Mild vaginal infections are actually quite common during pregnancy. Hormonal changes during this time can overwhelm the reproductive system. Often, vaginal infections are a result of these drastic changes. The good news is that most of these infections are easily treated if caught early, so learn to recognize the symptoms.
1. Bacterial Vaginosis
Bacterial Vaginosis or BV is one of the most common infections during pregnancy. 1 in 4 pregnant women is likely to contract bacterial vaginosis during their pregnancy.1 BV is the result of an overgrowth of bacteria in the vagina. If left untreated, it can cause complications in pregnancy. Women with BV are more likely to go into early labor and have a baby with a low birthweight.2
- Unusual vaginal discharge (white, gray, foamy, or watery)
- A strong fish-like odor, especially after sex
- Burning when urinating
- Itching around the outside of the vagina
- Your doctor will need to confirm through a culture, that it is BV rather than a yeast infection which has similar symptoms.
- BV can go away on its own sometimes. If symptoms persist, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics but only once you cross into the second trimester.
2. Yeast Infection
Studies show that 3 out of 4 women will have a yeast infection at least once in their lifetime. If you are pregnant, your likelihood of getting one increases.3 Yeast infections are actually fungal infections caused by an overgrowth of the fungus “Candida”. A yeast infection can’t really cause complications to your pregnancy but it can be harder to control during this time, so don’t hesitate to seek treatment.4
- Thick, white vaginal discharge that looks like cottage cheese that may smell yeasty or bread-like
- Burning, redness, and swelling of the vagina and the vulva
- Pain when urinating
- Pain during sex
- Pregnant women can use topical anti-fungal vaginal creams or suppositories.
- However, pregnant women should not take the over the counter oral pill called fluconazole as it can cause birth defects.5
Trichomoniasis is the most common, curable, sexually transmitted disease in the United States caused by an organism called trichomonas vaginalis. About 70% of people with trichomoniasis do not experience any symptoms but they can still pass on the infection. In pregnant women, the infection can cause early labor and result in a baby with a low birthweight.6
- Itching, burning, redness or soreness of the vagina
- Discomfort with urination
- Change in amount or consistency of vaginal discharge that can be clear, white, yellowish, or greenish with an unusual fishy smell
- Trichomoniasis is commonly treated with a course of oral antibiotics which are safe for pregnant women to take.
4. Group B Streptococcus
Group B Streptococcus or GBS is a bacterial infection. This bacterium is actually commonly found in most adults and does not cause any harm. However, it can cause problems in people with chronic illnesses like diabetes or heart disease.7 The real danger, however, is to newborns. GBS can cause sepsis (infection of the blood), pneumonia (infection in the lungs), and sometimes meningitis (infection of the fluid and lining around the brain and spinal cord).8
- Pregnant women with GBS usually do not show symptoms.
- If they have not been screened before, they might have the infection if their labor starts at less than 37 weeks (preterm labor), their water breaks 18 or more hours before delivery, or they have a fever during labor.
- All pregnant women are tested for GBS between 35 to 37 weeks with a simple swab test.9
- If they test positive or they show any of the above-mentioned symptoms, they are given antibiotics during labor.10
5. Urinary Tract Infection
UTIs are caused when bacteria from the outside enter the urinary tract and cause an infection. UTIs are especially common in pregnant women because the growing bump can put pressure on the bladder and traps bacteria. Often this allows the urine to become trapped in the urethra for longer.11 Urine during pregnancy is also more concentrated with hormones and sugars which encourages the growth of bacteria.12 If left untreated, the infection spreads to the kidneys and can cause permanent damage.
- Burning or painful urination
- Cloudy and/or blood-tinged urine
- Pelvic or lower back pain
- Frequent urination
- Feeling that you have to urinate frequently
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Antibiotics are often prescribed to make sure the infection is completely out of the system.
6. Chlamydia Trachomatis
Chlamydia is again one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases and is particularly seen among young women.13 During pregnancy, chlamydia can cause premature breaking of the water, preterm labor and birth, low birth weight, intrauterine growth retardation, and cause inflammation in the uterus, post-delivery. Babies born through a chlamydia-infected birth canal are at risk of developing infections in the lungs, eyes, nose, and throat.14
- Mostly asymptomatic
- In some cases, yellowish discharge of mucus and pus from the cervix or vagina
- Abdominal pain
- Vaginal bleeding
- UTI-like symptoms
- In most cases, oral antibiotic therapy is effective to cure the infections15
- Ideally, all pregnant women who have new or multiple sexual partners must be screened.
Syphilis is an STD which can cause long-term damage if left untreated. Syphilis, like all other STDs, is spread through direct sexual contact. It can also pass from mother to child during pregnancy. Syphilis can cause miscarriages, premature birth, or death of the baby soon after birth. The infants may suffer from other conditions like meningitis, problems of the nervous system, severe anemia or skin rashes.16
- A non-itchy skin rash
- Small skin growths on the vulva and around the anus
- Tiredness, headaches, joint pains, and fever
- Swollen lymph glands
- Weight loss
- Hair loss
- Regular testing is mandatory to detect syphilis early.
- Syphilis is treated with a course of antibiotics.
- If you’re pregnant and test positive, get treatment immediately
Here are some simple steps you can take to reduce your risk of developing these infections.
- Wear loose breathable cotton underwear.
- Don’t hold in your pee. Urinate as often as you need to.
- Make sure to pee after sex.
- When using the toilet, always wipe from front to back.
- If you are working out or swimming, shower and change out of wet or sweaty underwear immediately.
- Try to incorporate natural yogurt into your diet to maintain a healthy bacterial environment.
- Eat less refined sugar to prevent yeast from growing.
- Always use a condom when you have sex
- Get tested for STDs regularly before and during your pregnancy.
- If you’re with a long-term monogamous partner, make sure they have negative STD test results as well.
Vaginal infections can vary from mild to severe during pregnancy. If you experience anything out of the ordinary during your pregnancy, make sure to alert your doctor. Early intervention is key to making sure you have a smooth pregnancy with no complications.
|↑1, ↑2||Bacterial vaginosis. Office on Women’s Health.|
|↑3||Vaginal yeast infections. Office on Women’s Health|
|↑4, ↑5||Soong, Derrick, and Adrienne Einarson. “Vaginal yeast infections during pregnancy.” Canadian family physician 55, no. 3 (2009): 255-256.|
|↑6||Trichomoniasis – CDC Fact Sheet. Centers For Disease Control And Prevention|
|↑7||Group B Strep Infection in Adults. Centers For Disease Control And Prevention.|
|↑8||About Group B Strep. Centers For Disease Control And Prevention.|
|↑9, ↑10||GBS. Prevention in Newborns. Centers For Disease Control And Prevention.|
|↑11, ↑12||Loh, Keng Yin, and Nalliah Sivalingam. “Urinary tract infections in pregnancy.” Malaysian family physician: the official journal of the Academy of Family Physicians of Malaysia 2, no. 2 (2007): 54.|
|↑13||Chlamydia – CDC Fact Sheet. Centers For Disease Control And Prevention.|
|↑14, ↑15||Allaire, Alex, Lawrence Nathan, and Mark G. Martens. “Chlamydia trachomatis: management in pregnancy.” Infectious diseases in obstetrics and gynecology 3, no. 2 (1995): 82-88.|
|↑16||Congenital Syphilis – CDC Fact Sheet. Centers For Disease Control And Prevention.|