How to Avoid Ticks When You're Pregnant

Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on May 11, 2023
3 min read

Ticks can transmit a number of diseases to you in a single bite. The most severe of these is Lyme disease. It can lead to problems with your spine, joints, nervous system and heart. If you’re pregnant and get Lyme disease, your unborn baby can be affected, too.

Here’s what you should know to keep safe.

Many insect repellents contain strong chemicals that damage the nervous systems of insects and cause them to die. Since your baby’s nervous system grows rapidly during the first trimester, some experts suggest that you avoid using any bug sprays during that time.

It’s also unclear how the chemicals that are often used in tick repellents can affect the rest of your pregnancy. Many of them simply haven’t been studied to see if they cause birth defects. The verdict is still out on:

  • Picaridin
  • Oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE)
  • PMD (a chemical version of OLE)
  • 2-Undecanone
  • IR3535

DEET is a chemical that’s found in most brands of tick repellent. Some studies have looked into how it can affect unborn babies. Most found that DEET didn’t lead to a higher risk in birth defects. Still, more research needs to be done. Because of this, it may be wise to avoid DEET products, too.

But, if you spend a lot of time outdoors where many ticks are known to live, speak to your doctor. They may feel that the risks in using a small amount of DEET to repel ticks outweighs those of getting a tick-borne illness like Lyme disease.

Some products contain all-natural oils that are known to keep ticks away. These include oils from:

  • Garlic
  • Rosemary
  • Lemongrass
  • Thyme
  • Geranium plants

The effects of these ingredients on pregnancy haven’t been studied, either. If you apply them to your skin according to the package directions, they’re probably safe to use. Still, they don’t appear to offer a strong defense against ticks and may wear off quickly.

Some of the items in these natural tick repellents can be found in supplements, too. Be aware that taking them by mouth won’t help you repel ticks and could harm your baby.

It’s wise to be wary of using any chemical while a baby’s growing inside you. Some simple strategies will help you stay tick-free:

  • Cover up. Wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants, socks and closed-toe shoes – sorry, no sandals -- if you’ll be in an area where ticks live. Don’t forget to tuck your pants into your socks. This makes it even harder for ticks to find their way to your skin.
  • Ditch the dark clothes. Light-colored clothing will make it easier for you to spot any ticks that crawl onto you.
  • Do tick checks after coming indoors. Use a full-length or hand mirror to look under your arms, around your ears, behind your knees, under your hair, inside your belly button, between your legs and around your waist. Don’t forget to check children, pets, and garden and lawn tools.
  • Don’t wait too long to shower. Washing off within 2 hours of being outside can reduce your risk of getting Lyme disease. And doing so can remove any ticks on your skin that may not be fully attached.
  • Use tweezers to remove ticks. If you find a tick attached to your skin, don’t pull it off. Instead, use a pair of tweezers. Grab hold of the tick as close to your skin as you can and gently pull it away. Wash the area where the tick was, as well as your hands.

Remember: just because you’ve been bitten by a tick doesn’t mean you’ll get Lyme disease. If you remove a tick within 24 hours after it attaches to you, your chances of getting sick are low.

Still, check in with your doctor if you start showing early signs of Lyme disease, such as a rash and flu-like symptoms (fever, chills, headache, fatigue).