Just how safe are insect repellents for pregnant and breastfeeding women? Here’s everything you need to know before you start dousing yourself in chemicals.
By now, you’ve probably heard more than you ever wanted to know about Zika. But unfortunately, there was more bad news on the Zika front today when the National Environmental Agency announced that the first case of a pregnant woman with Zika in Singapore.
But what does this mean for you if you are pregnant? Is it safe to whip out the bug spray when you’re pregnant or breastfeeding? And will DEET harm your child? Here’s the full lowdown.
Is it safe to use insect repellent during pregnancy?
Most people who ask this question are concerned about DEET, which is present in many highly effective bug sprays and has been linked with all kinds of problems in the past, including cancer. However, many reputable sources, including the UK NHS and The Health Protection Agency (HPA), say that it is safe for pregnant women to use insect repellents that contain up to 50% DEET. So, providing you read the label carefully, there are many DEET-containing bug sprays around that you can use when you have a baby on board.
Can using DEET during pregnancy cause birth defects?
A ton of researchers have studied the effects of DEET on preggo animals and have not found any link between DEET and birth defects, even when exposure to insect repellents was high. While no one has repeated similar tests on humans (understandably), one study did take a look at 897 women who stuck to recommended doses of DEET in the later stages of their pregnancy. The good news was that no link between DEET usage and birth defects or baby development was established (read more).
Can you use insect repellent if you are breastfeeding?
As with pregnant women, breastfeeding women can use insect repellents that contain up to 50% DEET (NHS and HPA). However, both of these agencies also advise that children under the age of two months should not come into contact with an insect repellent that contains DEET. Young children over the age of two months also should not be exposed to strong DEET. As such, you may want to exercise caution when wearing insect repellent around very young babies.
DEET versus Dengue and Zika
You can’t escape the fact that there is a serious dengue problem in Singapore at present. While DEET may not be the only insect repellent that is proven to work, it is most certainly one of the most effective. As such, when making a decision as to whether or not to use DEET during pregnancy or while breastfeeding, you need to consider the potential consequences if you don’t. While using DEET while pregnant and breastfeeding has not been linked with birth defects and fetal death, dengue has. You can read more here: the dangers of dengue, pregnancy and newborns. Application of a 20-30% DEET preparation will protect against 90% of all dengue-infested mossies.
Top Tip! If you don’t want to apply DEET to your skin while pregnant or breastfeeding, you can wear long sleeves and trousers and apply it to your clothing instead.
Insect Repellents That are Safe for Pregnant and Breastfeeding Women
So if you’re living in a Dengue or Zika cluster area or are seriously worried about being infected, DEET does represent an option that is worth serious consideration. The following insect repellents contain safe levels of DEET for pregnant and breastfeeding women: Low-DEET formulations of Autan, Jungle Formula (opt for the Sensitive range if you can get your hands on it), Ultrathon, Repel and Insectishield.
A Fabulous DEET-free Alternative?
If you want to steer clear of DEET, the World Health Organization (WHO) advises picaridin for protection against bug bites. Picardin has been proven to have many bug-repelling superpowers, including being able to repel bugs for longer periods of time. However, WHO are keen to stress that picaridin “does not carry the same neurotoxicity concerns as DEET but has not been tested as much over the long term.” Animal studies have shown no toxic effects to fetuses of animals exposed to picaridin, and Picaridin does not adversely affect breastfeeding when used according to product instructions.
Picaridin products in Singapore: Moskito GUARD, available at Watsons
If you want to go completely chemical free, check out Safe Mama’s Safe Mama has produced a great list of suggestions: bug repellent cheat sheet.
The KKH Recommendations for the Use of Bug Repellents on Children
Children below two years old should avoid DEET mosquito repellent
- Children below three years old should avoid eucalyptus essential oil
- Children above two years old should use mosquito repellent in lower concentration of DEET between 7 – 20%
- Mosquito repellent with DEET in concentration between 20 – 30 % is only suitable for adults
Got any top tips for helping pregnant and breastfeeding women to keep the mossies at bay? Leave a comment and share.
The information contained in this website is for informational purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for professional medical advice.