I Think My Child Has a UTI. What Do I Do?

Learn how to spot the symptoms of a urinary tract infection in kids, get quick treatment, and successfully prevent a recurrence.

I Think My Child Has a Urinary Tract Infection or UTI. What Do I Do?
Image via Unsplash/Prastika Herlianti

One afternoon last summer, my 7-year-old daughter arrived home, collapsed on the couch wearing her bathing suit, and began scratching her privates. She had spent most of the season submerged in a swimming pool under the watchful eye of the babysitter I’d hired. I was confused about what to do next. I worried she might have a urinary tract infection (UTI). But how could I be sure?

“A UTI doesn’t present with external symptoms,” Dr. Gina Lockwood, a pediatric urologist who practices at the University of Iowa Health Care, told Care.com.

A UTI is an infection of the urinary tract, which includes the kidneys, the tube from the kidney called the ureter, the bladder, and the urethra -- the duct that connects to the bladder and expels urine.

Dr. Erin McNamara, a pediatric urologist at Boston Children’s Hospital, explained that bacteria cause the infection.

“Most of the time, the bacteria in the urinary tract come from the gastrointestinal tract, which sits at the opening of the anus,” Lockwood said. “The bacteria can grow on the skin in the genital region and grow up the urethra.”

Despite popular belief, UTIs are also very common in children. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, about 3 percent of girls and 1 percent of boys will have a UTI by age 11. As such, it’s important that parents know how to identify UTIs in their kids -- and, most importantly, know when it’s time to take them to the doctor.


Identifying the Symptoms of a UTI

If you suspect that your child has a UTI, make sure to look for the following symptoms:

  • Pain with urination or defecation;
  • Increased frequency or urgency to urinate;
  • Accidents with urination;
  • Fever of unknown origin higher than 101.5 degrees that doesn’t occur with vomiting or upper respiratory issues; and/or,
  • Blood in the urine.

If your child exhibits any of these symptoms, you should immediately book an office visit with your child’s pediatrician. Lockwood warned that, in rare instances, an untreated UTI could result in kidney dysfunction.


Testing for and Treating a UTI

If your child is potty-trained, a medical professional will ask him or her to urinate into a cup. If your child isn’t potty-trained, a doctor may place a catheter to collect a urine specimen.

A doctor will then perform a urinalysis (in other words, they’ll examine the urine under a microscope) to look for red cells, white cells, or protein. It only takes a few minutes for results from a urinalysis.

“Sometimes, these results provide enough data to diagnose a UTI,” Lockwood said. “It’s not unreasonable to start a preliminary course of antibiotics.”

Doctors will also do a urine culture test by examining a swab of the urine. They’ll wait 48 hours after the specimen is taken, and if the test shows growth of bacteria, this indicates a UTI. Doctors will prescribe your child one of several types of antibiotics, based on what type of bacteria is present, your child’s age, and whether your child has had UTIs in the past.


Preventing a UTI

Parents can help prevent UTIs by ensuring that their kids practice good bathroom hygiene habits. Lockwood and McNamara offered parents the following tips:

  • Kids should urinate every 2-3 hours during the day. Holding urine for more than 3-4 hours can aggravate bacteria that may be in the urethra.
  • Girls and boys should drink half their weight in fluids. For example, if a girl weighs 60 pounds, she should drink 30 ounces of non-sugary fluid per day to flush her system and minimize bacterial contact with the bladder.
  • Teach your child to not hold defecation. Constipation can contribute to the development of UTI. Pain with urination that seems like a UTI can be constipation. Remember that the bladder and bowel sit very close, so when the colon is full of stool, it can irritate the bladder and predispose it to infections.
  • Good toilet posture is essential. Girls should spread their legs in a wide stance to empty their bladder adequately. If their feet don’t touch the ground, put a stool under them to support pelvic floor relaxation and bladder emptying. Lockwood suggested that using the Squatty Potty for Kids could be helpful, too.
  • Girls should stay seated at least 30 seconds to one minute to ensure that they’ve emptied their bladder.
  • McNamara recommends that girls wipe front to back to prevent the spread of bacteria from the anus.

By being aware of the symptoms of a UTI and encouraging kids to practice good hygiene, parents can spot a UTI, get it treated quickly, and help prevent a recurrence in the future.


Kristen Paulson-Nguyen is an award-winning copywriter. She enjoys investigating the myriad questions that arise from raising a girl. Her daughter really wants a dog.

Tips and stories from parents and caregivers who’ve been there.

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