Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) Prevention

The body gets rid of liquid waste products through the urinary system. You need to protect this system from infection so the kidneys and bladder can work properly. A review of the urinary system will help you and your child understand how it works.

The blood in the body passes through the kidneys. The kidneys filter the liquid waste products out of the blood. This liquid waste (urine) passes through tubes, called ureters, and into the bladder. The urine leaves the bladder through another tube, called the urethra, and passes out of the body through the opening (meatus).

A graphic showing the location of the kidnerys, ureters, bladder, urethra and rectum.

Urinary tract infections are common in children, especially in girls. Bacteria can travel from the opening up into the bladder.  After reaching the bladder, the bacteria grow and cause an infection. 

Symptoms of a UTI may include:

  • Pain or burning when peeing
  • Feeling the need to use the bathroom often
  • Bad smelling urine
  • Fever

Antibiotics can kill the bacteria that cause UTIs. It is important to follow your doctor's instructions when giving the antibiotic to your child.  Have your child take all of the medicine, even if the symptoms go away before finishing the medicine.   

Constipation

Tell the doctor or nurse if your child has a problem with constipation.   Many times, constipation, UTIs and urine accidents are all related.

Breastfeeding

Continue breastfeeding. Breastfeeding up to seven months has been shown to protect against UTIs in infants.  After you stop breastfeeding, your baby may continue to be protected until he or she reaches 2 years of age.

Irritation of the Bottom (perineal area)

  • Try to keep all irritants from coming into contact with your child’s bottom.  Things that may irritate your child include:
    • Bubble baths
    • Oils
    • Shampoo
    • Bath soap
    • Anything that makes the area itch
    • Irritants also include pinworms and strep or yeast infections.
  • Have your child take a clear water bath or shower. Play at bath time in clear water, then wash, rinse and get out.
  • If a girl's bottom becomes irritated when swimming or using a hot tub, the chemicals in the water may be the cause.
  • Cotton underwear dries easily and lets air flow through the fabric.  Have your child wear cotton pajama bottoms.  Synthetic materials hold moisture which can let bacteria grow.  Avoid pants made with spandex material. There have been no studies done on whether cotton underwear prevents UTIs.
  • Other tips to help decrease irritation of the bottom:
    • Expose the bottom to air when possible.
    • Nighttime is a good time to go without clothes from the waist down.
    • A moisture barrier may be helpful, such as petroleum jelly, zinc oxide or lanolin (A&D, Vaseline, Desitin, Balmex).
    • Drink plenty of fluids.
    • Empty the bladder often.  

Diet and Foods

Urine is normally slightly acidic in nature. The acidic urine helps to keep bacteria from growing in the bladder. It is commonly taught that cranberry juice will prevent UTIs because it is very acidic. There is no concrete evidence that this is true.

  • Certain beverages and foods may irritate the bladder. You may think this irritation is actually a UTI because it makes you feel as though you need to go to the bathroom a lot.  There is no evidence that these foods cause UTIs: 
    • Carbonated soft drinks (soda pop)
    • Tea and other beverages that contain caffeine
    • Chocolate
    • Citrus foods and drinks such as orange juice and grapefruit juice

Some foods, like yogurt that contains active cultures, and over-the-counter preparations have Lactobacillus, an organism which may play a role in the prevention of UTIs.  These products, sometimes called probiotics, are available orally as food or pills. Vaginal suppositories have been tested for adult use. Testing has not been done to recommend the best product or method to use.

Urination Habits

UTIs are caused by bacteria found in the stool (feces). It is often suggested that girls wipe front to back; however, this has not been proven to decrease the chance of UTI.

Sometimes children are in a hurry when they go to the bathroom to empty their bladders because they want to get back to playing. They may not take the time to completely empty their bladder. If this occurs, any urine left in the bladder is a good place for bacteria to grow and possibly cause another infection.

Children should be taught to take their time and relax when emptying their bladders. It is not normal to need to strain in order to urinate.

Urine should be light yellow in color, not dark yellow or brownish. It is commonly thought that drinking lots of fluids will encourage the cleansing of the bladder. This has not been studied in children.

Some people tend to hold urine in their bladders for long periods of time because they do not want to take time to go to the bathroom. This can be a harmful practice since it can promote the growth of bacteria and even lead to problems in urinating. Children prone to UTIs should urinate every 3-4 hours while awake. 

Antibiotic Use

Helpful bacteria around the urethral opening (meatus) prevent other bacteria from being able to cause a UTI. These helpful bacteria can be destroyed if antibiotics are taken when they are not necessary, such as for colds or other viral infections. Discuss this with your doctor whenever antibiotics are suggested for treatment of infection. 

  • If urine becomes red, cloudy, foul-smelling or changes to a dark cola color
  • If it is difficult or painful to urinate
  • If there is a strong urge to urinate, yet the bladder is not full
  • If there is pain in the lower back just below the ribs or your child has a fever over 101°F
  • If your child begins having urine accidents, or has to pee more often than before
  • If an irritated, raw bottom does not get better after treatment with air or creams 

Last Updated 06/2013