Baby Bug Bites: Prevention & What To Do If They Happen

For adults, the occasional mosquito or fly bite may barely seem worth talking about, but babies are helpless against these tiny terrors. It can be hard to protect them at all times, and the bites will often go unnoticed at first.

Just as for adults, most bites will be either harmless or minor irritants for babies. With proper care from you, though, these pesky creatures won’t be bothering your little one for very long.

The first step is learning about which are the most likely bugs to bite people. Each type of insect and arachnid will pose a unique challenge to guard against. By understanding when and where each type of bug is often found, parents can be better prepared to keep their little ones safe.

Developing a plan for prevention and treatment of any bug bites on your baby is a great idea as well. Since babies are such easy targets for bugs due to their inability to protect themselves, it’s up to you to take proper precautions and give them the helping hand they need.

Which Bugs Are The Most Common Biters?

Depending on where you live in the world, the answer to this question varies greatly.

Rather than try to break it down by affected areas, many of which overlap, it will be far easier to go through a handful of the most prevalent bug types.

The particular species may change depending on the continent where you live, but the ways to treat and prevent these bites will be similar throughout.

1) Ants

These little colonizing insects are found on every continent except for Antarctica, and outnumber humans by a million to one.

Fortunately, the majority of the upwards of 12,000 known species aren’t aggressive and rarely bite. In fact, the ants with the worst reputation, fire ants, actually sting with their tails.

The main type of ant which does actually cause painful bites is the carpenter ant.

Carpenter ants are large (as far as ants are concerned), with some growing to nearly an inch in length.

They make their homes in moist decaying wood, so forests and some damaged parts of houses are where to find them.

If you have your baby tagging along with you while out camping and hiking, be mindful of any hollowed out wood holes. Ants only attack when defending their nest, so if you steer clear of them, they should leave you alone.

Their relatively big size makes their bites pack a punch, though. A red welt will likely form anywhere your baby is bitten.

With that being said, unless your baby has an extremely rare allergic reaction, the pain and welt could be gone in a matter of a few days.

2) Bedbugs

Formally known as Cimicidae, bedbugs are blood sucking menaces who love to set up shop in mattresses and other upholstered furniture.

They’re so tiny, which makes them hard to see at times – but what they lack in size, they make up for in vast numbers.

They have been known to travel home with parents from hospital beds or hotels, and can even easily make their way to a baby’s crib mattresses and sheets.

A thorough extermination is necessary once any are found, and affected sheets and bedding will likely have to be thrown out.

The bite of a bedbug is often not felt at first, since they inject an anesthetic before sucking blood. Afterwards, your baby will develop a small, red, and very itchy welt.

It is also common to see several welts clustered together or in a row. Since the bedbugs attack any exposed skin, they may be anywhere on the body that touches an infected surface.

If you or anyone in your house has been in a hotel or hospital recently, be sure to wash and examine anything brought back into the house.

Note from Dr. Leah Alexander, M.D., F.A.A.P.: “The bites most often look like clusters of blisters, and they are very itchy. You can often find evidence of them from blood stains on bedding.

The most effective and safest (less toxic) way of exterminating for bed bugs is via professional heat treatments. This is something to consider, especially when there is an infant in the home.

A research article from ‘Insects’ discusses this.”

3) Fleas

Dealing with a flea infestation is no picnic (or circus!).

Usually, fleas find their way into your home by hitching a ride on your pets. They happen to be amazing jumpers, and if they are anywhere in your home, soon they will be everywhere in your home.

They easily drive adults crazy, so do all you can to keep your baby out of their reach.

Their bite causes really itchy red splotches with a tiny dark spot at the center of each. They have been known to cause a rash in some people.

As with any parasite who breaks the skin, infection is always a concern. Fleas can usually be kept away with pet medicines and carpet treatments.

Note from Dr. Leah Alexander, M.D., F.A.A.P.: “The classic clinical presentation of flea bites is for there to be one person in the household who wakes up each morning with evidence of insect bites.

This can occur for several weeks if not detected, until the fleas move on to the next household.

Fleas bite while a person is sleeping and not moving, and can make their way beneath clothing. This differs from other insect bites (i.e. mosquitos) that only bite on the exposed skin.

