If you are new to beekeeping or are thinking about taking up the hobby, and have recently discovered you are pregnant, you may be wondering whether you can continue or indeed even take it up in the first place.
The Risks of Beekeeping When Pregnant
If you are pregnant and keep bees, it is only natural to wonder if you are going to be putting your unborn child at risk while you take care of your bees.
The biggest risk you could face is from multiple stings from an aggressive swarm, which might increase the chance of anaphylactic shock. If you already have an allergy to bee stings, it is probably best to avoid beekeeping while pregnant.
What is important to note is that bee stings do not normally cause anything more than a burning pain at the area of the sting as well as slight swelling and a red mark. In more moderate stings the swelling might increase over a few days and the area may become very red. However, both mild and moderate bee stings require nothing more than home treatment.
In the case of severe bee stings where the individual is allergic or when multiple stings have occurred, a more severe reaction could result. Severe allergic reactions can cause anaphylaxis, which can be life-threatening and is considered an emergency situation. Signs of anaphylaxis include:
- difficulty breathing
- swelling of the tongue or throat
- vomiting or nausea
- flushed or pale skin
- hives and itching
- loss of consciousness.
In the case of multiple stings, it is the accumulation of venom that cause the toxic reaction. It is for this reason that pregnant women need to take extra precautions when beekeeping, even if they are not allergic to bee stings in general.
Treatment for anaphylaxis typically involves an injection of adrenaline. Those with severe allergies are often given adrenaline auto-injectors such as the EpiPen to carry with them at all times. Adrenaline helps prevent anaphylactic shock from becoming life-threatening.
EpiPens use a drug called epinephrine, but this can cause problems for pregnant women. It raises the blood pressure, which can result in a condition known as placental abruption. Although this is not common, when multiple doses of epinephrine are required, the risk of placental abruption is higher.
Should You Stop Beekeeping When Pregnant?
While it is important to know the risks involved with beekeeping when pregnant, it is also worth knowing that the majority of pregnant beekeepers do not have any problems at all. Bees are not aggressive by nature and will typically only sting as a self-defence mechanism. In the case of multiple bee stings, it is usually because of disrupting a hive or a swarm of bees.
Whether you stop beekeeping when pregnant is of course a matter for you to decide but know that there are ways to avoid bee stings when beekeeping. Some of these are:
- Remember that bees sting when they feel threatened. To prevent your bees using their natural self defence mechanism, use calm graceful movements when around them so that the bees have no cause to react.
- Carrying on from the above, when carrying out hive inspections, it is important to not make any sudden or abrupt movements, especially when removing frames with bees. Also, try to inspect your hive when the weather is warm and sunny as bees dislike the rain, cold, and wind.
- If possible, inspect your hive during mid-morning and mid-afternoon when most of the worker bees are out foraging.
- A white protective beekeeping suit is preferable when working with bees. They find lighter clothing less threatening than dark clothing. Make sure that you keep your head covered with a veil while working with the bees as a sting in the face or near the eyes could be extremely painful, and even dangerous. Gloves are also a good idea.
- Smokers are a great way to calm bees before you inspect the hive. Bees interpret the smoke as fire, so they usually dive into the hive to gorge in case they have to leave and start a new hive.
- Do not block the entrance to the hive. Bees tend to have their own route to the hive and if you are standing in front of the entrance, they could become agitated.
What If You Get Stung?
If you do get stung by a bee, it is important to remain calm. Even with all the measures above, there is no guarantee that you will not get stung. Walk away from the hive slowly and calmly. Bees emit a pheromone when they sting, and this instantly alerts the rest of the hive to ‘danger’. If the rest of the bees see you as a threat, they are more likely to swarm and chase you. Running is not a good idea considering that bees can fly much faster than you can run.
If a bee has stung you, you should be fine. Keep an eye on the sting however and be alert to the signs of an allergic reaction. If you are worried, call your doctor or midwife.