Pesticides and pregnancy

Pesticides are chemicals that are used to kill things like bugs, rodents, mold or weeds.  You can use some pesticides in your home. Others are for use only outside or on crops.

While pesticides may be helpful in keeping your home pest-free, they can cause problems for your baby if you’re exposed to (come in contact with) them during pregnancy. When you’re pregnant, stay away from pesticides.

How are you exposed to pesticides?

You may come in contact with pesticides as part of your everyday life. Pesticides may be in: 

  • Air and water
  • Bug sprays
  • Cleaning products, like bleach
  • Food. Farmers may use pesticides on food crops to protect them from insects. 
  • Lawn and garden products, like weed killer. Grass in public spaces, like parks, may be treated with pesticides to keep bugs away and weeds from growing. 
  • Pet products, like flea and tick shampoo
  • Rodent poisons, like mouse or rat bait

What problems can pesticides cause during pregnancy?

Your exposure to large amounts of pesticides—like those used on crops—may be harmful to your baby during pregnancy. It may lead to:

  • Birth defects. These are health conditions that a baby has at birth. Birth defects change the shape or function of one or more parts of the body. They can cause problems in overall health, in how the body develops, or in how the body works.
  • Learning problems later in your baby’s life
  • Low birthweight. This is when your baby is born weighing less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces.
  • Miscarriage. This is when a baby dies in the womb before 20 weeks of pregnancy. 
  • Premature birth. This is when your baby’s born too early, before 37 weeks of pregnancy. 

If you think you may be exposed to large amounts of pesticides, tell your health care provider.

How can you protect yourself from pesticides in food?

Here’s what you can do:

  • Eat organic foods. These are foods that are grown without the use of pesticides.
  • Buy fresh fruits and vegetables that are in season. They may have fewer pesticides on them when they’re in season.  
  • Wash and scrub all fruits and vegetables under running water. This helps clean away any pesticides they may have on them. 
  • Peel fruits and vegetables and throw away outer leaves of leafy vegetables. 
  • Trim fat from meat and skin from poultry (chicken, turkey, etc.) and fish.

How can you protect yourself from pesticides in your home or yard?

If you need pest control inside your home:

  • Use something other than chemicals, like mousetraps or sticky traps, instead of pesticides. Be careful not to set traps in places where children can get to them. 
  • Put food, dishes and utensils away before using a pesticide. 
  • Clean up food and water that may attract pests.  Wipe up spills and clean up crumbs right away. Fix leaky water pipes. 
  • Read the instructions and warnings on product labels for all pesticides. If you have leftover pesticides, follow state and local rules for throwing them away.
  • Have someone else put the pesticide in your home. Ask him to follow the directions on the product label. After using the pesticide, open windows to air out your home and wash all surfaces where food is made.
  • If you use a pest-control service, ask about pesticides. The company representative can tell you about the pesticides used and any risks they may pose to your baby’s health. 

If you need pest control outside in your yard:

  • Treat pest problems in your yard or garden with something other than chemicals. If you do use pesticides, treat specific places affected by pests or weeds. Don’t spray your whole lawn or garden. Don’t spray pesticides outside on a rainy or windy day. They can blow or run into places, like swimming pools or vegetable gardens, where you don’t want them to be.
  • Read the instructions and warnings on product labels for all pesticides. If you have leftover pesticides, follow state and local rules for throwing them away.
  • Close all the windows in your home and turn off the air conditioning. This helps keep pesticides in the air from coming inside.
  • Wear rubber gloves when gardening to avoid touching pesticides. 
  • If you use a lawn service, ask about pesticides. The company representative can tell you about the pesticides used and any risks they may pose to your baby’s health. 

How can you protect yourself from pesticides at work?

If you work with pesticides, talk to your boss. Tell him you’re pregnant. You may be able to change job responsibilities to help keep you and your baby safe during pregnancy.

To help protect yourself from pesticides at work:  

  • Wear protective clothing. Shower and change your clothes (including shoes) before going home.
  • Wash your work clothes at work or wash them at home separately from the rest of the laundry.
  • Wash your hands before eating.

Are insect repellents safe to use during pregnancy?

Yes. Insect repellants are products you put on your skin or clothes to help keep insects, like mosquitoes and ticks, away. Insect repellents can help prevent insect bites. You don’t want any insect bites during pregnancy because some insects carry infections that may be harmful to you and your baby.

Insect repellants are safe to use during pregnancy. Follow the directions on the product label.

Other ways to prevent insect bites include:

  • Staying indoors in the early morning or late afternoon when mosquitoes are most likely to bite
  • Wearing long pants and long sleeves when going outdoors

More information


See also:
Pesticides and your baby


Last reviewed: September, 2014