Yeast infections

Yeast infections (candidiasis) are caused by the organism Candida albicans, which is found in small amounts in the vagina in about 25 percent of women. Normally, various organisms in the vagina tend to keep one another in check. But increased estrogen levels during pregnancy cause changes in the vaginal environment, which may throw off the natural balance and allow some organisms to grow faster than others.

Candida may be present without causing signs and symptoms, or it may cause an infection. Signs and symptoms of infection include a vaginal discharge that is thick, white and curd-like, itching, burning and redness around the vagina and vulva, and painful urination.

Although a yeast infection is unpleasant for you, it won't hurt your baby, and it can safely be treated during pregnancy.

■ Prevention and self-care for yeast infections To help prevent yeast infections:

• Eat yogurt that contains live Lactobacillus acidophilus cultures — most yogurt does. It may help keep the right mix of bacteria flourishing in your body.

• Wear underwear or pantyhose with cotton crotches, as well as loose-fitting pants.

• Avoid wearing wet bathing suits or exercise clothes for long periods of time, and wash them after each use.

■ Medical care for yeast infections

Candidiasis is treated during pregnancy with a vaginal cream or a suppository containing an antifungal cream. These medications are available without a prescription, but don't use one without consulting your health care provider first. Your health care provider needs to confirm the diagnosis before you start treatment. Although oral preparations are available for treating yeast infections, most health care providers recommend topical treatment during pregnancy.

Once you've had a yeast infection while pregnant, it can be a recurring problem until after delivery, when it usually subsides. It may be necessary to treat yeast infections repeatedly throughout your pregnancy.

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