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Vaginal Yeast Infections During Pregnancy

By Dr. Kate Dudek

Vaginal yeast infections, known medically as vulvovaginal candidiasis, are caused by excessive proliferation of yeast cells and are very common. Three out of four females will acquire one at some point in their lifetime and the risk increases with pregnancy; by their third trimester, 33% of pregnant women will have acquired a yeast infection.

So, what are the risk factors, and why are pregnant women more susceptible?

With such a prevalent condition, the risk factors are wide-ranging. Conditions such as hyperoestrogenemia (excess oestrogen activity), immune suppression and hyperglycaemia increase the risk of yeast infections; as does oral contraceptive use, antibiotic treatment and psycho-emotional stress. Lifestyle choices can also play a role, with tight clothing and perfumed soaps thought to exacerbate the condition.

Pregnant women are at greater risk because the rise in oestrogen levels during pregnancy causes increased production of cervical mucus. This, together with the increased glycogen content of vaginal secretions during pregnancy, creates an optimal environment for yeast colonisation and growth.

The main symptoms of yeast infections are increased vaginal discharge that will often have a consistency similar to cottage cheese; and itching or irritation in the area. The increased discharge will not usually smell.

It is particularly important for pregnant women to seek help if they suspect they have a yeast infection to avoid passing the infection onto their baby during delivery. It is thought that the contamination rate between mother and baby can be as high as 85%. If left untreated, the condition can also lead to pregnancy complications, including placental deficiencies and premature birth. The newborn baby will also be more vulnerable to acquiring additional infections.   

Fortunately, treatment of yeast infections is straightforward. The application of topical antifungals will usually rectify the condition within a week and due to the minimal risk of systemic absorption, this is considered to be a safe treatment option during pregnancy. However, it is advised that all pregnant women check with their doctor prior to commencing treatment, to ensure the medication they use is definitely safe and suitable.

Sources:

  • Soong, D, and A Einarson. “Vaginal Yeast Infections during Pregnancy.” The College of Family Physicians of Canada, vol. 55, no. 3, Mar. 2009, pp. 255–256.
  • “Vaginal Discharge in Pregnancy.” NHS, www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/vaginal-discharge-pregnant/. Page last reviewed: 28/02/2018.
  • Zisova, L G, et al. “Vulvovaginal Candidiasis in Pregnant Women and Its Importance for Candida Colonization of Newborns.” Folia Medica, vol. 58, no. 2, 2016, pp. 108–114., doi:10.1515/folmed-2016-0018.
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