If you’ve ever experienced a urinary tract infection (UTI) during pregnancy, you know what a literal pain they can be. When you’re growing an entire human inside of you, it makes sense that you would want to do everything you can to avoid infection — even giving up sex. But can sex during pregnancy cause a UTI? Do you actually have to give up yet another thing thing you enjoy in the spirit of staying healthy while pregnant?
You definitely don’t have to stop having sex during pregnancy to avoid getting a UTI, but there are a few things experts warn could impact the likelihood of infection.
Urinary Tract Infections & Pregnancy
When you’re pregnant, your body is constantly changing. There is… a lot going on down there, and that can unfortunately include UTIs and accompanying complications.
“Pregnant people have the same likelihood of having bacteria in their urine compared with non-pregnant cis-females,” board-certified obstetrician Dr. Kelly Culwell explains. “However, pregnant people are more likely to develop symptomatic bladder and kidney infections due to the changes in physiology of the urinary tract that occur during pregnancy.”
This happens for a combination of reasons, according to board-certified obstetrician Dr. Rachel Adams. “The enlarging uterus sits on the bladder and can cause difficulty with the bladder emptying, which can increase the risk of infection,” Adams says. “The dominant hormone progesterone can cause the urethra — the structure that carries urine from the bladder and allows us to urinate — to dilate and allow bacteria to travel from the anus to the bladder more easily.”
Additionally, immune system changes during pregnancy can mean that the body is less able to fight off an infection, which Adams explains can increase the likelihood that you may experience a UTI.
The main risk of UTIs during pregnancy is pyelonephritis, more commonly known as a kidney infection, which can cause further complications. “Kidney infections in pregnant people increase the risk of preterm birth, and untreated UTIs may increase the risk of low birth weight infants,” Culwell says. “Kidney infections are also often more severe in pregnant women and can lead to sepsis, anemia, or respiratory distress.”
Can Sex Cause A UTI During Pregnancy?
As it turns out, even when you’re not pregnant, sex can cause a UTI. “Sex can increase the likelihood of a UTI in pregnant and non-pregnant women,” Adams tells Romper. “During sex, bacteria that live on the skin can be pushed into the bladder through the friction created with penetration.”
Experts agree though that as long as you stay on top of post-sex hygiene, you don’t have to worry. From exciting to exhausting, sex during pregnancy can be many things, but it doesn’t have to cause a UTI.
How To Avoid UTIs During Pregnancy
Fortunately, you don’t have to give up getting down altogether to avoid infection. In fact, as Romper previously reported, it’s totally OK to have sex when you have a UTI, as long as it doesn’t cause any pain.
“Urination after intercourse can help reduce the risk of UTI,” Culwell tells Romper. “For people who have recurrent UTIs associated with intercourse, prophylactic antibiotics taken after intercourse — usually just a single dose — can help prevent UTIs. Increasing fluid intake and always wiping front to back are also good preventative measures for everyone.”
It’s important to let your healthcare provider know if you experience UTI symptoms during pregnancy to help avoid complications. “If UTIs are recurrent — three or more episodes during pregnancy — women should speak with their doctors because they may need to be on daily antibiotics to prevent UTIs from returning,” says Adams.
Dr. Kelly Culwell, board-certified OB-GYN and Forbes Health Advisory Board Member
Dr. Rachel Adams, board-certified OB-GYN and Forbes Health Advisory Board Member