If you’re pregnant and wondering how you can protect yourself and your baby from mosquito bites during the ongoing Zika outbreak, the answer is simple: insect repellent. Not only is it safe to use certain kinds of bug sprays according to the instructions on the product label, it’s also a smart way to guard against Zika and other mosquito-borne illnesses. Here’s what you need to know about protecting yourself from mosquito bites.
What attracts mosquitoes to pregnant women?
If mosquitoes seem to love snacking on you more than ever now that you’re pregnant, it’s not just your imagination: Scientists have found that pregnant women attract twice as many mosquitoes as non-pregnant women do. Experts think it could be because the pesky bugs are fond of carbon dioxide and pregnant women tend to take more frequent breaths, exhaling 21 percent more air – thereby releasing extra amounts of the gas that the pests are so drawn to.
Another reason mosquitoes make a beeline for expectant mothers? They’re heat-seeking, and pregnant moms generally have higher body temperatures than other women do, what with all that baby-making going on. The rise in body heat makes pregnant women expel more volatile substances from their skin, which in turn makes them easier for mosquitoes to find (and bite).
Zika and other mosquito-bourne diseases
Fortunately, most of the time, all this added attention from mosquitoes is merely an itchy nuisance. But when mosquito-borne illnesses are involved, bites can spread disease that might be dangerous to you and your baby.
In some countries, mosquitoes can carry diseases including the chikungunya, dengue and Zika viruses. To date, the chikungunya and dengue viruses have been found in countries across Africa, Asia, Europe and the Indian and Pacific Oceans. And as of August 2016, there has been an outbreak of the Zika virus in places including South America, Central America, Mexico, Puerto Rico, parts of the Caribbean, Africa and south Florida (specifically the Miami area) in the United States.
Are mosquito bites more dangerous during pregnancy?
Sometimes. The CDC has confirmed that when Zika virus infects a pregnant woman, it can cause microcephaly in their babies, a rare birth defect that results in babies being born with small heads, which may lead to developmental delays.
For that reason, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has cautioned American women to postpone travel plans to regions affected by Zika. Experts at the CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO) have also predicted that the virus may continue to spread in some parts of the U.S. So if you’re expecting (or are planning to get pregnant), read about the Zika virus and how to protect yourself and your unborn baby.
Is it safe to use mosquito repellent or bug spray while pregnant?
Yes. The best way to prevent mosquito bites and the diseases they spread – especially if you’ll be spending time outside – is by using mosquito repellent. If you live in or plan to travel to an area where mosquitoes are prevalent, and especially if they’re known to carry diseases, it’s essential to take the proper precautions, and even more so if you’re pregnant. Two types of mosquito sprays have been registered with the EPA and are considered safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women to use:
- DEET: CR’s tests show that repellents with concentrations of 30% DEET provide the same protection against mosquitoes as higher percentages for up to 8 hours. But do not use these products on infants younger than two months.
- Picaridin: This is an alternative form of insect repellent that is safe to use during pregnancy.
Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding can safely use DEET, picaridin, lemon eucalyptus, and IR3535, according to the EPA, if they are applied properly. In addition to applying spray to all exposed skin, you can spray your clothing for additional protection.
Lemon eucalyptus and IR3535 mosquito sprays generally aren’t recommended during pregnancy (but check with your practitioner). Repellents with purified forms of plants, like citronella and cedar, can help ward off bugs – but since they’re not as effective as DEET or picaridin, you shouldn’t rely on them in high-risk areas.
Insect repellent and sunscreen
If you’re using sunscreen in addition to repellent (and you definitely should be!), products that combine sunscreen and repellent are not recommended. A couple of tips to keep in mind to ensure that they’re both doing their job like they should: Apply sunscreen before repellent, and keep in mind that you may need to reapply sunscreen more frequently (the SPF decreases when DEET-containing insect repellents are used).
How to prevent mosquito bites
If you live in an area with mosquitoes (and especially if that area is currently affected by a mosquito-borne virus like Zika), protect yourself from mosquito bites by taking all of the following steps:
- Do not travel to areas with Zika.
- If you must travel, talk to your doctor or another healthcare provider first and take steps to plan for travel.
- Talk with your doctor and consider postponing non-essential travel to countries in CDC’sspecial travel considerations for Southeast Asia.
- If your sex partner travels to an area with Zika, protect yourself from getting Zika during sex.
- Use an insect repellent containing 10 percent DEET or picaridin, both of which are safe for pregnant and nursing women and children older than 2 months when used according to the product label.
- Stay inside during peak mosquito hours, from dawn to dusk, as much as possible. Mosquitoes carrying chikungunya, dengue and Zika bite most during daylight hours.
- Wear protective clothing, including long sleeves, pants and socks. Take extra care to protect your ankles and the back of your neck, as studies have shown certain mosquitoes can pinpoint these body parts and you’re less likely to feel it.
- Opt for permethrin-treated clothing and gear (such as boots, pants, socks and tents) when possible. But since buying a whole wardrobe of treated clothing might not be practical, especially during pregnancy, you can do it yourself inexpensively by spraying the product directly on your clothing as instructed on the label. Just make sure you don’t get the permethrin on your skin.
- Sleep in screened or air-conditioned rooms.
- Use screens on windows and doors. Repair holes in screens to keep mosquitoes outside.
- Use air conditioning when available.
- Sleep under a mosquito bed net if air-conditioned or screened rooms are not available or if sleeping outdoors.
- Once a week, empty and scrub, turn over, cover, or throw out items that hold water, such as tires, buckets, planters, toys, pools, birdbaths, flowerpots, or trash containers. Check inside and outside your home. Mosquitoes lay eggs near water.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.