If you get a bee or wasp sting during pregnancy, you don’t have to worry that the venom itself will harm your baby. Bees and wasps don’t spread disease.

But a severe allergic reaction to a bee or wasp sting during pregnancy may pose a danger to you or your baby.

Also, some allergy medications aren’t always suitable during pregnancy. Here’s what you need to know about allergic reactions to bee or wasp stings in pregnancy.

How to Treat a Bee or Wasp Sting During Pregnancy

You can treat a bee or wasp sting during pregnancy much as you would if you weren’t pregnant.

For swelling or pain at the site of the sting, use ice or a cold compress. Gently clean the area with soap and water to avoid an infection. Topical hydrocortisone cream (available over the counter) can help with itching and is safe for pregnant people.

You may need an oral antihistamine for more severe itching, pain, and swelling. Doctors consider antihistamines generally safe during pregnancy.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology recommend chlorpheniramine, the medical ingredient in Chlor-Trimetron, and other brand names.

Diphenhydramine, the medicine in Benadryl, is also unlikely to pose a risk in pregnancy. However, medical experts recommend avoiding diphenhydramine in the third trimester.

In rare cases, taking diphenhydramine in the third trimester, especially at high doses or over many days, can cause uterine contractions and stillbirth.

Both chlorpheniramine and diphenhydramine cause drowsiness, so you should avoid them if you need to stay alert. Medical experts also recommend avoiding these medications if breastfeeding because they can cause drowsiness in the baby.

Newer antihistamines loratadine (Claritin) and cetirizine (Zyrtec) don’t cause drowsiness. Multiple studies have shown that babies exposed to cetirizine or loratadine in the first trimester didn’t have an increased risk of birth defects. Plus, a study of 161 people who took loratadine during the first trimester showed no increased risk for low birthweight or prematurity.

Based on these studies, ACOG considers these newer antihistamines safe to take occasionally during pregnancy. It’s always best to call your obstetric clinic and double-check that a medication is safe before taking any drug in pregnancy, however.

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Stay Cautious About Decongestants During Pregnancy

Some over-the-counter antihistamine medications also contain oral decongestants. For this reason, make sure to read the drug’s label carefully, especially the list of active medical ingredients.

Studies show that decongestant pseudoephedrine, when taken in the first trimester, may slightly increase the risk of birth defects. Doctors, therefore, advise pregnant women to avoid pseudoephedrine during the first trimester, when key organs are forming.

Some studies have also noted a potentially higher risk of birth defects with other oral decongestants, including phenylephrine and phenylpropanolamine.

However, other studies haven’t confirmed that oral decongestants increase the risk of birth defects. That means that if decongestants do increase the risk of birth defects, the overall risk is likely still low.

Nasal decongestants are, however, considered safe in pregnancy. That’s because the medication enters the blood in very small amounts, if at all.

Can You Go into Anaphylactic Shock in Pregnancy?

Yes, anaphylaxis can happen during pregnancy. If you’ve never had an anaphylactic allergic reaction, your risk of having anaphylactic shock in pregnancy is very low. However, you should stay aware of the signs because anaphylaxis is severe.

The symptoms of anaphylaxis are the same in pregnancy as they are at other times. In anaphylaxis, the body releases a flood of chemicals to fight an allergen. This reaction overwhelms the body, causing shock.

Anaphylaxis usually affects many systems of the body at once. Anaphylaxis can lead to death if not treated promptly. Symptoms include:

  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Dizziness.
  • Loss of consciousness.
  • Nausea or diarrhea.
  • A rapid drop in blood pressure.
  • Severe anxiety.
  • Swelling of the tongue or throat.

Pregnant women with anaphylaxis may also have:

  • Long-lasting low blood pressure.
  • Low back pain.
  • Uterine cramps.

Doctors treat anaphylaxis in pregnancy the same way they do for non-pregnant people — with epinephrine (adrenaline) injected into muscle.

People who aren’t health care workers can give epinephrine through an EpiPen. Your doctor will prescribe an EpiPen for you to carry with you at all times if you’re at a high risk of having an anaphylactic reaction.

The risks of anaphylaxis to a pregnant person and fetus are higher than any risk posed by epinephrine treatment. Treating a possible anaphylactic reaction as an actual one and administering epinephrine is best given the dangers of anaphylaxis.

How to Avoid Insect Stings During Pregnancy

You can avoid bee and wasp stings during pregnancy by taking precautions. These include:

  • Avoid wearing perfumes, scented hair products, or fragrant deodorants. These can attract bees, wasps, and other insects.
  • Don’t drink right from a can outside during bee and wasp season. A bee or wasp can enter a can before you see it.
  • Don’t swat at a bee or wasp. This increases the likelihood that the insect will sting you. Instead, stay still or move slowly and wait for the bee or wasp to fly away.
  • Wear closed-toe shoes when walking in grass. Bees or wasps may fly near wildflowers or weeds. They may sting you if you step on or near them.
  • Wear dark clothing when walking in areas with many bees or wasps. (Bright colors, including yellow and white, attract them).

If a bee or wasp does sting you, check to see if the stinger is still in your skin. If it is, flick it or scrape it off right away. This stops any remaining venom from entering your body. Wasps don’t lose their stingers, which means they can sting you over and over again.

The Bottom Line

Though bee or wasp stings during pregnancy can cause pain and itching, they don’t pose risks to the fetus. However, you should talk to your doctor about which antihistamines are safe and avoid decongestant medications.

Anaphylactic reactions are rare but possible in response to insect stings and other allergens. Treating anaphylactic reactions right away is vital.

Learn more about insect allergy skin testing and treatment.

Allergy & Asthma Network. Pregnancy and Allergies. Link

American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology. Stinging Insect Allergy. Link

American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology. Insect Sting Allergies. Link

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. What medicine can I take for allergies while I'm pregnant? Link

American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology. Pregnancy and Allergy. Link

Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Insect Allergies. Link

Drugs.com. Can you take antihistamines while pregnant? Link

MotherToBaby Fact Sheets. Cetirizine (Zyrtec). Link

MotherToBaby Fact Sheets. Chlorpheniramine. Link

MotherToBaby Fact Sheets. Diphenhydramine. Link

MotherToBaby Fact Sheets. Loratadine (Claritin). Link

About UPMC Magee-Womens

Built upon our flagship, UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital in Pittsburgh, and its century-plus history of providing high-quality medical care for people at all stages of life, UPMC Magee-Womens is nationally renowned for its outstanding care for women and their families.

Our Magee-Womens network – from women’s imaging centers and specialty care to outpatient and hospital-based services – provides care throughout Pennsylvania, so the help you need is always close to home. More than 25,000 babies are born at our network hospitals each year, with 10,000 of those babies born at UPMC Magee in Pittsburgh, home to one of the largest NICUs in the country. The Department of Health and Human Services recognizes Magee in Pittsburgh as a National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health; U.S. News & World Report ranks Magee nationally in gynecology. The Magee-Womens Research Institute was the first and is the largest research institute in the U.S. devoted exclusively to women’s health and reproductive biology, with locations in Pittsburgh and Erie.