Treating and Preventing Pediatric UTIs

September 03,2021 |
Woman picking up her young child.

Urinary tract infections are one of the most common types of bacterial infections for adults and children alike. While the prevalence of UTIs is higher in adults, there are still risks for pediatric UTIs. The problem is that younger children are at a greater risk of serious complications like kidney damage. Therefore, it’s essential that you understand the signs and symptoms of pediatric UTIs so they can be treated as soon as possible. To help you reduce the risk for long-term problem in your children, here is some information on treating and preventing pediatric UTIs.

Understanding the Urinary Tract System

To better understand how to treat and prevent pediatric UTIs, it’s beneficial to have some basic information on how the urinary tract system works. Your urinary tract system is made up of various organs that aid in the process of making, storing, and eliminating urine—a waste byproduct. Urine is made from the kidneys filtering waste from your blood and then it passes down connecting tubes called ureters into the bladder. A child’s bladder can hold about 1 to 1.5 ounces of urine for each year of age. This urine is stored until a child voluntarily, or involuntarily depending on the age, empties their bladder. Urine is eliminated through the urethra—a small opening at the end of the penis or front of the vagina.

Due to the smaller size of children’s bladders, they often need to use the bathroom more frequently throughout the day, especially if they’re intaking a high volume of liquids. Naturally, urine does not have bacteria present, and the anatomical mechanisms of urine flow help to reduce exposure to outside bacteria. However, bacteria can still get into the urethra and when this happens, it generally leads to a urinary tract infection.

Causes of Urinary Tract Infections in Children

While adults tend to be more susceptible to urinary tract infections, acute UTIs are fairly common amongst children. On average, roughly 8% of girls and 2% of boys will have at least one UTI during their life. Infants are also susceptible to UTIs during the first 60 days of their life. The underlying cause of urinary tract infections in children is bacteria in the urethra. However, there are certain anatomical abnormalities that can cause UTIs to occur more frequently and also increase their risk of spreading up the urinary tract into the kidneys. The two most common anatomical abnormalities in children that are associated with UTIs are vesicoureteral reflux and urinary obstruction.

Vesicoureteral Reflux

Vesicoureteral reflux is a condition where the flap-valve that controls the direction of urine is damaged. As a result, urine can flow backwards from the bladder and into the kidneys. This can increase the risk of bacterial exposure and thus, increase the risk of UTIs and kidney infections.

Urinary Obstruction

Urinary obstruction occurs when there is a blockage in the urinary tract that restricts the flow of urine or prevents normal output. If you think that your child has a urinary obstruction, talk to your pediatrician about how to resolve the issue and therefore, prevent pediatric UTIs.

Differentiating the Symptoms of UTIs in Children

One of the biggest problems regarding pediatric UTIs is that they can affect children who are unable to communicate symptoms to their parents or caregivers. To avoid further complications, this means that parents should have a strong understanding of what would indicate a urinary tract infection in newborns, babies, and toddlers.

In newborns, the signs of a UTI can range from jaundice, sepsis, failure to thrive, vomiting, or fever. You may notice that they aren’t eating and refuse to latch or that they are producing loose stools. Many parents who care for infants with UTIs notice foul smelling urine during diaper changes as well. If you notice any of these signs, see your doctor immediately. For babies or younger children, you may notice that they present strong-smelling urine, hematuria, abdominal pain, flank pain, fever, or urinary incontinence. Again, if you notice any of these symptoms, it’s crucial that you seek medical attention for the proper diagnosis.

School-aged children tend to show similar symptoms of a UTI as adults. This includes pain when urinating, dysuria, frequency, and urgency. Since these children are older, they are able to communicate discomfort with their parents. If you notice your child complaining of pain in the abdomen or during urine voiding, seek medical assistance for diagnostic testing. You may also notice an increase of accidents or even bedwetting in children suffering from urinary tract infections.

Diagnosing Pediatric UTIs

Diagnostic testing for urinary tract infections in children is similar to adults. Your pediatrician will need to test for an infection and will most commonly use a dipstick test and a urinalysis to do so. If these tests are inconclusive, your pediatrician may recommend imaging procedures to evaluate your child’s anatomy. Since many causes of UTIs in children are due to anatomical developments, this allows for a better understanding of the cause of the UTI and thus, how to prevent them from recurring in the future. To make sure that you and your child are comfortable during the diagnostic testing, don’t be afraid to ask questions until you feel that you have a stronger understanding of procedures.

Common Treatment Options for UTIs in Children

When left untreated, urinary tract infections can lead to bladder infections called cystitis and kidney infections called pyelonephritis. Kidney infections are very serious and can cause long-term damage, which is why getting treatment as soon as possible is essential.


The primary treatment option for UTIs in children is antibiotics. However, too many antibiotics too young can lead to bacterial resistance, so prevention is always the best course of action. Amoxicillin can be the most resistant, so talk to your doctor about finding antibiotics that work against specific bacteria found in your child’s urine during diagnostic testing. When prescribed antibiotics, make sure that your child takes the full dose. Even if they begin to feel relief from symptoms, bacteria can still be present, so the prescription needs to be finished.

Inpatient Treatment

Some children may not notice relief from symptoms after taking antibiotics. If this happens, it’s important that you go to the hospital to seek further treatment options. Your child may need to undergo inpatient treatment to make sure that the infection doesn’t spread. While this is rare, it can happen. If symptoms worsen or don’t get better within three days of taking medication, it’s time to go to the hospital.

Properly treating pediatric UTIs is the best way to avoid long-term complications, so don’t hesitate to seek medical attention.

Preventing Pediatric UTIs

If your child is suffering from anatomical abnormalities like vesicoureteral reflux or urinary obstruction, the best thing you can do to prevent pediatric urinary tract infections and kidney infections is to treat these abnormalities. Talk to your doctor about your options to better understand how to move forward.

In children with healthy urinary tracts, you can reduce the risk of a UTI by teaching them healthy bathroom habits. Make sure that they’re emptying their bladder often throughout the day. You can facilitate this by keeping bathroom communication open and asking them if they need to urinate frequently throughout the day. Since many children may say no regardless of their true needs, take them to the bathroom regularly and tell them to go. You should also make sure that your child is staying hydrated and drinking plenty of water to help flush out their system. If they’re constipated, try to treat it to help with healthy overall urologic functions.

For parents of newborns, infants, and young babies, make it a habit to change their diapers regularly throughout the day and never let them sit in a soiled diaper. Keeping your baby dry and clean is essential in preventing pediatric UTIs. When you begin to transition from diapers to potty training, make sure that young girls understand the importance of wiping from front to back to reduce the spread of germs.

While many people reserve urologic conditions for adults, children can and do experience them. If you think that your child has a urologic condition or anatomical abnormality, talk to your pediatrician today. Regardless of if you were diagnosed with a urologic condition as a child, adolescent, or adult, Byram Healthcare has the products and support you need to live a happy, healthy life. We also have a range of pediatric catheters and supporting supplies if needed. Our mission is to help improve health outcomes and affordability of care for people living with chronic diseases.