Any infection involving your urethra (the short tube that carries urine from your bladder to the outside of your body), bladder, kidneys or ureter (the tube that transfers urine from your kidneys to your bladder) is called a urinary tract infection (UTI).
The condition results from bacteria entering your urinary system, explains Dr Malikah Van Der Schyff, a specialist obstetrician and gynaecologist. “Pregnant women are highly susceptible to UTIs due to hormonal and mechanical changes within the urinary tract,” she says. “UTIs can complicate up to 20% of pregnancies and are responsible for 10% of all antenatal admissions. There are a number of reasons for this predisposition, including your growing uterus putting pressure on your bladder. This results in incomplete emptying, so the stagnant urine becomes the likely source of the infection.”
Due to high progesterone levels during pregnancy, adds registered homeopath Dr Jaci Schultz, the muscle tone in your ureter decreases, slowing the flow of urine and allowing bacteria more time to multiply. In addition to the changes in the pH balance of your body, there’s usually an increased amount of glucose in your urine, which feeds the bacteria.
The dangers of UTIs
There are numerous risks to you and your baby, including miscarriage. “Studies have shown a link between recurrent UTIs and miscarriage, especially if not diagnosed, treated early or treated correctly,” says Dr Van Der Schyff. The infection spreads from your urethra and genital area to your bladder and kidneys, resulting in acute pyelonephritis (kidney infection), a serious urinary tract complication in pregnant women. It presents as fever, back pain and tenderness, and may cause nausea, vomiting and painful, frequent urination. The risks to your baby include low birth weight and preterm delivery, which increases perinatal mortality, Dr Van Der Schyff explains.
The symptoms and treatment
The first symptom of a urinary tract infection is usually a burning sensation when urinating that can be felt in either your bladder area (pelvis) or your lower back. “Other common symptoms include cloudy, dark or even blood-filled urine, difficulty urinating and increased frequency of urination while passing small volumes. But often in pregnancy, there are no symptoms present, which is why your obstetrician will routinely check for infections at every antenatal visit,” says Dr Van Der Schyff.
UTIs require antibiotics to clear the urinary system of bacteria, she adds. “This is a three- to seven-day prescription and symptoms will usually clear halfway through the course. Your healthcare provider will prescribe something that is safe to use while you’re pregnant, so there’s no need to worry about your child’s health. If the infection has spread to your kidneys, you’ll need an intravenous antibiotic and probably be hospitalised.”
Homoeopathic remedies effective in treating burning urine and discomfort in the area of the bladder and the lower back include Berberis and Cantharis, says Dr Schultz. “Pulsatilla is frequently considered, as it’s indicated when hormonal effects result in a urinary tract infection, while Causticum can be used when it’s difficult to pass urine and you have stress incontinence (involuntarily passing urine when coughing or sneezing). It’s always advisable to take a quality probiotic in order to optimise the friendly microbes in the genito-urinary tract when both preventing and treating a bladder or kidney infection.”
“If at any stage during your pregnancy, you experience any of the urinary symptoms mentioned here, including the presence of odorous urine, pelvic pain, back or flank pain, pain resembling contractions prior to reaching full-term pregnancy, vaginal bleeding, excessive nausea and vomiting or fever, you should contact your medical practitioner immediately,” says Dr Van Der Schyff. Furthermore, even if you aren’t presenting any UTI symptoms, you should request a urine test (or consult another healthcare provider) if one is not being done routinely at your antenatal check-ups.
Tips to prevent a urinary tract infection
Dr Van Der Schyff suggests the following to help prevent UTIs:
- Stay hydrated. Drinking plenty of water will help dilute urine and flush out any bacteria that could be present.
- Drink cranberry juice. Daily consumption of 100% pure cranberry juice may prevent UTIs due to its infection-fighting properties. It’s also high in important vitamins A and C.
- Practise good vaginal hygiene. Wiping from front to back may prevent bacteria from the anal region from spreading to the vagina and urethra.
- Empty your bladder soon after intercourse. This flushes out any bacteria that may have entered your urethra.
- Avoid feminine hygiene products. These include deodorant sprays, douches, antiseptics and powders that can irritate the vaginal area and urethra, resulting in UTIs.
A freelance journalist and content writer with a passion for people and health. She has worked in the magazine industry for many years and is a regular contributor to Living and Loving.