Medically reviewed by Dr Kristy June Dinampo
If you have never experienced a vaginal yeast infection then you are a very lucky woman.
A yeast infection in pregnancy isn’t anything serious but it is extremely common.
Up to 75% of women will experience a yeast infection at some point in their life, and it is especially common among pregnant women.
Now that you’re expecting and you’ve suddenly developed this rather unpleasant condition, you’ll probably be wondering what you did to deserve it.
Not only do you have pregnancy symptoms to cope with, but you’re itching like crazy down there too!
Don’t worry, you’re not alone.
Let’s explore what a yeast infection is, why it’s common in pregnancy, and how to prevent and treat this irritating and uncomfortable condition.
What is a Yeast Infection?
You will often hear a yeast infection simply called ‘thrush’, but it is also referred to as ‘yeast vaginitis’ or ‘vaginal candidiasis’.
This condition is caused by a microscopic organism called ‘Candida albicans’, which is actually a fungus.
You have Candida in your vagina naturally, but a yeast infection occurs when this organism overgrows.
Thrush is not classified as a sexually transmitted disease, since even women who aren’t sexually active can get it.
A yeast infection can occur when you’re run down, when the weather is hot, due to wearing different underwear, or using different washing machine powder.
And as you already know, it can also happen when you’re pregnant.
We can’t reiterate enough that yeast infections are VERY common, so don’t worry if you do develop one.
There is a difference between a bout of candidiasis and cystitis or a urinary tract infection.
The last two are associated with urination, whereas thrush is more about the itching – oh, the annoying itching!
The main symptoms are:
- Itching – a lot of it. The itching can be outside the vagina, inside the vagina, around the vulva, basically anywhere in the entire genital area
- Possible burning feeling
- The skin on the outside of the vagina could appear dry, due to the itching
- Possible pain during intercourse or urination (more likely to feel sore)
- A white discharge, which doesn’t have any odor, but looks a little like ‘cottage cheese’
Why is Candidiasis Common in Pregnancy?
We mentioned that the Candida albicans organism is present within the vagina during the natural course of things, and that the candidiasis happens when an overgrowth occurs.
This can be for a range of reasons, but when the natural balance of yeast and bacteria which are present within the vagina is out of whack you’re sure to find yourself with a yeast infection.
During pregnancy hormone levels are on the rise (estrogen) and this can cause that balance to be thrown off course, hence the prevalence of yeast infections during pregnancy.
Is a Yeast Infection Dangerous to my Baby?
Not particularly no, but you will want to get it treated because you’re going to be extremely uncomfortable if you don’t.
As we just mentioned, yeast infections are very common during pregnancy, and it will not be something your midwife or doctor hasn’t dealt with countless times before.
Having developed a yeast infection doesn’t mean that you have a pregnancy complication or you have a major problem.
It just means that you need a course of treatment to clear it up.
How Can I Prevent a Yeast Infection?
Prevention is better than cure, but you may never completely prevent yeast infection in pregnancy, because hormones can sometimes play their part in causing that yeast/bacteria imbalance.
However, there are things you can do to minimize its occurrence.
The best ways to practice thrush prevention are:
- Wear cotton underwear, which is more breathable than synthetic materials
- If you can, sleep without underwear
- Avoid tight-fitting clothes on your bottom half
- Avoid using any scented body washes or bubble baths, as these can help to throw that balance off
- Avoid scented panty liners too for the same reason
- Try and limit your sugar intake – this will help with maintaining the right balance
- Wash your underwear and bottoms at 140 degrees F (60 C), and put them through an extra rinse to remove any extra detergent
There is also some suggestion that eating foods which are high in natural probiotics, such as yogurt, or taking a probiotic supplement could help reduce the number of yeast infections you have.
Having said that there is little concrete evidence that this will help.
How Can I Treat a Yeast Infection During Pregnancy?
If despite your best efforts you find yourself with a yeast infection, don’t worry. It’s sure to clear up quite rapidly once treatment has been started.
You will read a million old wives’ tales about how to treat it, but the bottom line is that you need to see your doctor or pharmacist.
You’ll then be given anti-fungal treatment (sounds terrible, but don’t worry) which will sort you out in no time.
This is often in the form of a cream or ointment you use on the area to soothe the itching, a tablet, and/or a suppository (sometimes called pessary) that you insert into your vagina.
Always check with your pharmacist or doctor before starting any treatment for yeast infection in pregnancy as some treatments are not safe to use while you are pregnant.
For example, some anti-fungals may increase the risk of miscarriage so make sure you tell whoever is treating you that you’re pregnant.
Can I Use a Vaginal Suppository While Pregnant?
If you are prescribed a suppository to take for the infection, this can either be a one-time suppository, which you simply insert once and that should sort the problem out in around three days or so, or it may be a suppository you insert once per day for a few days.
Your doctor or pharmacist will tell you which is best for you.
These suppositories may come with an applicator, and there is some debate over whether it is safe to use the applicator in pregnancy, or whether you should simply use a finger to insert the tablet.
Again, check with your doctor for their advice on the matter.
Once you have taken the medication, you should notice a marked improvement in your symptoms within a maximum of four days, clearing up the infection completely.
If you notice your symptoms haven’t gone away head back to your doctor as you may need another course of treatment.
While you’re waiting for the medication to take hold practice the prevention methods we just talked about as this will all help to heal the area and relieve your itching symptoms.