Medically reviewed by Andrea Sleeth, WHNP-BC
Anyone who’s had trouble getting pregnant knows—you spend a lot of time thinking about your vagina. Everything from the timing of ovulation to the consistency of your cervical mucus becomes something to consider and plan around. You may find yourself wondering if the incredibly common vaginal infections all of us get at one time or another have impacted your fertility. Bacterial vaginosis, yeast infections, and UTIs affect millions of women and many of us may experience recurring or chronic symptoms—could your vaginal health history play a role in your fertility? Let’s get into the science.
How does bacterial vaginosis impact fertility?
Bacterial vaginosis is the most common cause of vaginal symptoms and millions of women experience repeat infections. One review reports 30% of US women of childbearing age are affected by BV and 50% will experience a recurrence within 1 year after initial infection (BV is officially considered “recurring” if you experience 3 or more infections per year). If that sounds like you, you may be worried that these infections have impacted your fertility. After all, it’s well known that untreated sexually transmitted infections can lead to Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID), which in turn can affect your fertility. While BV isn’t considered an STI, some of the bacteria that cause BV can also lead to PID. There does appear to be a link between BV and infertility with high rates of BV found in infertile women and women who have trouble conceiving. However, it’s very important to note that it’s unclear if BV itself leads to infertility. There are many factors to consider and it’s possible that something else may increase the risk of both BV and infertility—the research is still out.
One thing you can do if you deal with recurrent BV and are concerned about its impact on your fertility is to treat infections promptly and support your vaginal health with Reproductive Probiotics and Boric Acid. Both can help prevent BV and interrupt a cycle of BV. Researchers speculate that ongoing inflammation from BV infections could be a potential cause of increased infertility risk, so it’s always safest to treat infections ASAP. Additionally, BV does increase your risk for other STIs which can definitely impact fertility—treat quickly and test often to stay healthy!
What about BV during pregnancy?
While BV’s impact on fertility is still up for debate, the research shows that BV during pregnancy can be dangerous. Women who get BV during pregnancy are at higher risk for complications, especially preterm delivery, and their babies are at higher risk for having low birth weights. If you’re pregnant and experiencing any unusual vaginal symptoms, be sure to communicate them to your doctor who will be able to best treat and monitor you and your baby’s health.
Do yeast infections make it harder to get pregnant?
Did you know that just about 3 in 4 women will experience at least one yeast infection during their lives? It’s the second most common vaginal infection after BV. The good news is that yeast infections, even when left untreated, do not seem to directly lead to infertility. You may feel uncomfortable and quite itchy, but you won’t experience the scarring or inflammation that PID causes, for example. However, yeast infections still may impact your ability to conceive and can cause complications during pregnancy. Yeast can alter your cervical mucus, making it harder for sperm to reach the egg. Cervical mucus is thin and clear when you’re at your most fertile—when yeast gets into the mix, it can thicken this mucus and the pH of your vagina may change. These factors can pose challenges to any sperm trying to make their way through the cervix. If you’re actively trying to get pregnant, the best thing you can do is talk to a doctor about any vaginal symptoms (even those as common as yeast infection symptoms!) and get them treated properly.
Will recurrent UTIs affect my ability to conceive?
If you’ve ever had a UTI, you know how painful and unmistakable the symptoms are. Urgency, pelvic pain, and burning—not pleasant. About half of all women will experience a UTI at some point and 20-30% will experience a recurrence of their infection within 3 months. Pain and inflammation are hallmarks of this infection, so can it affect your fertility? In a word, no. UTIs are an infection of your bladder and urinary tract, so they won’t affect your reproductive system. However, you should still seek treatment from a doctor—UTIs can quickly become serious kidney infections if left untreated.
UTIs and pregnancy
If you’re pregnant, or trying to become pregnant, you may notice you’re getting more UTIs than usual. There’s likely two main reasons for that:
- Sex is a big trigger for UTIs, as the act of penetration can force bacteria into the urethra. Basically, the more sex you’re having, the higher your risk of developing a UTI. Always, always pee after sex to help flush this bacteria and prevent infection. You can also try D-Mannose, an ingredient that’s been backed by research to help keep bacteria from adhering to the bladder and urethra.
- If you’re already pregnant, you may also find yourself at risk for more frequent UTIs due to changes in your body. Increasing pressure on your bladder makes it likely you will need to urinate more frequently and makes it easier for you to develop an infection. Hormonal changes may also play a role, making it difficult to fully empty your bladder.
If you find yourself with UTI symptoms during pregnancy, tell your doctor right away. UTIs are common during pregnancy, but they can still lead to complications so you’ll want to have them treated as soon as possible.
If you’re on a fertility journey, check out Rescripted for resources, community, and support. There you’ll be able to shop for fertility care, talk with others navigating fertility and pregnancy, and get answers to your most common (and uncommon) fertility questions.
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