Bug Spray in Pregnancy – Is it safe to use?

It’s already the middle of summer and between the heat and humidity mosquitos have become everyone’s least welcome visitor. Some people are like mosquito bait, getting attacked no matter where they go and others get only a couple bites, but those bites swell up into little red mounds of itchiness. Not to mention some of these bugs could carry some pretty terrible diseases. What can you do to avoid these pesky bugs? In the past you would reach for bug spray. Now that you are pregnant, is bug spray safe or is it better to suffer with the bug bites? If so, which bug spray is safest during pregnancy?

This depends on where you are, what the risks are where you live and what kind of buy spray you are using.

In general, I do everything I can to avoid any potential chemicals in pregnancy. This is for the simple fact that chemicals are not tested on pregnant women for ethical reasons so we never really know the risks. However, there are certainly times when the benefits of bug spray, even DEET, outweigh the risks of insect-borne diseases, such as Zika.

The EWG’s website is my go-to when I am looking at the potential hazards of chemicals in our environment. Fortunately, the EWG has published a guide to selecting bug spray. They break it down by risk of insect-borne disease. And I’ve summarized it for you below:

Traveling Somewhere with Zika

If you aren’t sure if you need Zika protection, check out the CDC map. First I would encourage you to avoid travel to these areas, but if you do decide to travel somewhere where Zika is a threat, the risk from DEET is much smaller than the risk from Zika virus.

If you are traveling somewhere with Zika virus, you want to opt for the strongest bug spray available. This means choosing a bug spray with 20-30% DEET or 20% Picaridin. An example of a bug spray with 20% Picardin is Sawyer’s 20% Picardin Insect Repellent. An example of a bug spray with 20-30% DEET is Cutter Backwoods Insect Repellent.

Traveling Somewhere with other Insect-Borne Diseases

Insect-Borne diseases include West Nile Virus, Malaria and Lyme’s Disease. Whenever you are traveling always check the health advisory so you know what exposures there are before you arrive.

Lyme’s Disease is most common in the northeast United States. It is specifically found in states such as Maine, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont. If you plan to spend time outdoors, make sure you wear long pants and socks and apply bug spray. When you come inside, thoroughly check your body for ticks. If you find a tick remove it as soon as possible with tweezers. Wash your skin thoroughly with soap and water and dispose of the tick by placing it in a sealed bag or container. The CDC does not recommend routinely testing ticks for Lyme’s Disease.

If you are concerned about exposure to West Nile Virus or Malaria your first step can be avoiding travel to places where these diseases are common. However, if you must travel to a country where Malaria is present, speak to your doctor about taking medication to avoid Malaria transmission.

If you are traveling anywhere where insect-borne diseases is a threat, make sure you opt for bug spray that contains 20-30% DEET or 20% Picardin.

Protection where Disease is not Common

If you are looking to use bug spray primarily to avoid the itchy bumps that appear after a mosquito has decided to snack on you, you can opt for more mild bug sprays. However, not all “natural” bug sprays are safe in pregnancy. In fact, The CDC advises against the use of Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus and PMD on very young children, so avoid it while pregnant.

Best Natural Bug Sprays

Badger Anti-Bug Balm (link)

This isn’t exactly a spray, but it plays the same role. One advantage of a balm is that you don’t need to worry about inhaling the product as your spray. Badger Anti-Bug Balm contains citronella, cedar, and lemongrass oils to provide protection against bugs. It is organic and petroleum-free. The reviews of this product are much better than most natural bug sprays. Some people complain it is oily and some complain about the smell, but most people claim it really does work!

California Baby Bug Repellent (link)

This is a bug spray making it easier to apply than the Badger Balm. The active ingredients in this bug repellent are also lemongrass, citronella and cedar oils. The reviews are pretty good. Most people say it works and has a pleasant citrus scent.

Buzz Away Insect Repellent (link)

This insect repellent is similar to the others in that is works using essential oils. This insect repellent contains geranium oil, soybean oil, cedarwood oil, citronella oil, peppermint oil and lemongrass oil. The “Buzz Away” insect repellent also comes in a towelette form for ease of application. Buzz away also makes a Sting Soothe product that works on insect bites to make the sting disappear.

What Else Can You Do?

#1 Avoid places where insects are.

This is easier said than done. In the hot summer months mosquitos and ticks are everywhere. Try to avoid being in places where insect-borne diseases are the most prevalent.

#2 Wear long sleeves and long pants.

This is also difficult in the hot months of summer. However if you are hiking or camping you may want to opt for high socks or long pants to protect yourself from ticks.

#3 Avoid alternative methods of insect repellent.

There are many commercial products available that claim to protect against bug bits, but at best they are ineffective and at the worst they are harmful. Avoid purchasing expensive bug zappers. These are often ineffective and actually can attract more mosquitos to the area and kill off good insects. Yard bug treatments are also not recommended because they provide temporary relief and actually expose you to more chemicals than bug spray.

Avoid citronella candles. This one is tough for me because I love the idea of lighting a candle and making the mosquitos disappear. However, by lighting the citronella you are inhaling the chemicals which is more dangerous than applying it to your skin. Additionally, citronella alone does not work against all types of mosquitos.

#4 Drain standing water.

Mosquitos lay their eggs in standing water. If you are vigilant about draining standing water you should see a decrease in the number of mosquitos in your yard. After every rain check your yard for standing water and dry it up quickly!


Be sure to checkout my article on the best and safest sunscreens for you and your baby here!