If there is a family dog or cat, I recommend that the parent take it to the vet for flea assessment and treatment.

If not and there is carpet in the home, extermination may be needed in addition to washing fomites.”

4) Flies

Flies are a wildly successful type of insect found virtually everywhere in the world, but few species will bite people regularly.

The ones which do bite most often are horse flies and deer flies. These bigger varieties have mouth pincers large enough to break the skin, and their bites can even draw blood. The resulting welts can be large, painful, and itchy.

Flies are also notoriously filthy animals, which makes cleaning any bite vital to prevent infections.

People are most likely to be bit near water, where the flies breed. This includes around oceans, streams, rivers, marshes, and lakes. In case you were wondering, house flies don’t bite (thank goodness!).

Covering up your baby with appropriate clothing in fly prone areas is key to prevention.

5) Mosquitoes

The enemy of every outdoor summer activity, these flying insects are as sneaky as they are persistent.

They land gently and deliver painful bites before you even notice them. Imagine how much more frustrating it feels for your baby!

Mosquito bites can cause large red welts or blisters which remain itchy for a few days.

They are most active at sunrise and sunset, and are another water loving creature. Avoid having any still or stagnant water on your property, and take precautions while near marshes, lakes, and ponds.

Note from Dr. Leah Alexander, M.D., F.A.A.P.: “Actually, blisters are more typical of spider bites, not mosquitos. What I do see, however, are pretty significant local allergic reactions to mosquito bites.

There is a central bite mark surrounded by a very red and swollen area. If near the eye, eyelid edema can cause the eye to be swollen shut, mimicking an infection.

Parents are always alarmed by these reactions. I reassure them that the swelling will always be local and not lead to anaphylaxis.

Unfortunately, future mosquito bites will produce the same reaction.”

6) Spiders

Spiders are perhaps the scariest of them all, both for their stealthy nature and deadly reputation. To be sure, there are certain spider species capable of killing humans in practically every area.

However, most species of these eight legged arachnids are fairly harmless and keep to themselves. Spiders generally will only bite humans if they are accidentally stepped on or otherwise threatened.

Spider bites usually leave marks containing 2 puncture holes at the center of a red spot. Depending on the species, they can cause larger welts and blistering as well. Their venom can cause allergic reactions and other serious complications.

Performing a periodic check of your house and yard will eliminate most chance spider encounters for you and your baby.

Note from Dr. Leah Alexander, M.D., F.A.A.P.: “Rare but more serious bites, such as of the brown recluse spider, can cause loss of skin in the area of the bite.

If the area bitten begins to look necrotic or very irritated, medical attention should be sought as soon as possible.”

7) Ticks

Last on our list are the tiny hunters of the woods and grasslands, the ticks. They lie in wait to ambush their prey when an animal or human brushes up against their hiding spot.

Once on a host, these parasites find the nearest skin fold or hidden corner and begin to burrow into the skin. They are notoriously hard to feel or spot until they are done feeding, since they also inject anesthesia with their bite.

Whenever your baby is any area where they may have sat in or been brushed up against high grass or branches, a full body check should be done.

Ticks can cause rash, welts, fevers, and the debilitating Lyme disease.

They live in all corners of the globe, so always be aware of your baby’s surroundings and if any ticks may be present.

Note from Dr. Leah Alexander, M.D., F.A.A.P.: “Some parents do not realize this, but, in order to transmit infection, a deer tick must remain attached to the skin for at least 48 hours.

Also, parents hear lots of stories about “chronic lyme” in adults and ongoing disabilities. Fortunately, this phenomenon is rarely seen in infants and children.

The most common symptoms are a “target-like” rash or a swollen joint (lyme arthritis).

Rarely, Bell’s Palsy, a unilateral facial paralysis can occur or encephalitis; I have only seen a few cases of the latter sequela the past in 20 years.

Fortunately, once the infection is treated with the appropriate antibiotics, there are no longterm problems.

Here is an AAP link regarding tick-borne infections.”

How To Prevent Bug Bites On Babies

When it comes to prevention, there is no shortage of advice out there for you to follow.

Each family has their own unique situation, including where they live, what bugs are common near them, their usual activities, and so on.

The more prepared you are and the more precautions you have set in place to keep these annoying (and sometimes harmful) creatures away from your little one, the better.

