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3 Common Urinary and Vaginal Pregnancy Problems

This guide includes information about the symptoms, causes, diagnosis and treatments for urinary tract infections, stress urinary incontinence and vaginal infections.
woman drinking water to help urinary tract infection during pregnancy
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While pregnancy brings many wonderful experiences it can also bring some negative ones too. Some of the most unfortunate possible conditions during pregnancy include an increased risk for urinary tract infections, stress urinary incontinence and vaginal infections.

To help you navigate and understand the symptoms and risk factors related to these common urinary and vaginal pregnancy problems, we’ve gathered information from healthcare professionals and put it all together in one go-to-place for your reference.

To read more about other pregnancy symptoms, check out: 6 Symptoms of Pregnancy No One Tells You About.

Urinary Tract Infections

During pregnancy, you're more susceptible to urinary tract infections (UTIs). You must quickly treat a UTI to avoid a severe infection that can trigger preterm labor.

You won’t always have any symptoms of a UTI. The most common symptom is urgent or frequent urination, which is also standard throughout pregnancy. You can only treat a UTI  with antibiotics, so it is crucial to call your healthcare provider if you suspect you have one. 

Symptoms of a UTI

  • Urgent or frequent urination
  • A burning sensation while urinating
  • Cloudy urine
  • Pink or blood-tinged urine
  • Strong smelling urine
  • Pelvic pain

Symptoms of a Kidney Infection (pyelonephritis)

  • Blood or pus in your urine
  • Fever
  • Nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite
  • Pain in the abdomen or lower back
  • Fishy smelling urine
  • Cloudy urine
  • Burning sensation while urinating
  • Urgent or frequent urination
  • Fatigue

Causes of a UTI

Bacteria can travel through the urinary tract and cause an infection in the bladder (cystitis), the urethra (urethritis), or, less likely, the kidneys (pyelonephritis). UTIs are more common during pregnancy because increased hormones affect the urinary tract and slow the passage of urine.

What to Do If You Suspect You Have a UTI

If you have any symptoms of a UTI, see your healthcare provider immediately. You will provide a mid-stream urine sample to identify the type of bacteria causing the infection. Your healthcare provider may prescribe a five- to seven-day course of antibiotics that are safe for both you and your baby. Symptoms usually improve in a few days after the start of treatment. Taking all of the medication is essential, even if you feel better.

To help prevent UTIs, avoid flowery soaps and bubble baths, wear cotton underpants, always wipe from front to back, drink plenty of fluids, and go to the bathroom as soon as you feel the urge. Because some UTIs are asymptomatic, all pregnant women have urine tests at prenatal doctor's visits. If bacteria is present in these tests, your healthcare provider will prescribe appropriate antibiotics.

During a routine prenatal visit in your third trimester, you will also be tested for Group B streptococcus (GBS). GBS is a common bacteria in the genital tract, but some pregnant women can pass it to their babies during birth. If it is determined you have GBS present, your healthcare provider will prescribe antibiotics during labor.

Pregnant woman at the doctors for suspected stress urinary incontinence.
Image source: iStock

Stress Urinary Incontinence

Stress urinary incontinence (SUI) is when you unintentionally pass small amounts of urine. SUI can happen at any time during pregnancy but is most common in the last trimester. SUI is also more common if this is your second or third pregnancy. It will likely continue after pregnancy, particularly when your bladder is full.

SUI Causes

The pelvic floor muscles are under additional strain during pregnancy and are affected by hormonal changes. Any increase in abdominal pressure caused by coughing, sneezing, laughing, or other activities that put these muscles under pressure may result in a small amount of urine leakage.

What to Do If You Suspect You Have SUI

SUI can be embarrassing and distressing; however, you should mention the problem to your healthcare provider, who may advise you to start Kegel exercises. These can reduce the problem if you practice them regularly. To help alleviate SUI, try to use the bathroom whenever your bladder feels full. 

Consider wearing a sanitary pad for additional reassurance.

Pregnant woman at the doctor's office for suspected vaginal infection
Image source: iStock

Vaginal Infections 

During pregnancy, increased vaginal discharge is normal. However, you may have an infection if there is a change in the amount, color, consistency, or odor of your discharge or soreness and itching in your vaginal area.

If you have vaginal discharge with a strong fishy odor, you could have bacterial vaginosis (BV). According to the CDC, BV is the most common vaginal infection in women ages 15-44. 

While BV is not a sexually transmitted infection, it can increase your chances of getting one. BV can lead to preterm delivery or low birth weight if not treated. You are also more prone to yeast infections during pregnancy, particularly during the third trimester.

Symptoms of Bacterial Vaginosis

  • Thin white or gray vaginal discharge
  • Pain, itching, or burning in the vagina
  • Strong fishy odor, especially after sex
  • Burning or pain when urinating
  • Itching around the outside of the genital area

Symptoms of Yeast Infections

  • Itching around the outside of the genital area
  • Painful urination
  • Painful sex
  • White, clumpy, or watery vaginal discharge

Causes of BV and Yeast Infections

The growth of too much bacteria in the vagina causes BV. Using douches, having sex with new or multiple partners, and not using condoms increases your chances of getting BV. 

A fungus called Candida albicans causes yeast infections. This fungus typically exists in small numbers in the intestines and vagina and doesn't cause problems. However, the environment in the vagina changes during pregnancy and may cause an overgrowth of the fungus. If you are under stress, generally feeling unwell, taking antibiotics, or have diabetes, you may be more likely to develop a yeast infection.

What to Do If You Suspect You Have BV or a Yeast Infection

If you think you have BV or a yeast infection, contact your healthcare provider, who can take a vaginal swab to confirm the diagnosis. BV is treated with either oral or vaginal antibiotics. Yeast infections may be treated with a pill or cream/gel applied directly into the vagina. Yeast infections can be harder to control during pregnancy and may take up to two weeks to cure. Wear cotton underwear and always wipe from front to back after a bowel movement to prevent additional infections. 

Pregnancy makes you prone to various urinary and vaginal infections, and treating them isn't always easy. It is important to understand symptoms and causes of common problems during pregnancy and know when to contact your healthcare provider for possible diagnosis and treatment. 

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