Childhood urinary tract infections (UTIs) make up approximately 1 million visits to pediatricians each year in the United States. David Chamberlin, MD, MS, FAAP, FACS, chief of pediatric urology at Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital, says kids and babies with UTIs should be treated by a doctor, as they will not get better on their own — and the infection could potentially point to more serious issues.
“We urologists are so concerned about urinary tract infections because every time a child has a fever associated with a UTI, there is potential for scarring of their kidneys,” Chamberlin says. “As urologists, we’re in the business of salvaging and saving kidneys.”
Unlike an adult or older child, younger kids and babies particularly can’t communicate the discomfort that generally accompanies a UTI. “If symptoms are missed for an extended period of time, and the baby has a fever, it’s already fairly late,” Chamberlin says. “That means the infection has already gone to the kidney.”
Chamberlin says this urgency in identification makes it important for parents to be aware of what symptoms may come with a UTI in your baby.
- Blood in the baby’s diaper
- Foul-smelling or cloudy urine
- Failure to thrive, including the baby not feeding well, not nursing or taking the bottle, not gaining weight, or just generally not seeming to be well
“Moms and dads seem to know when something is a bit off with their baby, whether they’re not eating well or just not acting like themselves,” Chamberlin says. “If parents bring their child to the hospital saying those sorts of things, we will most likely check for a urinary tract infection.”
- Irritability or crying with no clear cause
Chamberlin says there are some ways to help prevent UTIs in babies:
- Circumcision for boys
The reason for circumcision should be driven by the parent’s desire, Chamberlin says, but it is helpful in preventing UTIs in baby boys. “But of course, not every child that uncircumcised going to get a UTI,” he says.
- Good hygiene
Make sure to keep them in a clean diaper as much as possible to avoid diaper rash leading to infection. Additionally, wipe the baby from front to back, to prevent bacteria from spreading to the urethra, Chamberlin says.
- Avoid bathing the baby in bubble baths and strong or heavily-scented soups
- Ensure the baby is hydrated
When to go to the doctor
Chamberlin encourages parents to take their baby to the doctor and test for a UTI if the child has a fever and no other symptoms of illness — for example, a fever without a cough, a runny nose, or other upper respiratory infection symptoms.
Make an appointment with your pediatrician or urologist if your baby is experiencing the symptoms of a UTI listed above. They will collect a urine sample, test for infection, and likely treat the infection with prescribed antibiotics.