Take the following lists as guidelines for you to use to fit your lifestyle.

What To Do

  • Dress your baby in clothes that cover as much skin as possible
  • Have them wear a comfortable cap or sun hat when not indoors
  • Check regularly for any signs of bite marks
  • Apply insect repellent to baby when outside the house
  • Use netting whenever possible to protect baby
  • Examine your baby from head to toe after being outside during tick season
  • Remember: anything that bites you is most likely biting your baby too
  • Periodically check for bugs (mattresses, pets, hidden corners, basements, gardens)

What To Avoid

  • Using insect repellent with DEET on babies under 2 months old
  • Applying DEET repellent on hands or face
  • Standing water
  • High grasses
  • Any visible nests or colonies
  • Placing baby directly onto grass

Note from Dr. Leah Alexander, M.D., F.A.A.P.: “For parents that are concerned about using DEET-type insect repellents, I recommend spraying the repellent on the clothing prior to getting dressed rather than directly onto the skin.

This will still provide a good amount of insect protection. I know this from first-hand experience.

While hiking in the Amazon jungle of Brazil, I only  sprayed my clothing with insect repellent. I made it through the trek without even one insect bite!

Here is some additional advice regarding safe use of insect repellents from Nemour’s Hospital.”

Hidden Dangers Of Bug Bites For Babies

No matter how vigilant and careful you are as a parent, your baby will still get bitten. There’s no running away from this, as there’s nothing you could physically do to guarantee 100% prevention.

The sooner you come to terms with this, the better equipped you will be to deal with the consequences.

1) Unnoticed Bites

In order to take good care of your little one, you must first and foremost find the bite marks.

Even if your baby shows no signs of discomfort, that doesn’t mean they weren’t bitten and there’s no marks to be found anywhere on their body. You should always do a full body examination every day.

Worried about this being yet another time draining parenting task added to your never-ending to-do list? It doesn’t have to be. Diaper changes are the perfect opportunity to look for hidden bites.

While it’s tempting to take it easy when you haven’t gone outside, bugs that bite are found inside the home just as often.

A daily routine can save you from having to deal with more serious rashes or allergic reactions in your baby.

Note from Dr. Leah Alexander, M.D., F.A.A.P.: “Sometimes all of the locations where the child has been bitten are not evident on the first day of symptoms.

It is important that parents realize this rather than thinking the child keeps getting bitten on a daily basis.

Exceptions would be flea bites and bed bug bites which can occur nightly until the problem is remedied.”

2) Delayed Symptoms

You may be made aware of when your baby receives some bites, and there might only be a mild reaction. However, don’t let your guard down right away and assume that it’s nothing to worry about.

It’s not unusual to have a rash or expanding red and swollen area develop hours or days after the initial bite.

3) Allergic Reactions

Sometimes, the culprit may be an allergic reaction. Certain children have allergies to one or more types of bug bite, causing serious swelling as a result.

Unfortunately, you won’t know if your child has such an allergy until you witness a severe reaction happen.

Other allergic reactions are much milder, and only give your baby an itchier or more visibly red colored bite area. For these cases, all that’s required is some extra care and attention.

4) Infection Risks

Contrary to popular belief, the most dangerous effects of a bug bite are not allergies, but infections.

All bites by definition break the skin, which opens the body up to harmful germs. Any germs which are already on your baby during a typical day mix with whatever other germs are being carried by the bug doing the biting.

Scratching an itchy bite mark can reopen the skin even further. If you think it’s difficult for you to resist scratching an itch, imagine how impossible it is to expect that from your baby. Think they don’t have the physical means to do so? Think again, especially if you haven’t been cutting your baby’s nails as of late.

These initially tiny bites can quickly turn into nasty little wounds. A young and growing baby’s immune system is not fully formed yet, and so is particularly susceptible to pathogens which are then able to enter the body and wreak havoc.

Note from Dr. Leah Alexander, M.D., F.A.A.P.: “A simple way for parents to determine whether or not an insect bite has become infected is if it looks worse in 48 hrs.

There may be pain, increased swelling, and increased redness. If this is the case, he/she should see a doctor.”

What Other Diseases Are Possible?

