Published
May 31, 2024
in
skin
Published
May 31, 2024
5/31/24
in
skin

Protect your baby from insect bites: A quick guide

Bug bites and warm weather go together like pineapples on pizza. (Yep, I said it!) Sure, insects can get a hold of your kid year round, but during seasons where the weather is more attractive to insects, protecting your child from their bites becomes more of a “thing.” In most cases, bug bites are merely a bother. But in babies, who can’t clearly communicate their pain or discomfort, bug bites can be more disruptive. So to help prepare you for warmer days and making core memories outdoors, we’ll share some tips on how to prevent insect bites and help keep your little one as comfortable as possible if they do get bitten.
Megan N. Freeland, PharmD
Written by
Megan N. Freeland, PharmD
Content Writer
Dr. Marcy Borieux
Medically reviewed by
Dr. Marcy Borieux
Pediatrician

How can insect bites hurt infants and babies? 

Unfortunately mosquito bites on babies are quite common. Mosquitoes bite in order to feed on blood, so it makes sense that they’d be partial to a person that isn’t so quick to swat them away. This makes babies prime targets for mosquitoes’ meals. 

Ideally, you want to prevent mosquitoes from biting your baby as much as possible — not just because the bites can become quite itchy almost immediately afterward, but also because mosquitoes can carry diseases. Infectious diseases like West Nile Virus, Zika virus, and Dengue virus are carried by mosquitoes, although the likelihood of a mosquito carrying a certain disease depends on your location in the world.

At their most basic level, mosquito bites are most famous for the raised bumps they create on skin around the bite mark and itchiness around the area, which can last for 3-4 days. The bumps may appear reddish during that time too.

How do I protect my baby from insect bites?

While there’s no guarantee your baby will escape summer unscathed by insect bites — whether from a mosquito, ant, or another creepy-crawly — there are ways you can help lower their risk of getting bitten.

Here are a few tips:

  • Get rid of any standing water around your house. This includes buckets or toys that may fill with water, puddles, or any sources of water that just sit around. Mosquitoes absolutely love them and will think you enjoy their company. But trust me, you don’t want them hanging around.
  • Stay indoors when possible in the evening hours. Believe it or not, mosquitoes have a favorite time of day — the early evening hours when the heat of summer finally lets up. Keeping your baby inside during mosquito prime time will help keep your baby’s skin bite-free.
  • Dress your little one in loose, light-colored, long clothing. Long sleeves and long pants can help protect your baby’s skin from the sun and from bug bites. Of course, you also want to keep your baby from overheating, so choose lightweight fabrics like cotton and light-colored clothing. 
  • Keep mosquitoes and other biting insects out of your home. Sure, it’s great to enjoy the breeze, but open windows and doors should be covered by screens or mosquito netting when possible to keep bugs and insects outside where they belong.

In addition to these suggestions, putting insect repellent on your kiddo is also an effective way to prevent mosquito bites, as well as other insect bites.

What you need to know about safe insect repellents for infants and young children

There’s a lot to know about insect repellents, especially when it comes to using them on your children. You want to protect them from bug bites as much as possible, but you also want to be sure the ingredients aren’t harmful. 

First, it’s important to know what an insect repellent does, and fortunately, the name pretty much tells us. Insect repellents repel mosquitoes, chiggers, and other biting insects. They keep them away, but they don’t kill them. Also, they only work against insects that bite, not ones that sting. 

So insect repellents work against our flying friends like mosquitoes, ticks, fleas, but they don’t work against bees, yellow jackets, or wasps.

Both AAP and CDC recommend choosing insect repellents that have been registered by the Environmental Protection Agency. Look up insect repellents.

How to safely apply insect repellents to babies and children

Overall, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends reducing the need for insect repellent as much as possible by covering childrens’ skin with long, loose, light clothing and using mosquito netting when possible.

AAP also offers several useful tips on how to apply insect repellent safely to babies and children. Here are a few things you should do:

  • Read the label for any product you use and follow the instructions.
  • Keep insect repellent out of babies’ and young children’s reach.
  • Choose insect repellent sticks, lotions, or unpressurized sprays.
  • If using a spray, don’t spray it directly onto your child’s face. Spray it on your hand instead, then rub your hands on their face.
  • Apply insect repellent on any exposed skin and to the outside of clothing. (Insect repellent on skin under clothing won’t be as effective.)
  • Once your child comes indoors, wash any skin where DEET was applied, as well as any clothes it was applied to.

