Female Urinary Tract Infection (Child)

Your child has a urinary tract infection.

Bacteria most often don't stay in pee (urine). When they do, the pee can become infected. This is called a urinary tract infection (UTI). An infection can happen any place in the urinary tract, from the kidney to the bladder and urethra. The urethra in a girl is the tube that drains the pee from the bladder through an opening in front of the vagina.

Bladder infection, UTI, and cystitis are often used to describe the same health problem. But they're not always the same. Cystitis is an inflammation of the bladder. The most common cause of cystitis is an infection.

The most common place for a UTI is in the bladder. When this happens, it's called a bladder infection. This is a common infection in children. Most bladder infections can be treated, and aren't serious. But a UTI can also harm the kidneys. The symptoms of a kidney infection are worse. The infection is more serious because it can harm the kidneys. 

Key points to know

  • Infections in the pee or any place in the urinary tract are called UTIs.

  • Cystitis is most often caused by a UTI.

  • Bladder infections are the most common type of cystitis.

  • Not all UTIs and cases of cystitis are bladder infections.

  • A UTI can cause a kidney infection. This is less common than a bladder infection.

  • Most people with a bladder infection don't have a kidney infection.

  • You can have a kidney infection without a bladder infection.

The symptoms that your child has often depend on her age. With a younger child, the symptoms are less clear. Your child may have a hard time telling or showing you where it hurts.

The infection causes inflammation in the urethra and bladder. This causes many of the symptoms. The most common symptoms of a UTI are:

  • Pain or burning feeling when peeing. Your child may cry when peeing or not want to pee because of the pain.

  • Girls may curtsy trying to hold in the pee

  • Having to go to the bathroom more often than normal

  • Your child feels like she needs to go right away

  • Only a small amount of pee comes out

  • Blood in pee

  • Belly (abdominal) pain

  • Cloudy, dark, strong, or bad-smelling pee

  • Your child can't pee (urinary retention)

  • Bed-wetting (urinary incontinence)

  • Fever

  • Chills

  • Back pain

  • Feeling grouchy

  • Loss of appetite

UTIs can't be passed from person to person. You can't get one from some other person, from a toilet seat, or by sharing a bath.

The most common cause of bladder infections in children is bacteria from the bowels. The bacteria can get onto the skin around the urethra, and then into the pee. From there they can travel up into the bladder. This causes inflammation and an infection. This most often happens because of:

  • Wiping from back to front after using the toilet. This moves bacteria to the urethra from the poop (stool).

  • Poor cleaning of the genitals

Other causes include:

  • Not fully emptying the bladder. Bacteria don't pass out as often, so they are able to multiply.

  • Constipation. This can cause the bowels to push on the bladder or urethra and keep the bladder from emptying.

  • Dehydration. This lets the urine stay in the bladder longer.

  • Irritation of the urethra from soaps, bubble baths, or tight clothes. This makes it easier for bacteria to cause an infection.

UTIs are diagnosed by the symptoms and a urine test. They are treated with antibiotics and most often go away quickly without problems. Treatment helps stop the UTI from becoming a more serious kidney infection.

Home care

Your child’s healthcare provider prescribed antibiotics for the infection. Have your child take the antibiotics until they are all gone, unless the provider tells you to stop. She should take the medicine even if she feels better. This is to make sure the infection has cleared up. 

Ask the provider if you can give acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain, fever, or fussiness. Don't give ibuprofen to children younger than 6 months old. If your child has long-term (chronic) liver or kidney disease, talk with your child’s provider before using these medicines. Also talk with the provider if your child has had a stomach ulcer or digestive tract bleeding, or is taking blood thinners.

Don’t give aspirin (or medicine that contains aspirin) to a child younger than age 19 unless directed by your child’s provider. Taking aspirin can put your child at risk for Reye syndrome. This is a rare but very serious disorder. It most often affects the brain and the liver.

Preventing UTIs

  • Teach your child to wipe from front to back after using the toilet.

  • Give your child enough liquids to drink to prevent dehydration and flush out the bladder.

  • Have your child wear loose-fitting clothes and cotton underwear. This helps keep the genital area clean and dry.

  • Change dirty diapers or underwear as soon as you can. This will help prevent irritation, which can lead to infection.

  • Encourage your child to pee more often. Tell your child not to wait a long time before peeing.

  • Give your child healthy foods to prevent constipation. This includes more fresh fruits and vegetables, more fiber, and less junk and fatty foods.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your child’s healthcare provider, or as advised. This is especially important if your child has infections that happen over and over again.

If a culture was done, you'll be told if the treatment needs to be changed. You can call as directed for the results.

Call 911

Call 911 if any of these occur:

  • Trouble breathing

  • Trouble waking up

  • Fainting or loss of consciousness

  • Fast heart rate

  • Seizure

When to get medical advice

Call your child’s healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Your child doesn't start to get better after 24 hours of treatment

  • Your child still has some symptoms after 3 days of treatment

  • Fever (see "Fever and children" below)

  • Upset stomach (nausea), vomiting, or can't keep down medicines

  • Belly or back pain

  • Vaginal discharge

  • Pain, swelling, or redness in the outer vaginal area (labia)

Fever and children

Use a digital thermometer to check your child’s temperature. Don’t use a mercury thermometer. There are different kinds and uses of digital thermometers. They include:

  • Rectal. For children younger than 3 years old, a rectal temperature is the most accurate.

  • Forehead (temporal). This works for children age 3 months and older. If a child under 3 months old has signs of illness, this can be used for a first pass. The provider may want to confirm with a rectal temperature.

  • Ear (tympanic). Ear temperatures are accurate after 6 months of age, but not before.

  • Armpit (axillary). This is the least reliable but may be used for a first pass to check a child of any age with signs of illness. The provider may want to confirm with a rectal temperature.

  • Mouth (oral). Don’t use a thermometer in your child’s mouth until they are at least 4 years old.

Use the rectal thermometer with care. Follow the product maker’s directions for correct use. Insert it gently. Label it and make sure it’s not used in the mouth. It may pass on germs from the stool. If you don’t feel OK using a rectal thermometer, ask the healthcare provider what type to use instead. When you talk with any healthcare provider about your child’s fever, tell them which type you used.

Below are guidelines to know if your young child has a fever. Your child’s healthcare provider may give you different numbers for your child. Follow your provider’s specific instructions.

Fever readings for a baby under 3 months old:

  • First, ask your child’s healthcare provider how you should take the temperature.

  • Rectal or forehead: 100.4°F (38°C) or higher

  • Armpit: 99°F (37.2°C) or higher

Fever readings for a child age 3 months to 36 months (3 years):

  • Rectal, forehead, or ear: 102°F (38.9°C) or higher

  • Armpit: 101°F (38.3°C) or higher

Call the healthcare provider in these cases:

  • Repeated temperature of 104°F (40°C) or higher in a child of any age

  • Fever of 100.4° (38°C) or higher in baby younger than 3 months

  • Fever that lasts more than 24 hours in a child under age 2

  • Fever that lasts for 3 days in a child age 2 or older

© 2000-2022 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
Powered by Krames Patient Education - A Product of StayWell