There is some proof that exposure to pest-control products at levels commonly used at home poses some risk to the fetus, and pregnant women should avoid them. All insecticides are to some extent poisonous and some studies have suggested that high levels of exposure to pesticides may contribute to miscarriage, preterm delivery, and birth defects. Certain pesticides and other chemicals, including PCBs, have weak, estrogen-like qualities called endocrine disrupters that some scientists suspect may affect the development of the fetus’ reproductive system.
A pregnant woman can reduce her exposure to pesticides by controlling pest problems with less toxic products such as boric acid (use the blue form available at hardware stores). If she must have her home or property treated with pesticides, a pregnant woman should:
- Have someone else apply the chemicals and leave the area for the amount of time indicated on the package instructions.
- Remove food, dishes, and utensils from the area before the pesticide is applied. Afterward, have someone open the windows and wash off all surfaces on which food is prepared.
- Close all windows and turn off air conditioning, when pesticides are used outdoors, so fumes aren’t drawn into the house.
- Wear rubber gloves when gardening to prevent skin contact with pesticides.
Health care providers also have some concerns about the use of insect repellants during pregnancy. The insect repellant DEET (diethyltoluamide) is among the most effective at keeping bugs from biting; however, its safety during pregnancy has not been fully assessed. If a pregnant woman uses DEET, she should not apply it to her skin. Instead, she should place small amounts on her socks and shoes and outer clothes, using gloves or an applicator to avoid contact with her fingers.