Here are a few important things to avoid:

  • Avoid putting DEET on your child more than once a day.
  • Avoid putting DEET on skin underneath clothing.
  • Avoid repellent candles, especially if your child has breathing problems, since the fumes may trigger breathing issues.
  • Avoid combination products that include both insect repellents and sunscreen. Instead, use a separate sunscreen and insect repellent. Always apply the sunscreen first, followed by insect repellent.
  • Avoid applying insect repellent to your child’s hands, eyes, mouth, or open wounds or cuts.
  • If your child is less than 3 years old, avoid products with lemon eucalyptus or para-methane-diol (PMD).

FAQs about DEET and safe insect repellents

According to AAP, insect repellents with DEET are the most effective options that repel mosquitoes. (Permethrin is the most effective tick repellent, so take note if you live in a tick-prone area.)

Can DEET hurt my baby? What age is safe to use?

DEET’s safety has been tested and confirmed for kids who are at least 2 months old. Since DEET is the most effective insect repellent currently available, it’s important for you to balance the risks versus benefits of using DEET on your child when choosing an insect repellent. 

On the one hand, insects like mosquitoes can carry diseases and getting bitten by one of these insects can potentially cause serious illness. DEET can repel insects, which lowers the risk of your child getting a disease carried by insects and lowers the risk of skin infections after a bug bite. On the other hand, DEET is a chemical, and even though insect repellents are applied on top of skin, chemicals can be absorbed through the skin. Babies’ skin is particularly sensitive.

You’ll need to weigh these risks against each other when it comes to your child, especially if you have a newborn or premature infant. When used appropriately, DEET-containing insect repellents are safe for children. 

Summer Health’s pediatricians are happy to help you weigh the potential risks and potential benefits. We’re just a text away.

What percentage of DEET is safest?

If an insect repellent contains DEET, the label will tell you exactly what percentage of DEET it has. To be safe, you should only use the amount of DEET you need for the amount of time you plan for your child to be outside. If you apply 10% DEET, your child will get about 2 hours of protection, and 30% DEET will provide about 5 hours of protection. No matter how long your child is outside, AAP recommends using no more than 30% DEET on children, but use less if possible and only apply it once per day.

Beyond 50%, DEET doesn’t provide any extra or longer protection.

How do I treat a bug bite on a baby or young child?

Even if you manage to keep insects away 99% of the time, there’s still a chance your baby could get bitten. Treating a mild insect bite is mostly about helping relieve the symptoms so that your child isn’t terribly itchy or uncomfortable if and when this happens.

Here are some ways you can keep your child comfortable if they have an insect bite:

  • Cover the bites with clothing to help keep your little one from scratching.
  • Wash the bite.
  • Apply a cool or cold washcloth to limit swelling and itching.
  • Use a steroid cream or ointment like hydrocortisone 0.5% or 1% for a few days
  • Use an oral antihistamine, like Children’s Benadryl (diphenhydramine) or Children’s Zyrtec (cetirizine), as needed for significant itching 

When should I seek medical attention for a bug bite?

At-home or over-the-counter remedies might be enough to help a child with a mild insect bite. But if your little one has a severe allergic reaction to an insect bite, get urgent medical help right away. Signs of an allergic reaction include:

  • Hives
  • Swelling 
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Trouble breathing or wheezing
  • Dizziness
  • Vomiting
  • Fainting 

Aside from allergic reactions, it’s also possible for insect bites to get infected. Signs of infection might include:

  • Redness or swelling that’s not getting better with time
  • Pain or warmth around the bite
  • Pus draining from the bite

You should get in touch with your child’s pediatrician or a Summer Health pediatrician if you think an insect bite might be infected, or if you have other questions about preventing or treating insect bites for your little one!

References

American Academy of Pediatrics. Insect Repellents. https://www.aap.org/en/patient-care/environmental-health/promoting-healthy-environments-for-children/insect-repellents/ 

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Find the Repellent That Is Right for You. https://www.epa.gov/insect-repellents/find-repellent-right-you

Megan N. Freeland, PharmD
Content Writer
Explore Summer Health
Ask about 
Our team of pediatricians are ready to answer the everyday questions you have about your child’s health.
Get started
*Requires account with Summer Health at $45/month