How to treat insect bites on babies

We love being outdoors with our little ones — fresh air, sunshine, and a change of scenery can make everything better. Unfortunately, one drawback that comes with the alfresco territory — most noticeably during the summer months: Bugs. Creepy, crawly, bitey bugs to be more specific.

It’s one thing when you, an adult, get an itchy, ouchie sting. But when your poor, defenseless sweetheart gets one? Cue the tears — from you and them! It can be uncomfortable, painful, and scary for a little one. It’s important to be prepared for bug bites and know what to do. Read on for our tips on how to identify, treat, and, hopefully, prevent them.

baby with insect bite
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How to identify different bug bites

Before you panic and call the pediatrician (been there, done that!), you can try to identify a bug bite or sting yourself. Most of the time, you’ll see a red bump on your child’s skin. You may notice them grabbing at it or itching before you even see the spot. Here are the most common insect bites on babies:

  • Mosquito: ‘Tis the season. Mosquitoes do not discriminate — blood is blood, and they will feast on your baby’s soft, delicate skin without hesitation (they’re bugs, after all). A mosquito bite on Baby looks like, well, a mosquito bite on you! It can be characterized as a small red bump with a tiny dot in the center.
  • Bee sting: If you see a red dot with almost instantaneous swelling (stinger potentially included), you know your child was the victim of a bee or wasp. Of course, before you even identify the mark, your child might be crying in pain! While not very common, bee and wasp stings can cause serious allergic reactions in some children, so watch your kiddo carefully.
  • Fire ants: Fire ant bites can be painful and cause a burning sensation. They typically happen on the feet or legs, and can result in swelling and fluid retention.
  • Flea bites: These often appear in a small group of red dots. Have dogs or cats? This can help clue in your bite detective work.
  • Bed bugs: Appearing as a cluster, bed bug bites often have dark red spots at the center. These will usually be on an exposed part of the body that PJs don’t cover.

How to treat bug bites

These treatments will help out your kiddo if they’re a victim of a bug bite or two:

  • Hydrocortisone or antibiotic cream: Not so fast, Mama. Before you whip out your handy hydrocortisone cream or slather one the antibiotic ointment, talk to your child’s pediatrician. Some recommend against using cream for insect bites for babies under two years of age.
  • Aloe vera gel: This soothing gel can be applied directly to a bite to soothe the affected area and take the itch out. Pro tip: Keep it in the fridge, so it’s extra cooling.
  • Baking soda paste: Stir a few drops of water into a teaspoon or two of baking soda to create a paste that draws out the itch.
  • Treating a sting: If it’s a bee sting, you’ll want to first remove the stinger — ASAP. Clean the area with cool water, and consider using a cream as mentioned above (this warrants a quick call to your doctor for the official “Okay!”), or try some calamine lotion to soothe and relieve pain and itching. If you suspect your child is having an allergic reaction, seek immediate medical assistance.
  • Tick bites: When your children spend time outdoors in the summer, you’ll want to check them for ticks. These buggers tend to gravitate to warm areas — the scalp, the belly button, the ears, etc. If you see one, don’t panic! Step one is to remove the tick. You can try soaking a cotton ball in soapy warm water and holding it to the tick for 30 seconds or so. Remove, and, hopefully, the tick will come off, too. If this doesn’t work, you’ll need to use tweezers. Grasp the body near your child’s skin and pull straight out without turning your tweezers. This should do it!

Be sure to put the tick in a jar, so you can show it to your pediatrician to determine if it is one that could carry disease. If you’re unable to do this, you can discuss Lyme disease risk or testing options with your pediatrician.

Signs that it might be more serious

Bug bites are typically more of an annoyance than a medical concern. But sometimes, kids can have reactions. Monitor the bite and make sure it’s healing properly. Call your doctor if the bite appears to crust over, gets ultra-red, hard, or inflamed around the center, or if the surrounding area becomes swollen. Moreover, if your child appears to be having an acute reaction to a bug bite, you’ll want to seek immediate help — if they experience shortness of breath, break out into hives, or become ill, call your pediatrician or take them to an ER or urgent care facility.

A reaction will typically happen soon after a sting. Anaphylaxis is a rare but possible allergic reaction to a sting and requires immediate medical care — so call 911.

kid with bug bites
VasitChaya/ Shutterstock

Prevention tips to avoid bug bites

Take these preventative steps if your little one is out and about:

  • Dress for the occasion: If you know your child will be playing in a woodsy or heavily green area with long grass, dress them in long breathable pants, long sleeves, socks, and hats. We understand that it’s summer and won’t always be possible to cover your kiddos up, but think in terms of layers.
  • Use bug repellent: You can use an insect repellent on infants older than two months of age. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends using a 30% DEET product. Be sure to wash it off at night.

Bug bites are no fun for anyone. It’s especially hard when your little one takes the brunt of a mosquito or fly swarm. There are some simple steps you can take to hopefully prevent them and a few to treat the inevitable ones that do happen. Either way, you’ll keep your kids calm and be prepared — and that will help take the sting out of this unpleasant situation.

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