Because of the hormone surge, people are more susceptible to yeast infections during pregnancy. Here are ways to manage yeast infections, safely.
As your body changes during pregnancy due to your growing baby and hormonal fluctuations, you may notice an adjustment in your vaginal discharge. While clear or white odor-free discharge is considered normal, if you begin to feel itching or swelling, accompanied by thicker, textured discharge, you may have what is commonly known as a yeast infection.
We had experts weigh in on safely managing yeast infections during pregnancy, so you can get some relief and start feeling better ASAP.
What Is a Yeast Infection?
First of all, yeast infections are a frustratingly common vaginal ailment. In fact, if you get them, you are not alone: some studies estimate 3 out of 4 vagina-havers will experience yeast infections in their lifetime.1 Unfortunately, yeast infections are more common in pregnant people, because higher estrogen levels and glycogen content in vaginal discharge create an environment for yeast to thrive.2
Jill Krapf, MD, board-certified OB-GYN, vulvar and vaginal health specialist, and medical advisor to Evvy, explains that yeast is a natural occurrence. “Yeast, known medically as Candida, naturally lives on our skin, in the vagina, and in the gut in small amounts. However, when there is an overgrowth of yeast, there can be symptoms. We commonly call this a yeast infection,” she explains.
What Causes a Yeast Infection During Pregnancy?
A yeast infection is primarily caused by an excess of yeast, which lives naturally on the skin, in digestive tracts, and, of course, in the vagina. Normally, the pH of a vagina keeps yeast at a low level, but of course, pregnancy changes everything.3
“Elevated estrogen levels, which are responsible for glycogen levels in the vagina, can facilitate yeast overgrowth. When you are pregnant, the body has increased estrogen levels, predisposing women to this cause,” he confirms.
What Are the Symptoms of a Yeast Infection During Pregnancy?
Pregnancy comes with its share of discomforts, but an itching, swollen vagina during a yeast infection is possibly one of the most uncomfortable. “Symptoms of a yeast infection include itch, redness, swelling, and soreness with a white, thick, curd-like vaginal discharge. The irritation can lead to pain with vaginal insertion and stinging with urination,” says Dr. Krapf.
So, if you see any abnormally-textured discharge, and are feeling discomfort, it might be time to reach out to an OB-GYN or health care provider. It’s important to treat your yeast infection. If you don’t, Jackowiak explains, it could ultimately lead to urinary disorders and bladder infections.
How Are Yeast Infections Treated During Pregnancy?
Luckily, there are options for treating yeast infections during pregnancy. Commonly prescribed antifungals, like diflucan, can help get yeast overgrowths back under control.4 Antifungals are taken either as a pill or via insertion in the vagina with an applicator, as well as in topical creams and ointments for the skin of the vulva, points out Dr. Krapf.
“It is important to have a gynecologic exam and vaginal culture collected because many non-infection vulvovaginal conditions can feel like a yeast infection. In addition, some yeast infections are caused by Candida species that do not respond to commonly-used or over-the-counter treatments,” she continues.
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), if you take antifungal medications for your yeast infection and the symptoms do not abate, it is very important to go to your OB-GYN, to make sure it isn’t a different infection requiring antibiotics.5
How Do Yeast Infections Impact Pregnancy?
Pregnancy changes hormone levels throughout your body, especially estrogen. These changes can also affect the pH of your vagina. “Yeast infections are more common in pregnancy because hormone changes can disrupt the vaginal pH, promoting yeast overgrowth. Yeast infections do not generally affect pregnancy or the growing baby,” Dr. Krapf confirms.
It is vital, though, to treat your yeast infection, especially as you reach full term. “If you are nearing labor, it is important to ensure you mitigate any infections before giving birth, as vaginal yeast can be passed to the baby through the mouth during delivery resulting in an oral yeast infection for them,” explains Jackowiak.
It’s important to speak to an OB-GYN or health care provider about any recurring infections or lingering symptoms.
When to Contact a Health Care Provider About Yeast Infections During Pregnancy
Ideally, a pregnant person should contact an OB-GYN or health care provider immediately if they think they have a yeast infection.
“Your doctor will likely do an exam and collect a vaginal swab to determine species of yeast and rule out other infections, including sexually transmitted infections. If symptoms are not improving in a few days or seem to come back after being treated, you should contact your doctor or be seen for further testing,” says Dr. Krapf.
If you happened to have reached for the over-the-counter treatment before calling a health care provider, be sure to follow up with a medical professional, especially if your symptoms do not get better. Together, you and health care provider can determine the source of your discomfort and the best route of treatment for going forward.