Pregnant woman drinking a glass of water

Why UTIs Are Common During Pregnancy—and What to Do About Them

By Marisa Iallonardo
Reviewed by Alyssa Quimby, M.D.
August 22, 2023

If you’ve ever had a urinary tract infection (UTI), you may know the symptoms can be very uncomfortable and even painful—but they’re sometimes difficult to spot. However, it’s important to get a UTI treated, to prevent more serious problems.

Here’s why UTIs are common during pregnancy, signs to look for, effective treatments, and how to prevent future infections.

Why a UTI Can Happen During Pregnancy

A UTI is when bacteria, most commonly E. coli, enters the urinary tract and causes an infection. It’s called acute cystitis when the infection is only in the bladder, says Suzanne Pugh, M.D., a board-certified ob-gyn at Axia Women’s Health Main Line OB/GYN in Pennsylvania. Sometimes, the infection can move into the kidneys and is much more critical. (This is called pyelonephritis.)

You’re more likely to get a UTI now that you’re pregnant due to changes in the urinary tract. As your uterus expands to accommodate your growing baby, it compresses the bladder, slowing down the movement of urine, says Cheruba Prabakar, M.D., a board-certified ob-gyn in Oakland, California. Plus, an increase of the hormone progesterone during pregnancy can cause smooth muscles to relax. This makes it easier for bacteria to travel into the bladder. Not to mention the fact that your immune system is affected by pregnancy, making it harder to fight off infections.

Symptoms of a UTI During Pregnancy

The hallmark UTI symptom is pain when you urinate. You might also need to or have the urge to pee more often—Pugh notes that this can also be typical during pregnancy, so it may sometimes be hard to spot. Some people may notice a tinge of blood in their urine. If you think you have a UTI, call your ob-gyn or midwife, who can check for infection and prescribe you an antibiotic to clear it up.

Watch for symptoms such as fever, lower back pain, chills, nausea, and vomiting, which could mean the infection has traveled to the kidneys. A kidney infection is more serious, is associated with preterm birth, and would put you at an increased risk of medical problems like acute respiratory distress. Seek medical attention immediately.

A UTI can occur at any point in pregnancy, and might be more common as you get further along, as the uterus puts more pressure on the bladder.

It’s considered routine for all pregnant people to be screened with a urine culture in the first trimester. This test can detect bacteria in your urine even if you don't have symptoms. “It’s not uncommon during pregnancy to have bacteria in the urine with no symptoms at all,” explains Pugh. “We typically treat this with an antibiotic so that it does not develop into a urinary tract infection.”

Your doctor might perform this screening again in the third trimester, says Prabakar.

Ways to Prevent a UTI

Doing these things regularly may be helpful at lowering your UTI risk:

“If a patient has a history of frequent UTIs linked to sex prior to pregnancy, they should let their provider know,” says Pugh. “Sometimes, a preventative antibiotic can be given to avoid frequent UTIs in pregnancy.”

Still, some UTIs can’t be avoided. If you notice any symptoms, treatment is important and can prevent serious problems. Talk to your provider right away.

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