Pregnancy and Insect Repellent: What’s Safe?

Pregnancy symptoms are bad enough without adding in the itching and swelling often associated with common bug bites, which is why we hate to break this news to you: bugs love pregnant women!

Research has demonstrated that pregnant women are twice as likely to be bitten by a mosquito compared to non-pregnant women,” says Brenda Barnes, the manager of clinical program development at Kroger Health. “Mosquitos are attracted to carbon dioxide in our breath and locate us through our body temperature. Pregnant women, especially those in their last trimester, were found to exhale greater volumes of carbon dioxide and have higher abdominal temperatures which increases the attraction of mosquitoes.”

With that in mind it’s important to underline that while, in general, most insect bites and stings are not considered serious for individuals pregnant or not, women should avoid mosquito bites in areas with active infections of Malaria or Zika, as these mosquito-borne infections have been linked to complications and birth defects in pregnant women. That’s right, even though it hasn’t been in the news in years, Zika is still a very real thing in many parts of the world. For more information about preventing mosquito-borne infections Barnes recommends visiting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website.

How should pregnant women pick an insect repellent? 

Before you rush to spray on insect repellent, it’s important to be aware that just as there are precautions as to what type of sunscreen women should use when pregnant, there are precautions that apply when it comes to bug sprays.

“The CDC recommends the use of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) registered insect repellent, when used as directed, for pregnant or breastfeeding women,” says Barnes. “When deciding which insect repellent to use the EPA has provided a search tool that’s customizable to protection time, insect coverage and product ingredients.” Most people don’t read label instructions for common products like bug sprays, but remember to do especially since recommendations for use in children differs from those of adults.

Is DEET pregnancy-safe?

DEET has gotten a bad reputation. People often associate it with irritation, redness and swelling, but it’s actually considered safe and has been approved for use in pregnant or breastfeeding women by the CDC and EPA. “The EPA has conducted two safety reviews, one initially in 1998 and another in 2014, and no risks or concerns to human health were identified. This decision was based on short and long-term studies of DEET use in pregnant animals,” says Barnes.

The CDC also recommends the use of other insect repellents if a pregnant woman is concerned about exposure to DEET. Barnes singles out picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE), Para-menthane-diol (PMD) and 2-undecanone. Products containing these alternate insect repellents can be further researched utilizing the EPA search tool.

General tips for preventing bug bites?

Pregnant or not, most people don’t enjoy the smell and feel of bug spray, so if you’re looking to forgo it all together, there are some tactics to mitigate your chances of getting bitten.

“Wear long-sleeved shirts and pants, when appropriate,” says Barnes. “The CDC gives guidance for treating clothing and gear with permethrin prior to exposure.” Barnes also recommends using screens on windows and doors and to stop mosquitoes from reproducing by reducing standing water around your home (turn over, cover or throw out items that hold water such as tires, buckets, planters, toys, pools, birdbaths, flowerpots or trash containers). She also recommends using air conditioning or sleeping under a mosquito bed net if outside or in a room that doesn’t have screens.

If all else fails, at least we can take solace in knowing that most bug bites only last a few hours to a few days!

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