Yeast Infections During Pregnancy: Causes and Treatments
Medically reviewed by Kasirat Jimoh, R.N.
Along with the weight gain, hormone fluctuations, and other bodily changes during pregnancy, the last thing any woman wants to deal with is a yeast infection! Unfortunately, yeast infections are more common during pregnancy than at any other point due to changes in your body’s chemicals and vaginal discharge.
What Is A Yeast Infection?
According to the Mayo Clinic, “a vaginal yeast infection is a fungal infection that causes irritation, discharge and intense itchiness of the vagina and the vulva — the tissues at the vaginal opening.” This is not a sexually transmitted disease, but rather, an imbalance of the natural components of the female reproductive system.
What Causes A Yeast Infection During Pregnancy?
What you may not realize is that both bacteria and yeast are always present in the vagina. The role of the bacteria is to keep the amount of yeast in check. However, when the conditions are right, these microorganisms can become imbalanced, leading to vaginal candidiasis or thrush.
Unfortunately, the many hormone fluctuations that occur throughout pregnancy make pregnant women very susceptible to this condition. The drastic increase in estrogen levels can impact the pH of the vagina, making it easier for yeast to grow. This is especially the case during the second trimester. Other causes for this infection include antibiotic use, bubble baths, douching, uncontrolled diabetes, and birth control.
Yeast Infection Pregnancy Symptoms
Besides extreme discomfort, soreness, and the urge to scratch, the most common symptom of a yeast infection is a thick, white vaginal discharge that has a cottage cheese-like consistency. It is important to remember that pregnancy will bring excess discharge, and while it can be white in color, it should be very thin. You may also notice redness and inflammation of the vulva as well as a burning sensation when you pee.
Diagnosis Of A Yeast Infection
If you notice any of the aforementioned symptoms, contact your healthcare provider immediately. They will swab your vagina to test the discharge for an overgrowth of yeast. They might also examine your genital area for inflammation or other types of infection.
While you could likely deduce the cause of the problem without an appointment, it is important to determine what type of yeast infection you have in order to obtain an effective treatment. The Mayo Clinic notes that “the fungus candida albicans is responsible for most vaginal yeast infections.” However, candida glabrata and candida tropicalis can also be the cause.
Safe Ways To Treat Yeast Infections When Pregnant
Once your diagnosis is confirmed, you can use an antifungal over-the-counter medication to treat the infection. Antifungal creams are the best option for treating a yeast infection while pregnant. Vaginal creams like Miconazole, more commonly known as Monistat, as well as Clotrimazole and Terconazole, are all considered safe during pregnancy. Nevertheless, it is always best to confirm medications with your physician prior to starting treatment. This is especially the case if you want to use a suppository.
When choosing a dosage, always go with the seven-day option. While slightly inconvenient, it will ensure that you completely clear out the infection. Most importantly, complete the entire course treatment, even if symptoms subside prior to the seven-day mark.
Treating Symptoms Of A Yeast Infection When Pregnant
While the antifungal creams will cure the infection and help with some of the discomforts, you may find that you need some added relief. One of the easiest remedies is to purchase the Frida Mom Instant Ice Maxi Pads. Not only will it numb the area, but any extras will come in handy after the baby is born!
You can also add cranberry juice and greek yogurt to your diet. Cranberry has been said to expedite the healing process of a yeast infection and Greek yogurt contains probiotics that can help you to find a better balance of bacteria in your vagina.
Oral Medications Are Discouraged
For those who have had thrush in the past, you were likely prescribed a quick and simple dose of Diflucan (fluconazole). Regrettably, this is not a recommended treatment option for expectant moms. While instances are rare, there is the threat of miscarriage. Currently, this drug is labeled as a Category C for pregnancy risk. This is defined by the Food and Drug Administration as follows:
“Animal reproduction studies have shown an adverse effect on the fetus and there are no adequate and well-controlled studies in humans, but potential benefits may warrant use of the drug in pregnant women despite potential risks.”
