A couple of weeks after 29-year-old Roberta Saal of Milford, Connecticut gave birth to her third child, she was readmitted to the hospital with a urinary tract infection. "It started almost like a yeast infection with itching and pain during urination," Roberta says. "But then everything just progressed really quickly."
After her delivery, Roberta had been prescribed medication for continual vaginal bleeding. While at the doctor's office for follow-up, she described some new symptoms: a high fever and intense back pain that hampered her walking. He immediately sent her to the hospital, where she remained for more than a week on intravenous antibiotics to heal the urinary tract infection (UTI) that had spread to her kidneys.
Most women would opt for a pregnancy with the fewest daily challenges and the least amount of discomfort possible. Unfortunately, bacteria that cause infection in the urinary tract or vaginal area can sometimes pose added stress on the expectant mother. While yeast infections and UTIs are both commonly related to pregnancy, a yeast infection remains harmless to the fetus, while a UTI can lead to complications if left untreated.
Many women have already experienced the irritation of vaginal candidiasis, or yeast infections, prior to pregnancy. They know how to recognize the common indicators such as a white or yellowish discharge, redness, itching or irritation, and burning during urination or intercourse. They are also familiar with the array of over-the-counter anti-fungal creams (Miconazole, Tioconazole, Butoconazole and Clotrimazole) or vaginal suppositories that treat it. While these creams can be used during pregnancy, the oral treatment, Diflucan®—a single-dose medication—has not yet been tested for safety during pregnancy and should be avoided.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that 80 percent of all women will experience a vaginal yeast infection at least once in life. The bad news for expectant women is that they're even more susceptible to yeast infections because of increased levels of estrogen. "Some women will have their first yeast infection during pregnancy," says Dr. Leigh Beasley, medical director of Pickens County Health Department, in Pickens, South Carolina, adding that the infections most often appear during the second trimester.
Doctors don't routinely check for yeast infections during pregnancy, Dr. Beasley explains. If a yeast infection is left untreated, the worst possible scenario for a pregnant woman would be the transference of the infection into the baby's mouth during delivery, also known as "thrush." If thrush occurs, the yeast infection could then attach itself to the mother's breast during breastfeeding, causing the mother pain, she says. If this happens, the baby and the mother can be treated with the topical medication Nystatin®.