You’re pregnant, nesting mode has set in big time, and you have a strong vision for just how you want that new nursery to look.

But you may have some reservations about picking up a paintbrush — and rightfully so. Breathing paint fumes isn’t great for anyone, let alone pregnant women.

While there are differing opinions, it’s generally deemed risky to paint while pregnant and not worth the potential birth defects to the baby. Let’s take a look at why — and some ways you may be able to minimize the risk and still get the nursery you want.

You may wonder if science really backs the idea that you shouldn’t be painting — or if people are just worried about falling off a ladder during the project.

There are obvious ethical issues when it comes to conducting research studies on pregnant people. But we do have some data to draw from.

In a 2017 study, researchers looked at rats that were exposed to too much toluene-based paint inhalation. The study revealed that prenatal exposure led to concerning results regarding spatial memory function in the rats’ offspring. These impairments continued to be an issue into adolescence.

While humans aren’t rats, this study suggests that paint inhalation may be a risk to the brain development of the baby, which can impact their childhood development as well.

A 2019 study concluded that home renovations were “significantly associated with male genital abnormality,” causing concern for women carrying baby boy fetuses. Researchers noted that the time frame in which babies are exposed to home renovations and the level of exposure does matter.

The same study discredits previous ideas about certain other birth abnormalities that were traditionally thought to be caused by paint fume inhalation, such as cleft palate.

We’ve all seen signs and labels warning us about lead in paint. Luckily, lead-based paints have been prohibited for decades, eliminating almost all risk of coming into contact with that as a hazard during pregnancy. However, traces of lead-based paints may be found in the home that you’re remodeling or working on.

Basically, painting a nursery with new paint is much different than stripping old paint from a house you’re flipping.

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) can still be found in some paints, but you can usually pay a small amount more for an organic or VOC-free option. However, the Environmental Protection Agency warns that even paints marketed as VOC-free may, in fact, emit some VOCs — so proper ventilation is key.

In terms of types of paints:

  • Oil-based paints often contain harmful chemicals.
  • Acrylic paints are seen as somewhat safer than oil-based, but they can still possibly contain harmful chemicals.
  • Water-based paints are typically seen as safer than solvent-based and spray paints (which also have solvents in them).

So while some paints may be safer than others, your safest bet is to leave the house while someone else paints — and wait to return until the fumes are gone.

The first trimester is the most sensitive time, as key organs and body functions are being developed. So it’s best to get some help painting the nursery (or doing other projects) to be safe.

A 2012 study suggests congenital abnormalities in the renal and nervous systems of babies exposed during the first trimester to solvent-based paint.

Activities in the months leading up to conception may matter as well. One 2017 study found that paint odor exposure in the 6 months prior to conception can impact a baby’s birth weight and can increase the risk of macrosomia. However, It’s important to note that this is just a single study.

Continued exposure to paint over time is one of the main risk factors in the studies cited, and increased exposure naturally increases the risk to the baby.

If you’re in a job setting that may require dealing with paint, get more information about the type of paint and ask about getting reassigned to other tasks to be safe, especially during the first trimester.

Painting a nursery or completing other home improvement or art projects hasn’t been proven completely unsafe.

So if you’re painting during pregnancy, consider the following recommendations:

  • Paint in a well-ventilated space to minimize fume inhalation.
  • Open windows and doors and take frequent breaks.
  • Position a fan to help air out the room.
  • Avoid eating and drinking in the room being painted, as fumes can build up in items you consume.

Another potential risk associated with painting is using a ladder to reach higher surfaces, which can be dangerous for pregnant women who may experience less of an ability to balance than usual.

Consider waiting 2 days after a surface has dried to spend extensive periods of time in a freshly painted room, such as a bedroom or main room.

While you may have your heart set on painting the nursery that perfect hue all by yourself, it’s best to ask for help on this one.

While the research isn’t totally conclusive, some studies indicate risks, especially during the first trimester when the baby is still developing essential organs and systems.

If you’re planning to paint, pay attention to the age and type of paint, as well as the rest of the environment to minimize breathing paint fumes.

Use well-ventilated areas, avoid prolonged exposure, and carefully select your type of paint to minimize interacting with chemicals that haven’t been well-researched for use in pregnancy.