When looking more specifically at oral fluconazole, they go on to note that “chronic, high doses (400-800 mg/day) of the antifungal drug Diflucan (fluconazole) may be associated with a rare and distinct set of birth defects in infants whose mothers were treated with the drug during the first trimester of pregnancy. This risk does not appear to be associated with a single, low dose of fluconazole 150 mg to treat vaginal yeast infection (candidiasis).”
Despite the lessened risk with a low dose, unless you have a severe yeast infection that can not be remedied by creams, it is best to avoid this type of oral medication. Unlike many other types of infections, a yeast infection poses no threat to your unborn baby. It is just a cause of discomfort to you.
Other Infections With Similar Symptoms
Unfortunately, if you are finding no relief following treatment, you may be suffering from something other than a yeast infection. There are a number of other urinary and vaginal infections that may occur during pregnancy.
Bacterial Vaginosis is an overgrowth of bacteria in the vagina and it can mirror many of the symptoms found with thrush. The biggest difference is that your discharge will have a fishy odor to it. Regrettably, unlike a yeast infection, the Centers For Disease Control And Prevention (CDC) notes that “if you are pregnant and have BV, your baby is more likely to be born early (premature) or at a low birth weight.” This means a timely treatment is imperative.
Sexually Transmitted Diseases
Sexually transmitted infections, like chlamydia and gonorrhea, can also have similar symptoms and both of these illnesses can have a detrimental impact on the health of your baby. Again, the sooner you receive treatment, the less of a threat to your baby’s health.
Urinary Tract Infection
Urinary tract infections are another illness that when paired with pregnancy can mimic a yeast infection. A UTI will not bring vaginal discharge, but pregnancy will, so it can sometimes be hard to decipher between a UTI and thrush. This infection can also have an impact on the baby so proper care is imperative.
Since all of these conditions have eerily similar symptoms and will require antibiotics to effectively treat them, avoiding self-diagnosis and getting tested by your physician as soon as possible is your best bet.
Does an Untreated Yeast Infection During Pregnancy Affect The Baby?
As mentioned, the likelihood of a yeast infection impacting your baby while in the womb is slim to none. However, if the infection is left untreated, you can pass it on to your baby during the delivery. When traveling through the birth canal, the yeast can be transferred to their mouth and throat. This can develop into oral thrush.
While most babies can be treated without complication, premature infants or those with compromised immune systems can suffer dangerous complications. However, even the healthiest of babies can struggle with breastfeeding when diagnosed with oral thrush due to the extreme discomfort. Thus, it is best to always address these types of symptoms the moment that they arise. As we all know, babies are on their own timetable so time is of the essence.
How To Prevent Thrush
Pregnancy is a trigger for yeast infections. While you cannot control the natural changes in pH that will occur during this time, you can lessen your risk of contracting this type of infection by changing simple habits.
Stay Dry & Avoid Irritants
First, wear loose cotton underwear. This means investing in larger sizes as your pregnancy progresses. Second, use mild soaps and avoid douching, feminine washes, and sprays. Third, keep your genital area dry at all times. Therefore, change clothes immediately after swimming or working out. Moreover, wear pads when your levels of normal pregnancy discharge begin to increase.
Finally, talk to your doctor about getting on a regimen of probiotics. This is especially important if you have to take antibiotics at any point during your pregnancy. Certain medications are designed to kill bacteria and they don’t discriminate between the bad bacteria causing the infection and the good bacteria that keep your gut and vagina healthy.
Taking approved supplements like probiotics is an easy way to replenish the good kinds of bacteria that your body needs to function properly. Just make sure to confirm which types of probiotics to use and the appropriate dosage with your doctor.
Women’s health, especially during pregnancy, starts with simplicity. The goal should be to let your body do the work and to maintain your vaginal region by practicing good hygiene habits. Lastly, remember that this is a time of continuous change, but if something seems off, do not hesitate to talk to your doctor. When it comes to the well-being of you and your baby it is always better to err on the side of caution.
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