Yeast Infections During Pregnancy : Signs, Symptoms, Treatment and Prevention

Yeast infections, caused by an abundance of yeast cells in the vagina, aren’t usually serious and are quite common in women of childbearing age. In fact, they are the second most common vaginal infection (bacterial vaginosis is the most common). They range from being mildly annoying to horrifically uncomfortable. If you haven’t had one, count yourself lucky. Veteran “yeast survivors” will attest to the havoc wreaked by the symptoms.

What Is It Yeast Infections?

Besides being an itchy nuisance, the majority of vaginal yeast infections are caused by a fungus called Candida albicans. We all have yeast on our skin and in our vaginas, but the acidic environment of the vagina – especially the common bacteria Lactobacillus acidophilus – keeps things in balance. If acid levels decrease, an imbalance occurs and yeast can grow rampant and cause an infection. The imbalance can result from various sources, such as other health conditions or medications.

According to expert Dr. David Fay, a family physician and assistant professor of family medicine at the Medical College of Wisconsin, the most common culprits of altered acid levels are antibiotics, which kill off the competing bacteria. Dr. Fay also points out that hormones from contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can alter the environment as well. In addition, changes in the immune system – such as illness, thyroid disease, autoimmune diseases and immune system suppressing medications like steroids – can affect the balance of organisms.

Dr. Traci Kurtzer, an obstetrician/gynecologist in Evanston, Ill., adds high blood sugar (diabetics) to that list. “Yeast loves sugar,” she says.

Women Say…

Aside from these commonly agreed upon causes for yeast infections, women who experience them have their own ideas.

“I got a yeast infection every time I drank white wine,” says Marie Miller* of Salt Lake City, Utah. “I told my midwife and she was shocked – I was the second person inside of a week to tell her that.”

Most health professionals would agree that there is room to speculate about what induces yeast infections in certain women. Many believe that excessive moisture and vaginal irritation are also to blame.

“If I leave my bathing suit on too long after swimming, I get one,” says Rebecca Greene* of Erie, Pa. “I have to take my suit off immediately.”

And what about genetics? Are some women simply predisposed? Greene can’t help but wonder. Both she and her grandmother share a history of chronic urinary tract infections and yeast infections.

At least one study seems to support the notion. A 1997 study that appeared in the Journal of Infectious Diseases concluded that women who bear a specific blood factor (the Lewis factor) are three to four times more likely to have recurrent yeast infections.

Symptoms and Signs of Yeast Infection?

If you have never had a yeast infection before, you may wonder how you’ll know if you have one. Symptoms are likely to appear before your menstrual period and may include uncomfortable feelings of itchiness in the vagina, a burning sensation while urinating, skin irritation and a white, odorless, cottage-cheese-like discharge from the vagina. If your symptoms differ, your doctor will conduct a vaginal exam and take a culture of the discharge to see which, if any, organisms are causing your problems.

Treating Yeast Infections

Whether it’s your lifestyle or your genes that predispose you to this common condition, one thing is certain: Relief is what you need. Your doctor is always your best source of information on yeast infections and their treatment. Even if you think you have one, the only way to be sure is by having the discharge looked at under a microscope. That’s why it’s important to see your doctor, especially if you are unfamiliar with yeast infections.

Treatments range from over-the-counter creams or suppositories inserted into the vagina to prescription oral one-dose medications. Some women use homeopathic remedies as well. Only your doctor will know which treatment is right for you.

Pregnant women often experience yeast infections due to high levels of hormones. During pregnancy, it is even more important to seek counsel from your healthcare provider on how to treat your infection.

How to avoid yeast infection

When it comes to dealing with this condition, your best line of defense could be prevention. Here are a few things that the American Academy of Family Physicians suggests you do to help prevent another yeast infection:

  • Don’t wear tight-fitting or synthetic-fiber clothes.
  • Wear cotton underwear.
  • Don’t wear pantyhose or leotards every day.
  • Use your blow dryer on a low, cool setting to help dry your genital area after you bathe or shower and before getting dressed.
  • Wipe from front to back after using the toilet. This may help prevent the bacteria that normally live in your rectum from getting into your vagina.
  • Change out of wet swimsuits or other damp clothes as soon as you can.
  • Don’t douche or use feminine hygiene sprays, deodorant sanitary pads or tampons or bubble bath, and avoid using colored or perfumed toilet paper. These items seem to affect the balance of acidity of the vagina and can lead to symptoms of a yeast infection.

Miller takes things a bit further. “I’ve had enough yeast infections to know what my ‘triggers’ are,” she says. “I stay away from those things, regardless of what science says. I’m prone to them. I know what causes them in me. I’m much happier stopping the itching before it even starts.”

* Names have been changed to protect privacy.

Content provided on this site is for educational purposes only and should not be construed to be medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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