Even though any infection can be potentially dangerous, there are certain rare diseases transmitted by bug bites which are in a class by themselves.

While each of the following examples is frightening, they are all worth learning a little about.

Knowing the signs and symptoms, as well as in which geographic areas they are most likely to happen, may help you seek medical treatment before they progress too far and pose great danger to your little one’s well being.

1) Lyme Disease

It’s caused by ticks carrying the Borrelia borgdorferi bacteria.

Symptoms include a large “bullseye” or splotchy red patch around the bite, followed weeks later by severe nerve and joint pain.

It is found all across the Northern Hemisphere, and can be treated effectively with antibiotics if caught early. Don’t try administering antibiotics to your kid on your own, though – only do so under the guidance of a doctor.

Here is a great link from Nemour’s Hospital that discusses the disease in detail and includes helpful tips on removing ticks.

2) West Nile Disease

This virus is transmitted by mosquitoes, and has similarly spread across most of the Northern Hemisphere.

It can cause fevers, and in certain rare cases has proven to be fatal.

Currently, there are no known cures to this disease.

Here is an informative link about “West Nile” from Nemour’s as well.

3) Malaria

This most famous mosquito carried disease has killed millions worldwide, but is primarily found in the tropics.

The Plasmodium parasite can cause numerous serious conditions including nausea, chills, fevers, diarrhea, and jaundice.

Infants are especially at risk from this disease, so if you live in any of the affected areas, take extreme precautions.

Note from Dr. Leah Alexander, M.D., F.A.A.P.: “I see quite a few patients for travel medicine visits and regularly prescribe anti-malarial preventative medications.

I would encourage any parent that is planning travel to areas where malaria is endemic to schedule a visit to discuss preventative vaccines and medications.

As for malarial disease, I had an interesting case of a new patient who had been living in Uganda.

He seemed to be an otherwise well 8 year old, but the mother mentioned, just casually, that he sometimes gets a fever at night.

I decided to order a test for plasmodium, and, sure enough, it was positive.”

4) Leishmaniases

Not to be left out, flies are the main carrier of these parasite diseases.

The trademark of leishmaniases are blisters and ulcers that don’t go away.

This illness occurs in all parts of the world, and the treatment for it takes a long time to complete.

5) Spotted Fever (Typhus)

Bacteria of the Rickettsia genus hitch a ride on ticks, and cause diseases called spotted fever, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, or typhus.

Different forms are more severe than others, and tend to cause fevers, rashes, and blisters.

As with Lyme disease, a course of antibiotics should be enough to eliminate spotted fever if caught early.

Here is an informative link for “Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever” from Nemour’s as well.

How Can I Treat A Bug Bite On My Baby?

Now that you’re sufficiently scared out of your wits over your baby’s safety, let’s finish with the simple steps needed to treat a bug bite after it has already happened.

The best way to treat any bug bite is to find it quickly and take immediate action. The faster you’re aware of it and the less time you need to react and take action, the less chances of adverse effects there are.

By using common sense and some basic first aid, very few bites will become anything more than a minor irritation for your little munchkin.

Step #1: Identifying The Problem

Upon finding a bug bite anywhere on your baby, the very first step is to examine it closely.

Is it small or large? Does it have marks or holes at the center? Is there swelling or a rash? How is your baby reacting to the bite? Do they cry in pain, attempt to scratch it, or barely notice it’s there?

Step #2: Assess The Situation

Most cases will not require any professional medical care, but certain symptoms should prompt you to immediately call a doctor or go to a hospital straight away.

This is not an exhaustive list, but some warning signs would be if your baby experiences:

  • Severe rash or swelling at the bite location
  • Any signs of a strong allergic reaction, such as swollen lips, face, eyes, or tongue
  • Any difficulty breathing
  • Pronounced coughing or wheezing
  • High fever
  • Confusion or lightheadedness
  • Fainting or loss of consciousness
  • Unusual fatigue or sleepiness

While some of these symptoms would likely show up immediately or within minutes of when your baby gets bit, others are delayed and could take several hours to appear.

An infection might not show up for a few days, or could appear after a bite is scratched raw and bleeds.

Any more serious disease may have an incubation period of days, weeks, or even a couple months before noticeable and dangerous symptoms appear.

