Urinary tract infections

Many of the normal changes of pregnancy can increase your risk of urinary tract infections (UTIs) — infections of the bladder, kidney or urethra. It's very important to recognize and treat UTIs during pregnancy. These infections are a common cause of preterm labor. What's more, UTIs during pregnancy are more likely to be severe. For example, if you have a bladder infection that goes untreated, it may result in a kidney infection.

You're also more susceptible to UTIs after giving birth. For a time after delivery, you may be unable to empty your bladder completely. The urine that's left provides a breeding ground for bacteria.

Fortunately, bladder infections — even those that cause no signs and symptoms — can usually be found and treated before the kidneys become infected. Several screening methods are used to detect early evidence of infection. When treated early and properly, a UTI won't hurt your baby.

If you have a UTI, you may feel pain or burning when you urinate. You might feel a frequent, almost panicky urge to go, or you might feel like you need to go again right after you've urinated. Other signs and symptoms include blood in the urine, strong-smelling urine, mild fever and tenderness over the area of the bladder. Abdominal pain and backache also may signal an infection.

■ Prevention and self-care for urinary tract infections You can help prevent and clear up UTIs in several ways:

• Drink plenty of liquids, especially water.

• Urinate often — don't hold it or wait for long periods of time before you go. Holding in your urine can result in incomplete emptying of the bladder, which can lead to a UTI. Frequent urination is also helpful in clearing up a UTI.

• Lean forward while you urinate to help empty your bladder more fully.

• Always urinate after sexual intercourse.

• After you urinate, wipe from front to back.

■ Medical care for urinary tract infections

A urinary tract infection is diagnosed by testing a urine sample for bacteria. Treatment includes antibiotics to clear up the infection and acetaminophen to reduce fever. These medications are safe to take during pregnancy, though your health care provider needs to know of your pregnancy to choose the safest antibiotic. If you have a kidney infection, you may be admitted to the hospital for intravenous antibiotics. After your UTI is resolved, your health care provider might recommend that you continue taking antibiotic medication to lessen the chance of recurrence.

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