Currently expecting and having extreme pain in your flank? Wondering if kidney stones are a common postpartum complication?
Kidney stones can bring you down to your knees in pain and tears. But, they’re actually more common than you would think during and after pregnancy.
But, how do you know for sure that you’re passing a kidney stone? Do you need to be worried about it causing complications for your pregnancy and baby?
In this post, we’ll cover what kidney stones are, what causes them during pregnancy and postpartum, and signs you might be passing one. We’ll also talk about diagnostic and treatment options, and discuss how harmful kidney stones can be during pregnancy.
What Are Kidney Stones?
Kidney stones, much like the name states, are basically rocks that form in your kidneys. When your urine becomes concentrated with certain minerals and salts, like calcium and phosphorus, these substances start to adhere to each other, developing a crystalline stone.
There are five different types of kidney stones, including calcium oxalate, cystine, struvite, and uric acid, but the most common during pregnancy and postpartum is calcium phosphate (source).
What Causes Kidney Stones During and After Pregnancy?
Like pregnancy and postpartum didn’t throw enough challenges at us already, we’re also at higher risk for developing kidney stones. The simple act of growing a baby places an additional load on your kidneys and ureters, but there’s also certain other factors that put you at risk at stones:
- Dehydration: Not drinking enough water is one of the biggest risk factors for kidney stones. Pregnant and breastfeeding women are more prone due dehydration, since the demands of fluids is increased during this time.
- Excess calcium: You’re likely to have a higher intake of calcium while pregnant and breastfeeding. The absorption of calcium is also higher during pregnancy. However, too much calcium can strain the kidneys, and concentrated amounts will start to stick together and form stones.
- Increased filtration: Your kidneys are working overtime to filter waste during pregnancy. And because of this, the amount of uric acid excreted is also likely to increase, promoting the formation of uric acid stones (source).
- Elevated Urine pH: The pH in your urine is higher while you’re expecting, which puts you at higher risk for calcium phosphate stones.
- Poor diet: Along with higher amounts of calcium absorption, too much sodium and too much animal protein (particularly red meat and shellfish) can also promote stones (source). Soda contains phosphoric acid, which can induce kidney stone formation as well.
- Genetics: If you’re family has a history of kidney stones, then you’re at higher risk for developing them. Stones during pregnancy and postpartum are probably due to a combination of your genetic background and changes in your body.
- Urinary Tract Infections: Hormonal changes during pregnancy soften your ureters and the additional weight of your baby places more pressure on your bladder, increasing the likelihood of urinary tract infections. If you’ve been dealing with chronic and persistent UTI’s during pregnancy, then you’re at higher risk for developing stones. In fact, your UTIs could even be a symptom of kidney stones.
Kidney Stone Symptoms
Most people don’t even know they have kidney stones until they start passing through the urinary tract. As the stones pass, they can cause scrapes and scratches in your kidney, ureter, and bladder, which can be immensely painful. If you think you might be passing a kidney stone, be on the lookout for these signs:
- Intense pain in the back or side, right below your ribs
- Pain that moves to your lower abdomen and groin
- Pain or burning during urination
- Blood in your urine: pink, red, or brown urine
- Cloudy or foul-smelling urine
- Frequent urination
- Only urinating a little bit each time you go
- Nausea and/or vomiting
What Should I Do If I Think I Might Have a Kidney Stone?
It’s important to call your midwife or OB if you think you might have a kidney stone during pregnancy and postpartum. If you’re in excruciating pain, have a fever or chills, having trouble urinating, or have blood in your urine, then you should seek medical care right away and head to your nearest emergency room.
Be sure to inform the hospital staff that you’re pregnant, breastfeeding, or have recently given birth. It’s likely that your ER department will transfer you up to the Labor and Delivery ward if you’re still expecting.
How are Kidney Stones Diagnosed During Pregnancy and Postpartum?
Diagnosing kidney stones during pregnancy can be tricky since it’s best to avoid radiation while you’re expecting. To confirm and identify your stones your doctor will likely run:
- Urinalysis: Your provider will likely start with a urinalysis, which can identify blood and crystals of calcium and uric acid in your urine. It will also be used to check for a urinary tract infection.
- Blood test: A blood test may also be ran to check your kidney function.
- Ultrasound: An ultrasound on your kidneys and/or bladder is a typical and safe option for diagnosis during pregnancy. However,ultrasounds can not be used to tell which type(s) of kidney stones you have, leaving the underlying cause unidentified.
- CT scan: While CT scans should be avoided during pregnancy, they can be a useful tool to diagnose stones postpartum. Most CT scans are even compatible with breastfeeding (source).
How are Kidney Stones Treated During Pregnancy and Postpartum?
Once you’ve been diagnosed with a kidney stone, you and your doctor will decide on the best course of action for treatment based on several different factors.
If your pain is somewhat manageable and you’re able to keep foods and fluids down, then your provider may send you home with a prescription for pain medication and orders to push lots of fluids. You could also try some pregnancy-safe natural remedies, which include consuming lemon, lots of high water content fruits and reducing your sodium intake.
If your pain is just excruciating and you can’t keep anything down , you’ll likely put hooked up to IV fluids and given some IV pain medication. If you’re in your second or third trimester, you’ll probably be hooked up to the fetal monitors as well to make sure baby is doing okay.
