Urine infections in pregnancy: The causes, symptoms & treatments

Pregnancy is a time of great joy and excitement, but it can also lead to some increased health risks. One such risk is a , which is common for pregnant women. 

Contracting a urinary tract infection (UTI) in pregnancy might feel alarming, but the good news is there are steps that can be taken to treat it. Although, treating a UTI while pregnant is a little different for the general population, and early discovery is crucial.

What is a urinary tract infection?

A UTI is common type of infection that can affect the bladder, kidneys or urethra. This happens when bacteria disrupt the urinary tract. If you’re interested in an in-depth guide to UTIs and the different types, take a look at our helpful urinary tract infection (UTI) guide.

Causes of UTIs in pregnancy?

During pregnancy, hormonal changes can cause disruption to the urinary tract, which can lead to an increased risk of UTIs. The growing uterus puts pressure on the bladder, making it harder to empty completely and increasing the risk of infection. In addition to this, the immune system is suppressed during pregnancy, making it easier for bacteria to infect the urinary tract. Hence, it is common for women to contract a UTI while pregnant. 

What happens if a UTI is not treated?

The most common type of UTI occurs in the lower urinary tract, infecting the urethra and bladder. If not treated, the infection can spread further up to the ureters and the kidneys, in the upper urinary tract. If left untreated, UTIs can lead to serious complications, such as kidney damage (itself very impactful) or premature labour, so it’s important to seek advice from your GP sooner rather than later. The symptoms of upper UTI are considerably worse and may include back pain, nausea, and fever. 

Will a UTI affect my baby or my pregnancy?

With timely detection and effective treatment, a UTI will cause no harm to your baby. If not treated, however, a UTI can get worse and spread to the ureters and the kidneys, in the upper urinary tract. If this happens, adversely affect you or your baby, as upper UTIs have been linked to increased high blood pressure, premature birth, and low birth weight. So, be sure to contact your doctor if you suspect a UTI while pregnant. Your doctor will give you and your baby the help you need. 

Will a UTI affect my pregnancy?

Although a urinary tract infection does not directly endanger your baby's health, untreated UTIs can lead to kidney infections which can result in: 

  • Premature birth 
  • Low birthweight 
  • Water breaking too early 
  • Pre-eclampsia – a condition characterised by high blood pressure, and sometimes fluid retention and protein in the urine. 

But with timely detection, treating a UTI in pregnancy is possible. And the above can be avoided. If you feel, you have the symptoms of a UTI, the best thing you can do for you (and your baby) is to speak to your GP or nurse. It’s always best to be safe. 

How can I tell if I have symptoms of UTIs when pregnant?

Frequent visits to the bathroom are of course a normal part of being pregnant, so detecting a UTI can be tricky. Here are some symptoms that may indicate a urine infection in pregnancy: 

  • Contractions and/or abdominal pain 
  • Lower back pain 
  • Small amounts of urine passed when urinating
  • Pain when urinating
  • Traces of blood in the urine
  • Strong-smelling urine, as well as urine that is dark or cloudy
  • Feeling cold, not usually accompanied by fever
  • Sudden urinary

Are there always symptoms with a UTI?

No. But a UTI could be present, and require treatment, even if you don’t see or experience any symptoms. A visit to your healthcare professional, who will carry out a urine test, will confirm for sure.  


How is a UTI detected?

Current guidance is that a urine sample is collected and sent away to be tested. If the urine contains enough bacteria to cause an infection, scientists will identify what they are and what antibiotics will kill them. This information will be given to the GP and will determine what you are prescribed. 

Can other conditions be confused with a UTI?

The growing uterus puts pressure on the bladder, reducing the amount of urine it can hold. So, many pregnant women experience an increased frequency of passing urine – during the day and night. Apart from increased frequency, a pregnant woman may suffer from other urinary symptoms, and we’d advise you to speak to a health professional if this is the case. 

 Dehydration can also cause dark, cloudy and smelly urine. So, make sure to always hydrate properly during your pregnancy. 

Other frequently asked questions about urine infections in pregnancy

  • How do I know if the UTI is gone?

After you have finished your antibiotics, your doctor will often ask you to perform an additional urine test. This will confirm whether the bacteria are still present.  

  • Can I have sex if I have a UTI?

Because UTIs are not sexually transmitted, it is possible for you to have sex while you have a UTI, or while you are being treated for a UTI. 

What can I do to prevent a UTI in pregnancy?

There are several measures you can take to reduce the likelihood of an infection. Some of the following may help: 

  • Take showers not baths 
  • Go to the toilet directly after sex
  • Go when you feel you need to, don’t wait
  • Try to completely empty your bladder 
  • Always wipe from front to back 
  • Take extra care to keep your genital area clean and dry 
  • Avoid using scented/perfumed soaps or shower gels, which can cause irritation and kill off healthy bacteria
  • Try wearing cotton over synthetic underwear as it is much more breathable
  • Use a barrier cream to help soothe sensitive genital skin 
  • If struggling to manage diabetes: avoid eating lots of sugary food or drinks, as they can encourage bacteria to grow 

What to do when you have a UTI while pregnant

If you have symptoms of a UTI when pregnant, it’s important to see your GP right away. And if you’re worried about the risk of developing a UTI in pregnancy, you can take preventative measures to help ensure a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby.  

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TENA is here to help you navigate your pregnancy and post-partum journey, with practical advice for pregnancy and post-partum incontinence. If you feel that you need more support, don’t hesitate to contact a healthcare professional, like your nearest GP. We have a huge range of products designed to support you – check out the full range here or order a sample. Don’t hesitate to contact us if you can’t find the right product for you.