Why Pregnancy Makes You So Attractive to Mosquitos

Learn why mosquitos target pregnant people and how to avoid mosquito bites (and mosquito-borne illnesses) during pregnancy.

mosquito biting human
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If you've ever been outside during the summer while pregnant then you've probably wondered if the mosquitos are especially bad or if it's just you they prefer. It turns out that all those extra, itchy bites aren't your imagination: Mosquitos are definitely more attracted to pregnant people.

According to Joseph Conlon, a medical entomologist and technical advisor to the American Mosquito Control Association, mosquito season usually kicks off in late summer, and if you're expecting, those flying annoyances may target you over others. It turns out that pregnancy can make you especially appetizing to mosquitos thanks to all those pregnancy-related changes in your body.

Why Mosquitos Prey on Pregnant People

Mosquitos may not prefer pregnant people over non-pregnant people as much as they're able to find and target pregnant people more easily. Mosquitos rely on a number of things to find their targets. Yes, they can see us, but it's their ability to detect things like the carbon dioxide we exhale, certain components of our sweat, and our body heat that help them hone in on us.

"Pregnant women may be more attractive to mosquitos," Conlon says. There are a number of changes to the respiratory system during pregnancy, including an increase in the amount of air you breathe in and out. This increase results in more carbon dioxide, which makes a pregnant person "more attractive to mosquitos because mosquitos are attracted to carbon dioxide."

Additionally, pregnancy means having a warmer-than-average body temperature and the potential for more sweating, which are cues for tracking, landing, and biting, he adds.

Since mosquitos can detect higher body temperature and increases in carbon dioxide, pregnant people become easy targets. And being an easy target also means that pregnant people may be at higher risk of mosquito-borne illnesses that can directly affect their health and the health of their growing baby.

The Risk of Mosquito-Borne Disease

Beyond being incredibly annoying, mosquitos pose a public health threat to everyone—especially pregnant people. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are around 200 different types of mosquitos in the continental United States, but only 12 are known to spread disease. But since it can be impossible to figure out which type of mosquito is biting you, the best bet is to take measures to protect yourself from all mosquito bites.

According to the CDC, a few mosquito-borne illnesses to be on the lookout for include West Nile virus, Zika virus, and Eastern Equine Encephalitis, all of which can be harmful to both a pregnant person and their fetus.

How to Protect Yourself From Mosquito Bites

We know that mosquitos aren't going away any time soon, and it stinks to know that they can pose serious health risks to a pregnant person and growing fetus. But just because you might be an easy target doesn't mean you have to skip out on enjoying your own backyard.

So what can you do to stay safe and prevent mosquito bites? Here are five tips for keeping mosquitos away while you're pregnant.

Wear light-colored clothing

According to a study published in Nature, mosquitos are attracted to reds and oranges because they look like the infrared colors that emit from human skin. Curiously, in the experiment, mosquitos ignored the researchers when they wore green, purple, blue, and white colored gloves even though they were coated with mosquito attracting carbon dioxide.

Wear long sleeves and long pants when possible

We get it: The summer heat and humidity can make it feel almost torturous to wear long sleeves and pants, especially when you're pregnant and already hot and uncomfortable. But if you are in an area where there are lots of mosquitos, it's a wise idea to take every precaution to cover up and not get bitten.

Wear loose-fitting clothing

Mosquitos can bite through tight clothing, including denim jeans. If you must wear tight clothing, make sure the fabric has a very tight weave. Otherwise, try to stick to loose-fitting clothes that will cut down a mosquito's ability to sink a bite into you.

Use a repellant with DEET

Use a repellant that's been tested and registered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Conlon urges. You'll see the registration number listed right above the ingredients, he says. Products with DEET should be effective and safe for pregnant people in reasonable amounts. In a study published by Obstetrics & Gynecology, DEET was found to be safe for topical use during pregnancy and is not considered a developmental or reproductive toxicant.

But DEET should not be used on infants less than 2 months of age, and only at a concentration of less than 10% after that. Talk to your doctor before using any bug repellant on your baby.

If you're outside and not using DEET, you can try other mosquito repellants such as citronella candles, which might provide some protection. You can also try tiki torches or campfire smoke. Bathing in garlic might help too, but that might repel more than just mosquitos, Conlon jokes.

Try DEET repellant alternatives

Even though DEET has been thoroughly studied and found safe, not everyone feels excited to spray chemicals on themselves. One common complaint about bug sprays is the smell and greasy feeling it can leave on the skin. To combat that, some DEET repellants now come in a "dry" formula with minimal scent.

The EPA notes that some essential oil-based repellent products are generally safe to use, but have not been tested for effectiveness. Because they pose minimal health risks, however, the EPA does not require these products to be registered like other topical repellents.

If you are the type to prefer a more natural approach to preventing mosquito bites, you can give repellent products with essential oils like citronella, cedar, or geranium a try. Just be sure to avoid products with essential oils like peppermint, rosemary, and sage while pregnant. Talk to your prenatal care provider about what essential oils are safe for you to use during your pregnancy.

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