If your kidney stone is too large to pass on its own or your kidney function becomes impaired, then surgical intervention will need to be discussed. Your options during pregnancy include a utereroscopy or placement of a stent or tube.
A ureteroscopy uses a small tube, called a ureteroscope, which is inserted into your kidney by passing through your urethra, bladder, and ureter. This procedure uses a laser to break down your kidney stones, but is only ideal for stones smaller than 1 cm.
Placement of a ureteral stent or tube will help open your ureter, allowing drainage of the stone and urine. However, these stents need to be replaced every 2 months or more during pregnancy, in order to prevent stone particles from forming on it.
Shockwave treatment and open surgery are not performed in pregnancy, due to the risk it poses to your unborn baby.
Can Kidney Stones Cause Complications for my Pregnancy or Harm My Unborn Baby?
Aside from causing immense pain, kidney stones, can also cause complications for both mom and baby if left untreated. Kidney stones during pregnancy can put you at risk for:
- Kidney infections: Kidney stones that get stuck in the urinary tract and get left untreated, put you at great risk for developing a kidney infection. If you’re experiencing fever and/or chills, seek urgent medical care, as these are signs of an infection.
- High blood pressure: Some kidney stone patients also develop high blood pressure, or hypertension, which can put you at risk for seizure and stroke, and reduce blood flow, oxygen, and nutrients to your baby.
- Pre-eclampsia: Along with high blood pressure, kidney stones can also put you at risk for pre-eclampsia, which is diagnosed as high blood pressure along with protein in your urine. Pre-eclampsia is nothing to joke around about. It can cause kidney and liver failure and can even be life threatening for both mom and baby. You can also develop postpartum pre-eclampsia, so you’re not always in the clear after you deliver.
- Preterm labor: Kidney stones even have the potential to cause preterm labor and delivery. Therefore, it’s extremely important to seek medical care as soon as possible if you think you might be passing a stone while you’re expecting.
How to Prevent Kidney Stones
Kidney stones are one of the worst pains you’ll experience, but luckily there are several things you can do to help prevent them throughout the rest of your pregnancy and postpartum journey (heck, even just for the rest of your life!):
- Drink plenty of fluids: Staying well hydrated is one of your greatest defenses at preventing the formation of kidney stones. This will help keep your urine dilute and prevent minerals from sticking together.
- Consume kidney supporting foods: Kidney-friendly foods, like cranberries, can help balance out the pH of your urine, helping to prevent stones.
- Reduce sodium intake: Too much sodium can increase the calcium in your urine, therefore it’s best to stick to low-sodium foods when you’ve had a history of stones.
- Get the right amount of calcium: It’s still important to get enough calcium during pregnancy and breastfeeding, but try to avoid getting more than you need. Likewise, too little calcium can actually cause oxalate levels to rise and stones to form as well. If you’re pregnant or nursing, you should be consuming 1,200 to 1,400 milligrams of calcium per day (source).
- Limit animal protein: Too much animal protein can cause your uric acid levels to rise and citrate (a chemical that helps prevent stones) levels to fall, leaving you at higher risk for stones. Switch out some of your daily animal protein with healthy plant-based proteins, like beans, peas, and lentils.
- Avoid stone-forming foods: If you’re struggling with stones, then it’s best to avoid certain foods that often promote their development. Steer clear of beets, chocolate, spinach, rhubarb, and tea because of their high oxalate levels, and stay away from sodas since they’re rich in phosphate (and just not healthy for you anyway) (source).
My Experience with Postpartum Kidney Stones
Truth be told, I have a history with kidney stones. I had two pass in high-school, two weeks apart from each other. Then, I had one in college that required surgical intervention.
So, when I passed one a week after I had my first baby, there was no question in my mind what it was. It was without a doubt a kidney stone. I was crouched on my bathroom floor crying in pain and vomiting every 5 minutes.
My aunt came and picked me up and took me to the ER, so my hubby could stay at home with our baby girl. After about 5 minutes in the waiting room, the pain began to stop and I was no longer nauseous. I was just extremely tired.
I still got checked out though. I was hooked up to IV fluids and the doctor ordered a CT scan just to make sure the stone had passed. There was indeed a stone, but it was still sitting in my bladder. I ended up staying at the hospital until a whole liter of fluids was given, and was sent home with a prescription to help the stone pass.
I ended up not taking the medicine because there hadn’t been very many compatibility studies done in regards to breastfeeding. Nevertheless, I haven’t had any issues since, so I’m sure the stone has passed (I’ve actually never caught one!).
But, you guys, the pain of kidney stones was for real SO MUCH worse than labor. At least with labor you get a break in between contractions!
A Pain More Excruciating Than Childbirth
Kidney stones are more common than you would think during pregnancy and postpartum. Our bodies are more prone to dehydration, higher calcium absorption, and elevated urine pH, putting us at greater risk during this time.
If you’re experiencing pain in your flank, blood in your urine, frequent urge to urinate, and nausea or vomiting, then you need to seek medical care right away, as kidney stones have the potential to cause complications for you and your baby. Your provider will work with you to find the most suitable diagnostic and treatment options for your situation.
If you’re dealing with a kidney stone, I send you remorse and safe wishes. The pain can truly be more excruciating than childbirth!
Did You Find this Post Helpful?
Did this post answer all your questions about kidney stones during pregnancy and postpartum? Have you ever had to deal with kidney stones before? Share your experiences with us in the comments below, and be sure to share this post with other new moms.