Q: There are a lot of mosquitoes in my area this time of year. I’m pregnant; can I use insect repellent?
A: That depends on what type you use—and how much. Repellents that contain such nonchemical ingredients as citrus, citronella and chrysanthemum are fine, according to Lori Wolfe, M.S., director of the Texas Teratogen Information Service at the University of North Texas in Denton and president of the Organization of Teratology Information Specialists. Unfortunately, however, they are typically less effective than their counterparts that have DEET.
“The stronger, more effective brands are those that contain DEET, but they do have some toxic capacity,” Wolfe says. “We therefore recommend that they be used only in small amounts.” Even better, she says, is to wear a long-sleeved shirt and long pants and then apply the repellent to your clothes; if you must, pat a bit on exposed skin, such as your wrists, neck and face.
Although she knows of no research on humans, Wolfe says animal studies have shown a link between DEET and cardiac birth defects. “But it is only toxic at high levels, with a constant exposure,” she adds. So in other words, if you’ve used an insect repellent containing DEET once or twice, you haven’t put your baby at risk. “Don’t panic,” Wolfe says, “but do take precautions not to use it in the future, or to use it only in very small amounts.”