Preventing UTIs in Young Girls

Anne Welch, MD, is a pediatrician at Banner Health Center in Maricopa. For more information on this topic, talk to your doctor or call (520) 233-2500.

Question: I’m potty training my daughter. What tips can I give her to help prevent urinary tract infections?

Answer: When your daughter wore diapers, she was at less risk for developing a urinary tract infection (UTI) because regular diaper changes reduce the spread of bacteria that cause infection. Now that she is using the toilet, it is important to teach her proper hygiene to prevent UTIs.

Girls are particularly vulnerable to UTIs because their rectal area is located near the urethra, the opening where urine exits the body. Bacteria that is normal at the rectum can contaminate the sterile urethra if the area is not wiped correctly. After using the bathroom and especially after a bowel movement, your daughter should always wipe from front to back to keep rectal bacteria from entering the urethra.

Cotton underwear is a better choice for girls than nylon, as cotton breathes and does not encourage bacterial growth. As your daughter grows, she should avoid bubble baths and harsh soaps that can cause irritation and increase her infection risk.

Every child should be encouraged to use the bathroom when they feel the urge to urinate. Trying to hold their urine can encourage bacteria to grow in the bladder, leading to infection. Drinking plenty of non-caffeinated fluids also helps flush the urinary system, lowering the risk of UTIs.

Some children have functional problems with their urinary system that can make UTIs difficult to prevent. In this case, a pediatrician can develop a treatment plan for that child’s specific situation. The majority of children, however, will avoid UTIs if they practice good hygiene after using the toilet, stay hydrated, and go to the bathroom regularly.