Insect repellents

(Date: May 2018. Version: 2)

This factsheet has been written for members of the public by the UK Teratology Information Service (UKTIS). UKTIS is a not-for-profit organisation funded by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) on behalf of UK Health Departments. UKTIS has been providing scientific information to health care providers since 1983 on the effects that medicines, recreational drugs and chemicals may have on the developing baby during pregnancy.

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.

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

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

Our online reporting system allows women with a current or previous pregnancy to create a digitally secure ‘my bumps record’. You will be asked to enter information about your health, whether or not you take any medicines, and your pregnancy outcome. 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 to register.

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General information 

Up to 1 out of every 5 pregnancies ends in a miscarriage, and 1 in 40 babies are born with a birth defect. These are referred to as the background population risks.  They describe the chance of these events happening for any pregnancy before taking factors such as the mother’s health during pregnancy, her lifestyle, medicines she takes and the genetic make up of her and the baby’s father into account.

Medicines use in pregnancy

Most medicines used by the mother will cross the placenta and reach the baby. Sometimes this may have beneficial effects for the baby.  There are, however, some medicines that can harm a baby’s normal development.  How a medicine affects a baby may depend on the stage of pregnancy when the medicine is taken. If you are on regular medication you should discuss these effects with your doctor/health care team before becoming pregnant.

If a new medicine is suggested for you during pregnancy, please ensure the doctor or health care professional treating you is aware of your pregnancy.

When deciding whether or not to use a medicine in pregnancy you need to weigh up how the medicine might improve your and/or your unborn baby’s health against any possible problems that the drug may cause. Our bumps leaflets are written to provide you with a summary of what is known about use of a specific medicine in pregnancy so that you can decide together with your health care provider what is best for you and your baby.   

Every pregnancy is unique. The decision to start, stop, continue or change a prescribed medicine before or during pregnancy should be made in consultation with your health care provider. It is very helpful if you can record all your medication taken in pregnancy in your hand held maternity records.

Disclaimer: This information is not intended to replace the individual care and advice of your health care provider. New information is continually becoming available. Whilst every effort will be made to ensure that this information is accurate and up to date at the time of publication, we cannot cover every eventuality and the information providers cannot be held responsible for any adverse outcomes following decisions made on the basis of this information. We strongly advise that printouts should NOT be kept for any length of time, or for “future reference” as they can rapidly become out of date.

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