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Jennifer L.W. Fink
Registered Nurse

Insect Bites In Babies

Bug bites are a nuisance, but usually not a problem. Here’s what you need to know if baby gets bit.

What are insect bites in babies?

Babies and toddlers, unfortunately, aren’t immune to bug bites. Mosquitoes, flies, ants and other insects can bite your child, just like they bite you.

What are the symptoms of insect bites in babies?

Most bug bites are red, raised bumps. They may be itchy (think: mosquito bites) or somewhat painful (think: deerfly bites). Sometimes, the insect bite will have a blister-like area at the center.

Are there any tests for insect bites in babies?

Usually, no tests are necessary. If you’ve spent time outside with baby, and she develops red, raised bumps on different parts of her body, she was probably bit by an insect. Another clue: If the rest of the family is scratching mosquito bites, you can be almost positive that the red bumps on your baby are mosquito bites.

How common are insect bites in babies?

That depends on the baby. If yours spends a lot of time outside in natural areas, she’s probably more prone to bites than a child who spends most of her time indoors with the windows tightly shut.

How did my baby get insect bites?

Mosquitoes, flies, ants and other insects are most active in warm weather, so insect bites are most common in the summer months and in the southern states.

What’s the best way to treat insect bites in babies?

Most insect bites just need comfort measures. Applying a cool washcloth or ice cube wrapped in a towel to the site can help ease the itching. You can also use topical hydrocortisone cream or a paste made up of baking soda and water. Applying firm, direct pressure to a bite may help decrease the itching temporarily, but it’s tough to get a baby or toddler to sit still long enough for it to help.

An oral antihistamine (Benadryl) can be given to relieve itching; acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin) can be used to relieve the discomfort of painful bites. Ask the pediatrician for dosage instructions based on baby’s age.

Watch the bites for any signs of infection. If the bites get persistently red, and the redness spreads, rather than eases after a few days, or if there’s a funky discharge, you might want to consider taking your child to the doctor to be checked out. Simple infections can be treated at home with antibiotic ointment.

Also beware of symptoms of an allergic reaction. Some kids are allergic to insect bites, so if the swelling continues to get worse or if the redness migrates along the body, it’s time to visit the doctor. If your child develops difficulty breathing or swallowing after experiencing an insect bite, call 911. She could be having a severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis.

What can I do to prevent my baby from getting insect bites?

“Avoid being outside in the evening when the mosquitoes tend to be out a lot and avoid stagnant bodies of water,” says Alanna Levine, MD, a pediatrician at Orangetown Pediatric Associates in Tappan, New York.

But don’t avoid the outdoors altogether. “Kids need to spend time outdoors,” Levine says. “Insect repellent is a good way to protect children.” It’s okay to use insect repellent with DEET on kids older than two months. But restrict its use to one application per day; don’t continually reapply repellent throughout the day. It’s also a good idea to wash the repellent off your child’s skin before bedtime. “The shorter the amount of time you have the insect repellent on the child's skin, the better it is for them,” Levine says.

What do other moms do when their babies have insect bites?

“California Baby makes a bug repellent. It’s good for short durations or if you reapply frequently. My pediatrician also recommended Avon Skin So Soft Bug Guard Plus Picaridin. It’s a safe alternative to DEET and only needs one application. I have both. I use the California Baby for going to the playground or some other short outside trip and the Avon when we’ll be outside for extended periods, like a BBQ. I think calamine or maybe some topical Benadryl or even an oatmeal bath may help for the itch [if baby does get bitten].”

“My daughter is very sensitive to mosquito bites and always has huge welts when she gets bit. I usually give her Benadryl for them. A pediatrician told me that I could also use 1 percent hydrocortisone cream on them.”

“Last year, my son had a few big bug bites that caused extreme swelling — three on his face, closing his eye! One got infected too. Well, he has another near his eye, and it's huge. I called the pediatrician today, and she said that the chance of him getting another eye infection is incredibly low, but it's pretty red and the swelling is getting worse. She suggested giving him Benadryl, which I did before bed.”

Are there any other resources for insect bites in babies?

Seattle Children’s Hospital

American Academy of Pediatrics’

Plus more from The Bump:

Summertime Safety for Baby

Rashes and Other Skin Problems

Allergies in Babies

The Bump expert: Alanna Levine, MD, pediatrician at Orangetown Pediatric Associates in Tappan, New York