Female Urinary Tract Infection (Child) 

Your child has a urinary tract infection.

Bacteria most often don't stay in urine. When they do, the urine 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 urine 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 are 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 is called a bladder infection. This is a common infection in children. Most bladder infections can be treated, and are not 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 urine 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 when urinating. Your child may cry when urinating or not want to urinate because of the pain.

  • Girls may curtsy trying to hold in the urine

  • 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 urine comes out

  • Blood in urine

  • Belly (abdominal) pain

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

  • Your child can't urinate (urinary retention)

  • Bedwetting (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 urine. 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 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 GI (gastrointestinal 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 urinate more often. Tell your child not to wait a long time before urinating.

  • 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 will 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 seek medical advice

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

  • Your child does not start to get better after 24 hours of treatment

  • Still has any symptoms after 3 days of treatment

  • Fever (see Fever and children, below) provider

  • 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 of digital thermometers. They include ones for the mouth, ear, forehead (temporal), rectum, or armpit. Ear temperatures aren’t accurate before 6 months of age. Don’t take an oral temperature until your child is at least 4 years old.

Use a rectal thermometer with care. It may accidentally poke a hole in the rectum. It may pass on germs from the stool. Follow the product maker’s directions for correct use. If you don’t feel OK using a rectal thermometer, use another type. When you talk to your child’s healthcare provider, tell him or her which type you used.

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

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

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

  • 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

© 2000-2021 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