Can you use insect repellent during pregnancy?

It is not ideal to use insect repellent against pests like ants and cockroaches during pregnancy. Low exposure from occasional use is unlikely to pose a risk, but when it comes to most pesticides and chemicals, experts don’t have much data on how they affect human pregnancies.

Some studies have attempted to determine whether exposure to pesticides during pregnancy may be linked to problems with child development or a higher risk of cancer, but the results have been inconsistent. Some studies have found that higher levels of prenatal exposure to insect repellents increased the risk of developmental problems during the first three years of a baby’s life.

Some research has also linked pesticides to an increased risk of preterm labor and miscarriage. Risks increase with greater exposure, so it’s best to play it safe and minimize use.

It’s probably safe to have an exterminator spray in your house or yard – you probably won’t be exposed to enough pesticides to harm your baby.

If you’re pregnant and you’re exposed to pesticides through your job — farming or landscaping, for example — ask your employer to avoid these tasks while you’re pregnant.

If you can’t avoid being around pesticides during your pregnancy — either because of your job or because of a pest infestation in your home — there are several ways to reduce your exposure:

  • Wear protective gear like gloves, long pants, long sleeves, and a mask — like an N95 — to avoid contact with pesticides while you’re spraying.
  • Pesticides can be carried into the house on shoes and clothing. If you are spraying outdoors, remove your shoes and outdoor clothing before entering and change clothes when you are finished spraying. Wash these clothes separately from others.
  • If you are spraying indoors, work in a well-ventilated area.
  • Avoid areas where pesticides have been applied; check the label on the pesticide container to see how long to wait.
  • Avoid spraying pesticides yourself, if you can. Ask someone else to do it for you.

Because sprays usually only control an insect problem temporarily (rather than getting rid of the pests completely), they may not be your best bet for pest control, anyway. The National Pesticide Information Center recommends the “integrated pest management” approach, which uses a combination of methods to prevent and eliminate pests in the most effective and least dangerous way.

In your home, this may mean trying different ways to keep pests out, such as:

  • Make sure there is no food and water available for the pests
  • Suck up pests
  • Using childproof baits, gels or other poisons that you are less likely to inhale
  • When nothing else works, use a pesticide sprayer

If you have questions about the toxicity of a specific product, you can contact the National Pesticide Information Center or MotherToBaby, an organization that shares pregnancy safety information.

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