Changes that occur during pregnancy increase your risk for a vaginal yeast infection, especially during your second and third trimesters. Factors that increase your risk include a high estrogen level, a reduced immune system response and increased carbohydrate-rich vaginal discharge.
Because an untreated vaginal yeast infection in late pregnancy might increase your risk for premature labor and delivery or your baby being born with a low birth weight, it's important to recognize the signs and symptoms so you can receive prompt treatment.
Itchiness of your external genitals, or vulva, is the most common symptom experienced by women with a yeast infection. The itchiness is frequently intense, compelling you to scratch.
Keep in mind, however, that other conditions can cause vulvar itchiness. Something as simple as irritation caused by bath soap, laundry detergent or panty liners might be to blame. This condition is called irritant contact dermatitis.
Whitish vaginal discharge is considered a classic symptom of a vaginal yeast infection, also known as vulvovaginal candidiasis. Although many informational materials describe the discharge as curd-like, it frequently does not have this appearance.
The discharge associated with a yeast infection is typically whitish but it might be thick or watery. As such, discharge due to a yeast infection often resembles the thin, whitish vaginal secretions (leukorrhea) that normally occur during pregnancy. The amount of this discharge tends to increase throughout your pregnancy.
Vulvovaginal Irritation and Pain
A yeast infection irritates the skin of your vulva, typically due to a combination of direct effects of the infection and scratching. Irritation of the sensitive skin of your vulva frequently leads to soreness and burning when you urinate. The ammonia and other chemicals in your urine trigger the burning sensation.
Sexual intercourse is also frequently painful. Again, however, vulvovaginal irritation with soreness and burning can occur in late pregnancy for reasons other than a yeast infection, including irritant contact dermatitis and other types of vaginal infections.
Along with vulvovaginal irritation, a yeast infection frequently causes swelling of your vulvar tissues. You might notice this while bathing or showering, or when using the bathroom.
This symptom can be masked, however, by normal pregnancy-related changes. Increased blood flow to the vaginal and vulvar areas with accompanying swelling commonly occurs in late pregnancy.
Compared to women who are not pregnant, pregnant women have a higher rate of vaginal yeast colonization — the presence of yeast in the vagina without any symptoms. Yeast colonization might be picked up on a routine urine test during an office visit to your obstetrician.
Although vaginal yeast colonization generally poses no health risks in nonpregnant women, it might increase the risk for premature labor and delivery and other possible complications in pregnant women. For this reason, your healthcare provider might recommend treatment for vaginal yeast colonization even if you are not experiencing any symptoms.
Next Steps and Precautions
Call your obstetrician or midwife if you experience any symptoms that might indicate a vaginal yeast infection. As discussed, normal pregnancy-related changes and other conditions frequently mimic the signs and symptoms of a vaginal yeast infection.
For this reason, it's important to see your healthcare provider to get an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment. Contact your healthcare provider right away if you experience a malodorous vaginal discharge, fever, chills, or abdominal or pelvic pain.
Even if you are fairly certain you have a yeast infection, do not attempt to treat it with an over-the-counter antifungal product before consulting with your obstetrical care provider.
Compared to yeast infections in nonpregnant women, vulvovaginal candidiasis in pregnant women is more difficult to cure and more likely to recur. For these reasons, treatment with a topical antifungal medicine is typically extended to 7 to 14 days.