Pregnancy and pesticides
Pregnant and breastfeeding women may have concerns about exposure to pesticides used in their home and the possibility that the use of chemicals might adversely affect the health of their child.
What are pesticides?
Pesticides are chemicals used to kill or control plant or animal pests.
Pesticides are often used in and around the home, with some requiring application by a licensed professional and others used by the homeowner.
Using pesticides safely
If you are pregnant or breastfeeding it’s important to minimise your use and the quantity of chemicals kept around your home and to store them safely.
Many pesticides are poisonous and can cause harm to people especially children, elderly people, pregnant and breastfeeding women and your pets.
There are a range of alternatives to using chemicals to manage pest problems at home or to minimise risks. Read more about using chemicals and pesticides safely at home.
What are the health hazards?
Pesticides, like many chemicals, can be toxic (poisonous) to people who are exposed to them in high doses.
This risk is increased when:
- pesticides are handled or applied inappropriately
- instructions and warnings on the label are not followed.
All pesticides used in Australia must be registered by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) (external site).
The APVMA is the Australian government authority that registers all agricultural and veterinary chemical products and labels in Australia.
Pesticides approved for use in Australia undergo rigorous testing including assessments of the chemistry and manufacturing process, and health and safety to the public, environment and workers.
The health (toxicity) assessment determines the pesticide’s potential:
- to affect a developing baby (birth and developmental defects)
- the effect on reproduction
- to affect a newborn baby.
Many of the pesticides used in professional termite treatments and for use within the home, are not teratogentic (don’t cause birth and developmental defects in a developing baby).
Despite this, pregnant and breastfeeding women are advised to minimise unnecessary exposure to pesticides and strong chemicals as they can be overcome by strong odours which can also lead to a high level of anxiety
What can I do to reduce my exposure?
Pesticides can enter your body by:
- breathing them in
- ingesting (swallowing) them from residue on hands or fingers
- residue on food or food in contact with contaminated surfaces
- direct contact with your skin.
Pesticides must be used and applied correctly, with all warnings followed, to reduce health risks from exposure to pesticides. Read more about understanding the labels on household chemicals.
When you are applying pesticide, choose a product that is fit for purpose and with a low toxicity rating. It is also important only to use the amount required as indicated on the label – do not overuse.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid contact with pesticides being used at home as much as possible. Arrange for a licensed pest technician (where required), relative or friend to apply the pesticide.
If your partner is exposed to pesticides in the workplace it is recommended that they do not bring their work clothes home. If they must bring affected clothes home, do not wash them with the rest of the family clothing, particularly children’s clothes.
In many circumstances, using pesticides can be avoided by reducing the likelihood of pest infestation in and around your home.
Tips to reduce the use pesticides:
- regularly remove and prevent a build-up of rubbish
- store food in containers with tight fitting lids
- remove pooling and stagnant water
- block gaps around doors and pipes
- install effective fly screens.
Should I leave the house during a treatment?
If you are using a licensed pest management technician to apply a pesticide in and around your home can advise you about the type of pesticide being used, its toxicity and whether you should leave the premises temporarily.
Although exposure to these chemicals can be reduced by proper handling and application, pregnant women may feel more comfortable remaining away from home while pesticides are being applied.
Any stress caused by remaining in the house, or returning while there is still an odour, could be detrimental to your or your baby’s health.
It is important for women to minimise stress during pregnancy, so avoiding a situation with a perceived risk is a good idea.
If you are concerned about the use of pesticides in your home please speak to your doctor for further advice.
What happens if I am exposed to a pesticide?
Do not panic if you are exposed to a pesticide. Follow the first aid directions on the label and contact the Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26.
Have a copy of the pesticide label with you when you call if possible and advise the consultant that you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Studies of birth and developmental defects from pesticide exposure have shown that these are generally linked to long-term contact with high doses of agricultural pesticides.
A one-off exposure to a low dose of a pesticide used within the home is a low risk and unlikely to cause any health issues for you and your child.
Are personal pesticide products safe?
Like all other pesticide products used in Australia, those for use on the skin for example mosquito repellents containing DEET or picaridin have undergone rigorous testing prior to use.
A small amount of the pesticide in insect repellents will enter the skin, however this amount is minimal and not considered a health risk.
Some sensitive individuals have been found to react to DEET however laboratory testing suggests there is no effect on a developing baby.
Information about DEET exposure during the first three months of pregnancy is limited. Pregnant and breastfeeding women are advised to use DEET with caution and to choose products that contain low to moderate 5 to 20 per cent concentrations.
Mosquito-borne diseases in Australia can be very debilitating, or in rare cases even fatal, to both adults and children.
The benefits from preventing mosquitoes around your home and avoiding bites and these diseases far outweigh any minimal risk to health from exposure to insect repellents.
Where to get help
- If the victim has collapsed dial triple zero (000) to call an ambulance
- Call the Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26 (24 hours a day) if you suspect poisoning.
- See your doctor.
This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.