When it hurts to pee

Maybe I don't have to tell you that urinary tract infections (UTIs) are pretty common. Over half of people with female anatomy will have one at some point in their lives. In Canada, about 500,000 visits to doctors each year are to address this very concern. (1)

Seeing as November is Bladder Health Month, I thought what better time to share some of my top suggestions for avoiding and addressing UTIs? I've had many over the past couple decades (read: since becoming sexually active), and have tried many things to cure them and prevent their re-occurrence -- from antibiotics, to dietary restrictions, to everything the health food store has on offer. With my wealth of knowledge on the subject, it seems silly not to share. However please note that these suggestions for your consideration are not to replace the customized care offered by your health care practitioner (be they a midwife, naturopathic or medical doctor).

Urinary illustration.jpg

In pregnancy, you are more susceptible to develop a UTI. The reason being that the tubes that run between your kidneys and bladder (the ureters) dilate, and don't empty as fast. Bacteria have an easier time making their way up your urethra and into the rest of the urinary tract because of this reduced flow, and the bacteria cause the infection. There's also the pressure of the growing uterus on these tubes and the bladder. (2) The thing about UTIs in pregnancy that make them especially important to treat without delay is that, untreated, they can lead to preterm birth (before 37 weeks gestation) and possibly other complications.

Additional risks for contracting a UTI include:

  • sexual activity
  • having had a UTI before (about 25-50%, or 20% if you've had one in the past 6 months) (2)
  • infrequent bathing
  • genetics (thanks Mum!)

Signs and symptoms of a UTI:

  • increased frequency, or even urgency to urinate
  • pain with urination (can feel stabbing, burning, spasmodic, or aching)
  • cloudy or smelly pee
  • your midwife or doctor tested your urine and told you that you have bacteriuria (meaning, presence of bacteria in the urine, which is usually sterile. Even if it doesn't feel bad, if you're pregnant, it needs treating!)

Symptoms usually last about 6 days, with about 2 days of limited activity.

Habits for prevention

  • Use really simple and fragrance-free soap. I like Green Beaver castile soap.
  • Don't hold your pee. When you gotta go, go!
  • Wipe from front to back every time you use the toilet. (This is particularly on my mind these days as it has been really challenging to teach a short-armed toddler this!)
  • The research says to pee after sex, but I'm going to take it a step further and suggest rinsing with warm water (a great long-term use for your peribottle) and peeing both before and after sex. 
  • It's also important to consider ditching your thong undies. They provide a convenient little path for bacteria from your rear-end (namely E. coli, which accounts for 85-90% of all UTIs) (2) to make its way forward.

Supplements to explore

  • Cranberry juice is a well known option, but make sure it's unsweetened. (I like Black River's organic juice because it's made with Quebec berries.) I do support fruit-sweetening it though, if that'll get you to drink it. Try 1/2 cup each cranberry and organic apple juices for every one cup of filtered water. If you're a daily smoothie person, you could even throw 1/2 to 1 cup of cranberries into the mix.
  • You can get urinary tonic tea with herbs like uva ursi, yarrow, corn silk, marshmallow root, dandelion, goldenrod and more, but you might end up needing to make your own blend as yarrow is not considered safe in pregnancy (and I would recommend consulting with a holistic HCP before using uva ursi, too).
  • D-Mannose tablets have been a real game changer for me as an alternative to antibiotics. (It doesn't work for everyone though, so use with guidance.)
  • For "twingy" (spasmodic) pain, I've gotten quite a bit of relief from wild yam tincture.
  • Probiotics are also great. Don't shy away from doses of 50 billion CFU. I like Genuine Health's Advanced Gut Health shelf-stable capsules.
  • Immune boosters such as echinacea and astragalus might also be part of your protocol.
  • And I can't forget to mention good ol' vitamin C, which halts bacterial growth.

NB: On Facebook advice-giving groups and with health food store employees alike, I've seen people get UTIs and yeast infections mixed up. While some approaches can help to prevent or treat either, vaginal insertion of garlic likely won't do anything useful for your UTI (that's an approach for yeast infections), just as drinking cranberry juice doesn't have any particular correlation to helping treat yeast.

Nutritional considerations

  • Drink water: 2 to 3 litres in a day should do the trick (guzzling gallons would deplete your electrolytes). Especially if it's cold out, warm water is gentler on your kidneys.
  • Avoid sugar (including cane sugar, brown sugar, glucose, corn syrup). Really, any junk in your diet is an opportunity for inflammation in your body, which is often the source of pain.

Finally, with any UTI, you'll want to follow up with your HCP for a test of cure (another urine test to determine that the bacteria aren't camped out in your urinary tract anymore).

If you are looking for more nutritional support for UTIs, of course, don't hesitate to get in touch. You've got a lot of things that need your attention -- peeing shouldn't be a major one.



(1) The Kidney Foundation of Canada: Urinary tract infections.
(2) Aviva Romm: Botanical Medicine for Women's Health (2010)