Date: September 2023, Version 3.0

Quick read

Insect repellents such as DEET should be used during pregnancy where there is a risk that insect bites might cause serious illness.

Prior to travel, people visiting areas where insect bites can cause serious disease (such as malaria, Zika virus, and illnesses spread by ticks) should visit the Travel Health Pro website for recommendations on the best type of insect repellent, as well as any required anti-malarial medicines and vaccinations for the specific destination.

What are they?

Insect repellents (most commonly DEET, but others include icaridin, eucalyptus citriodora oil, and IR3535) are applied to the skin and clothes to prevent insect bites.


What are the benefits of using an insect repellent in pregnancy?

Insect repellents can prevent serious and sometimes life-threatening illnesses spread by insect bites, such as malaria, Zika virus and Lyme disease. Preventing malaria and Zika virus can also protect against some pregnancy complications caused by these illnesses.


What are the risks of using an insect repellent in pregnancy?

There is no evidence that use of insect repellents in pregnancy harms the baby.


Are there any alternatives to using an insect repellent in pregnancy?

No. If a pregnant woman needs to travel to an area where there is a risk of serious illness caused by insect bites, then insect repellents should be used as directed by the manufacturer.

No treatment

What if I prefer not to use an insect repellent during pregnancy?

If travel cannot be avoided, it is crucial to use an insect repellent to prevent diseases caused by insect bites. Insect repellents are safe to use, and a doctor will be happy to discuss any concerns.

Will I or my baby need extra monitoring?

As part of routine antenatal care in the UK, women are invited for a very detailed scan at around 20 weeks of pregnancy to check the baby’s development. No further scans to check for birth defects will be required due to use of an insect repellent.

Are there any risks to my baby if the father has used an insect repellent? 

There are no concerns that insect repellents used by the father around the time of conception can harm the baby.

Who can I talk to if I have questions? 

If you have any questions regarding the information in this leaflet, please discuss them with your health care provider. They can access more detailed medical and scientific information from www.uktis.org

How can I help to improve drug safety information for pregnant women in the future?

Our online reporting system (MyBump Portal) allows women who are currently pregnant to create a secure record of their pregnancy, collected through a series of questionnaires. You will be asked to enter information about your health, whether or not you take any medicines, your pregnancy outcome and your child's development. You can update your details at any time during pregnancy or afterwards. This information will help us better understand how medicines affect the health of pregnant women and their babies. Please visit the MyBump Portal to register.

General information
Sadly, miscarriage and birth defects can occur in any pregnancy.

Miscarriage occurs in about 1 in every 5 pregnancies, and 1 in every 40 babies are born with a birth defect. This is called the ‘background risk’ and happens whether medication is taken or not.

Most medicines cross the placenta and reach the baby. For many medications this is not a problem. However, some medicines can affect a baby’s growth and development.

If you take regular medication and are planning to conceive, you should discuss whether your medicine is safe to continue with your doctor/health care team before becoming pregnant. If you have an unplanned pregnancy while taking a medicine, you should tell your doctor as soon as possible.

If a new medicine is suggested for you during pregnancy, please make sure that the person prescribing it knows that you are pregnant. If you have any concerns about a medicine, you can check with your doctor, midwife or pharmacist.

Our Bumps information leaflets provide information about the effects of medicines in pregnancy so that you can decide, together with your healthcare provider, what is best for you and your baby.