Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are not uncommon in women – we’ve all been there at least once, right? But unfortunately, it’s a more serious problem for pregnant women. In most cases, a UTI can be treated with antibiotics, and you go on about your day. However, in pregnant women, there’s a higher chance that the UTI can progress to something called ‘pyelonephritis’ which is a fancy term for kidney infection. It happens when the infection moves from your bladder up through the urinary tract system to the kidneys. If it sounds scary, that’s because it is. This is something you definitely want to avoid as much as possible. UTIs in pregnancy are also related to increased risk of preeclampsia, premature birth, and low neonatal birth weight.
We’ve already covered signs and symptoms of UTI, as well as prevention tips, so please click here if you’d like to read more on those topics.
Why Is The Infection Risk Higher In Pregnancy?
There are certain changes taking place during pregnancy that put you at greater risk for urinary tract infections. These changes, likely due to hormones, include the following:
- The urethral sphincter (where your urine comes out) may be more relaxed
- The muscles in the ureters (the tubes that carry urine between the kidneys and the bladder) may also be more relaxed
- The uterus is bigger and can compress the bladder
- This can lead to more pressure on the bladder and/or incomplete emptying of the bladder (in other words, you don’t get all the urine out of the bladder when you urinate)
All of these changes mean that urine can sit and collect bacteria, and it can also flow backwards (up towards the kidneys, rather than away from them) more easily. This is why pregnant women are more susceptible to infections.
UTIs in pregnancy are also related to increased risk of preeclampsia, premature birth, and low neonatal birth weight.
Is It Safe To Be Treated While I’m Pregnant?
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends avoiding these antibiotics during first trimester when possible: nitrofurantoin and trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole. This is because, although the research is somewhat controversial, these antibiotics have been linked to birth defects. A class of antibiotics called fluoroquinolones (levofloxacin, ciprofloxacin) should also be avoided during pregnancy.
Commonly prescribed antibiotics like penicillin, amoxicillin, and cephalosporins (cephalexin, ceftriaxone) are thought to be safe during pregnancy.
It’s important to discuss with your doctor if you have any signs or symptoms of a UTI. Your doctor will most likely collect your urine, test it for bacteria, and determine which antibiotic might be right for you. Even though UTIs are no fun to deal with, at least now you can have an educated discussion about the treatment!