a bacteria. This infection can cause preterm labor, miscarriage, or stillbirth. It can also be passed from you to your baby during the birth. You can read a Pulse blog post about listeriosis here. Two other bacteria that cause food poisoning are salmonella and E. coli.
Bacterial infections of the urinary tract can be painful and inconvenient at any time, but if you have a urinary tract infection during pregnancy it can increase your risk of going into labor or of having your waters break too early (a rupture of the placental membranes).
Some bacterial infections are sexually transmitted. These include gonorrhea, syphilis, and chlamydia. All three are very serious because they can cause problems with your pregnancy and to your newborn. A chlamydia infection can cause preterm labor and premature rupture of the membranes. Syphilis can cause birth defects. Both gonorrhea and chlamydia can cause eye infections in your baby. When you start prenatal care, one of the first things your midwife or obstetrician does is test you for sexually transmitted diseases so that any infection can be treated well before your baby is born.
Bacterial infections can be treated with antibiotics. There are many types of antibiotics and different ones are used to treat different types of infection. Fortunately, there are several types of antibiotics that are considered safe to use by pregnant women or women who are breastfeeding. Your doctor will decide which antibiotic to use based on what type of infection you have and on other considerations, such as where you are in your pregnancy. A bacterial vaginal infection or a bacterial skin infection might be treated with a cream rather than a pill.
If your doctor prescribes antibiotics for you, make sure you take them correctly. Do not skip any doses and take all the pills on time. If you are told to take the drug twice a day for five days, do not stop until you have taken all the doses. If you stop antibiotic treatment early you may not cure the infection and may create bacteria that are resistant to the drug.
Antibiotic resistance is an important problem. Many bacteria have become resistant to the commonly used antibiotics, which means that those drugs don’t work anymore, and doctors must use stronger drugs that may have side effects or that are not as safe to use during pregnancy.
With some antibiotics, you may be asked to take two pills for the first dose and then one pill per dose after that. Take them as instructed.
As always, prevention is better than treatment. It is better to not get a bacterial infection than to have to treat one after it has started. You can reduce your risk of catching a bacterial infection or of spreading one with good hygiene.
- Wash your hands after you use the toilet.
- Wash your hands before you eat or prepare food.
- Cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough.
- Keep your house and your surroundings as clean as possible.
- Wash fruits and vegetables before you eat them raw.