Urinary tract infections, or UTIs for short, are a common medical problem in children. In fact, they are the most common serious bacterial infection young children get. The following information will help parents understand more about urinary tract infections and how to prevent them.

What causes urinary tract infections?
UTls occur when bacteria are able to climb their way through the urethra and into the bladder, and eventually up to the kidneys. Infants and toddlers get them especially often because diapers keep their genital area moist and warm, which allows bacteria to breed. Adding to the problem is the fact that diapers, though they contain mess from the outside, keep it in and pressed against the child’s body. Diapers are rarely changed the precise moment a child has a bowel movement, so as a child moves around, this gives plenty of opportunity for bacteria from fecal matter to make its way into the bladder.

Urinary tract infections are more common among girls on account of basic anatomy differences. The anal area is much closer to the urethra, and it’s easier for bacteria to enter the passage. Girls also have a shorter distance to travel between the opening of the urethra and the bladder, so it’s a quicker journey for any bacteria. Similarly, research has found that uncircumcised boys have about a tenfold greater risk of getting a UTI than circumcised boys, because bacteria can make a home for themselves under the foreskin where it’s harder to clean.

Are urinary tract infections dangerous?
UTI’s can cause a child pain and discomfort, but they are generally harmless, so long as they are treated quickly. But if left unattended, the bacteria in the bladder that causes the infection can make its way up to the kidneys, creating more serious complications. Left untreated, a UTI can permanently scar the kidneys, create high blood pressure, lead to a rapid heart rate and induce septic shock – a life threatening condition. UTIs are most serious in babies because they aren’t able to tell anyone about mild early symptoms, so it often progresses before it’s discovered.

Preventing urinary tract infections
Some children are more susceptible to UTIs than others. If your child seems to fall into this category, or if you’d simply like to avoid the possibility in the first place, you should definitely take the following precautions:

  • Change a child’s soiled diapers as soon as possible, even if they are only wet. The wetness won’t introduce the bacteria, but it can help them grow.

  • Always teach little girls to wipe themselves from the front to back, which can keep intestinal bacteria from entering the urinary tract.

  • Allow your kids to go commando. As scandalous as it might seem, one of the things that encourages UTIs is that we always keep the genital region covered. The more you expose those areas to fresh air and natural elements, the fewer UTIs your child will get. So give your child “diaper breaks” in which you allow them to crawl around exposed as often as feasible. For older children, going nude around the house, sleeping in the nude, or even going Commando (i.e., not wearing any underwear) in appropriate situations can substantially cut down on the conditions that allow bacteria to thrive.