UTI and kidney infections in pregnancy

A Urinary Tract Infection in pregnancy is unpleasant and uncomfortable, but if left untreated, it may also be harmful to your baby. Here's how to spot and treat a UTI

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Having to pee in a tiny bottle before every antenatal check can be really annoying (not to mention tricky as your bump grows!). But there’s a good reason.

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Among other things, your midwife is checking your sample to see whether you have a UTI (urinary tract infection), something that eight per cent of expectant mums will suffer with. If you get one, you need to get it treated quickly so it’s not harmful to you or your baby.

So what is a UTI? 

It’s an infection of any part of the urinary system, including the kidney and bladder, and caused by bacteria in your wee.

There’s no need to feel embarrassed about it though. Around half of us will get a UTI at some point in our lives and the most common one is cystitis, which means you’ll want to wee more often and it can feel like you’re passing fire when you’re actually doing it.

But I’ve never had one before. Why now?

Once again, those pesky pregnancy hormones are partly to blame.

“Progesterone makes the bladder larger and more relaxed so you can’t empty it as efficiently,” explains Janice Rymer, consultant gynaecologist at Kings College London.

“As your womb grows it puts pressure on the bladder, which can make it difficult to pass urine. And when the bladder empties, bacteria can multiply. Your PH level also changes which might cause irritation.”

Miss_moolay2 shares her pain: “Before I got pregnant, I had never had a water infection but since becoming pregnant I’ve had five! The doctor just tells me that I’m more prone to them during pregnancy.”

Sounds painful! I guess I’ll easily know when I’ve got one

The odd thing is that the symptoms can range from feeling overwhelmingly awful to just a bit itchy down there and generally under the weather, to not even realising you’ve got an infection.

It always amazes me because it never stings when I pass water,” says Miss_moolay2.

The symptoms to look out for include:

  • Wanting to go to the loo more often
  • A stinging when you wee
  • Sharp, low abdominal pain
  • Feeling a bit unwell
  • You may even experience blood in your wee

If you have any of these, talk to your doctor as the only way to really know for sure is to test your wee. This is why it is crucial not to forgot your sample at your check-ups.

Can UTIs be dangerous in pregnancy?

Usually not, but if left untreated they can become dangerous. You could go on to develop a kidney infection, which can cause premature labour or your baby being born with a low birth weight.

A UTI can also make you feel dreadful. Mel 27, who has had her fair share of UTIs, says: “If the UTI gets too bad you will feel awful…I left it [a UTI] a couple of months ago and I felt like I was going to die and that my whole body was infected; it was awful.”

Signs of a Urinary Tract Infection to look out for include:

  • High temperature of 38C or above
  • Constant pain in your back, pelvis or side
  • Shaking and shivering
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Headache

UTIs are definitely not something you can ignore and hope they will go away. You need to see your doctor straight away, who will probably prescribe you a course of antibiotics.

Is it safe to take antibiotics in pregnancy?

There’s a lot of talk and worry around this. Co-amoxiclav, the drug usually used to treat UTIs, is a hot topic of debate. But the best thing is to listen to your doctor.

“It said on the label to avoid use during pregnancy but the doctor says it’s fine,” says answan. “I read that there is a risk of some sort of liver dysfunction in the baby which puts me on edge. It takes a lot to reasssure this mum to be’s hormone-affected brain!”

“Researchers have not found any actual problematic harmful effects towards baby when mothers are using this medication,” says 2BMum who has clearly been doing her own research. “I don’t think doctors prescribe it for more than 2-4 days, and with increased fluid intake, the body will get rid of it rather quickly.”

In her opinion, getting treatment is the most important thing. “Taking the medication is safer than having a UTI,” says 2BMum. “If you were given something that could harm the baby, it would only be given if more benefit would be brought to the mum and baby taking than drug than not.”

Isn’t drinking gallons of cranberry juice enough?

Um, no. If only it were that simple!

Antibiotics are the best way to get rid of a UTI – drinking litres of cranberry juice really doesn’t really cut it when a UTI is serious.

gemma0311 says: “I had UTI’s throughout my pregnancy and in the end was put on antibiotics for the duration of the pregnancy.

“The doctors reassured me that the only reason the labelling says not suitable when pregnant is that they haven’t done any official tests as it wouldn’t be right to do tests on pregnant women, but that many people do take them safely with no effects. Having taken various antibiotics for the 7 months I delivered a healthy little girl!”

Once is enough! How can I prevent getting another UTI?

A lot of the time there isn’t much we can do to stop them, but make sure you’re following these fairly basic hygiene rules.

  • Always wipe from front to back
  • Wash before and after sex
  • Drink plenty of water to make sure you are flushing your system out
  • Go to the loo to wee regularly
  • Wear cotton underwear

And here’s where the cranberry juice comes in – apparently it contains chemicals that may stop E.coli, the bacteria most often blamed for cystitis.

Also, while a bath is absolutely what we might feel like when bubba gets big, showers are more hygienic. Obviously give yourself a break though – we all need the occasional soak!

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