Step #3: After Assessing The Situation

In order to greatly reduce the risk of infection or other diseases, be quick to clean and treat any bug bite you notice on your baby.

There are numerous options, both with pharmaceuticals and with home remedies if you prefer a more natural approach, all of which will have your child feeling good as new in no time.

All of this will help you learn a basic routine for how to handle bites, so you won’t become so flustered to the extent you begin forget simple things when you need to act fast.

Below is a general outline you can follow.

#1: Eliminate Further Risk – If there is any chance of more bites occurring, move your baby to a safe location.

#2: Identify All Bite Marks – When dealing with multiple bites, be sure to know the full extent of the situation before beginning to treat.

#3: Check For Remaining Bugs – With bedbugs, fleas, flies, mosquitos, and spiders, a bite mark will usually be clear of any bugs.

For ticks, and occasionally ants, the bug may still be attached when you examine the area.

Ants can sometimes get their mandibles stuck clamped down on skin, but will come loose when brushed away by hand. Ticks, being a type of parasite, will be burrowed in and not wanting to let go.

As frightening as it can be to see a tick on your helpless baby, resist the urge to smack it away. Doing so will often get rid of the body, but leave the head buried in the skin. This is a major infection risk, so instead use some tweezers to carefully get the whole tick removed.

Note from Dr. Leah Alexander, M.D., F.A.A.P.: “You actually need more than just tweezers.

My “trick” when I remove ticks in the office is to apply a large dollop of petroleum jelly or similar oily, thick ointment. This cuts off the tick’s oxygen supply.

After about 10-15 minutes, the jaws release from the skin and the tick can easily be pulled off.

If any parents consider trying to solve this with the fire technique, I would not suggest this, as I would be afraid of a parent causing an unintentional burn injury.”

#4: Cleaning The Bite Area – Use soap and water or some other disinfectant such as an alcohol swab to thoroughly wash off around any bites. Keep the area clean and dry as much as possible afterwards.

For bites that bleed, apply pressure to clot the wound, then follow a cleaning with a bandage.

#5: Treat For Pain And Itchiness – Bites can be painful, especially for a baby who doesn’t understand why they’re hurting so much. An ice pack will reduce swelling and numb the pain away at first.

If pain persists, consider giving your infant acetaminophen or ibuprofen if your doctor recommends them. 

For itchiness, ice will also reduce the problem. Benadryl or topical hydrocortisone cream work to eliminate itchiness and swelling, also as long as your doctor is okay with either.

#6: Home Remedies – When unable to reach a doctor for advice, simply look to your kitchen for immediate relief.

Among the seemingly countless home remedies (many of which have been proven useful) are baking soda, garlic, aloe vera, honey, lemon, salt, or an oatmeal bath.

Feel free to experiment (with baby-safe ingredients only) and share with us any other home remedies you might have tried yourself!

Wrapping It Up

As is the case with most injuries, the best way to treat them is to prevent them from ever happening in the first place.

Proper clothing, awareness of bug infested areas, and attention to any bites present promptly will stop your baby from suffering too much discomfort.

Remember, bugs bites are inevitable, and shouldn’t be a constant cause for worrying. It’s inevitably going to happen, the important thing is how fast and efficiently you act to help your baby when it happens.

Keep a level head and you will be better able to calm your baby. Learn what signs and symptoms are normal, as well as which are more serious and require immediate medical intervention.

Then try your best to forget about worrying and just go have fun with your baby! They’re not going to be this young forever, so enjoy this beautiful phase while it lasts – don’t waste it on over-worrying about the inevitable.

If you have any tips for treating bug bites, or any interesting stories about when your baby got bit and how you handled the situation, we’d love to hear from you!

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Medically Reviewed By: Leah Alexander, M.D., F.A.A.P.

Medically Reviewed By: Leah Alexander, M.D., F.A.A.P.

Leah Alexander, M.D. FAAP began practicing pediatrics at Elizabeth Pediatric Group of New Jersey in 2000. She has been an independently contracted pediatrician with Medical Doctors Associates at Pediatricare Associates of New Jersey since 2005. After graduating from Kalamazoo College and Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, she completed her pediatric residency at Overlook and Morristown Memorial Hospitals. She is board certified in General Pediatrics.

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