- Why does pregnancy make you more vulnerable to infection?
- What infections are you more vulnerable to during pregnancy?
- How can your infection affect the baby?
- How can you prevent prenatal infections?
Pregnancy is a labor of love. In addition to all of the work that it takes you to live day to day while carrying a child, pregnancy is a condition that can make you more vulnerable to infections. Successful prenatal care involves preventing and monitoring even mild infections so they don’t lead to something more serious, posing risks to you or your unborn baby.
The good news is that we can work together to keep you healthy to prevent infections, as well as treat them should they occur. Let’s look at what types of prenatal infections may affect you during the pregnancy and determine how you can prevent them.
Why Does Pregnancy Make You More Vulnerable to Infection?
During pregnancy you undergo big changes that affect every system in your body. Your immune system is taxed to adapt to the growing fetus, and this can put you more at risk for developing infections.
Pregnant women are more severely affected by infections with certain organisms, and minor infections are common, with over 63% of women reporting some sort of illness during pregnancy, such as influenza or a respiratory or urinary tract infection.
While this doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll pick up an infection during pregnancy, it does mean that you will need to take precautions to boost your immune system and limit exposure to certain viruses that could affect you or your baby.
What Infections Are You More Vulnerable to During Pregnancy?
The most common infections that pregnant women can experience include:
- Urinary tract infections
- Yeast infections
There are a variety of factors that lead pregnant people to be more susceptible to these illnesses. Let’s go over some of the reasons why and what symptoms you should pay attention to.
Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)
One of the most common infections we see women experience during their pregnancy are minor vaginal infections such as a UTI, or urinary tract infection. This is also called a bladder infection, which makes sense because the uterus sits right above the bladder.
As the uterus grows, the weight of the baby can block the urine from draining from the bladder. This can cause pain and burning when trying to urinate. You’ll feel like you need to go more often and may even have mucus or blood in the urine. Cramping and painful intercourse is common, too.
It’s important to have these symptoms treated right away, because the infection can spread and even affect the child you are carrying. With a three-to-seven-day course of antibiotics, both of you should be just fine.
Yeast infections are also very common during pregnancy. Yeast is caused by candida, which is the fungus that grows almost everywhere—including on your body. When your immune system is compromised, the yeast can grow and cause infection. Hormonal changes can also make you more susceptible to a yeast infection.
You can experience yeast vaginally, on the skin, or even in your mouth. All of these illnesses can be very uncomfortable, with itching and vaginal discharge. Like a UTI, these infections can be taken care of with medication in a few days.
Pneumonia and Influenza
Pregnant women are also more at risk for a lung infection known as pneumonia. During pregnancy, your lungs naturally retain more fluid and this puts pressure on this region of the body. This can stimulate bacteria and increase your chances of developing a lung infection.
Influenza, or the viruses known as the flu, can be much more serious than normal when you’re carrying a baby. See your doctor if any symptoms arise.
How Can Your Infection Affect the Baby?
The effect your infection has on the baby depends on the type of illness and how quickly you can have it treated. Some illnesses barely affect your child while others can lead to minor or severe complications for both of you.
The infections that have some of the most concerning effects are:
- Contagious illness such as HIV or hepatitis
- Sexually transmitted diseases
- Toxoplasmosis, which can be transmitted through undercooked meat or infected cat feces
- Zika, which is carried by mosquitoes and can cause birth defects
All of these illnesses can cause serious complications in the developing baby. For example, we know that babies born to women suffering from hepatitis B have a higher than 90% chance of developing the disease if they aren’t treated at birth.
How Can You Prevent Prenatal Infections?
You absolutely can prevent prenatal infections. Here are some of the things you can do to protect both your health and that of your unborn baby.
Practice Good Hand Hygiene
The COVID-19 pandemic reminded us of how even simple hand hygiene is important to preventing the spread of illness. For pregnant women, washing your hands with soap and water frequently is one way to help prevent infection. Even normal daily tasks such as changing a diaper, handling pets, or gardening, can expose you to bacteria that can cause an infection.
When you’re pregnant and your immune system is working hard, adding some extra hand washing into the mix can help prevent illness. Also, if you have cats, avoid touching or changing dirty cat litter without wearing gloves and then, of course, wash your hands.
Get Your Vaccinations
Talk with your doctor about some of the vaccinations to have when you get pregnant. Having the correct vaccinations when your body is at its most vulnerable will help you ward off infections. Your doctor will likely recommend the seasonal flu shot or the inoculation against the whooping cough virus. If you didn’t have the measles, mumps, rubella, and chickenpox shots as a child, your doctor may also recommend the MMR vaccine.
Keep Your Distance When Necessary
Generally, during your pregnancy, it’s a good idea to avoid people who are ill. Try not to share drinks or food and wear a mask if you feel it’s appropriate.
Prioritize Prenatal Care
The first step is to see your doctor regularly during your pregnancy to track you and the baby’s progress. Most women who experience an infection during pregnancy have no complications whatsoever, but monitoring and treating any illness that arises is important to both you and your baby.
Schedule An Appointment to Prevent Prenatal Infections
Knowing about the risks of infection during pregnancy and what to avoid can keep you and your baby just a little safer.
The staff at Advanced OB/GYN is devoted to you at all the stages and phases of your health and that of your baby. Talk with us today about any of your prenatal health-related concerns.