Painting While Pregnant: How to Stay Safe

Medically reviewed by Janine Kelbach, RNC-OB on March 17, 2016Written by Jessica Timmons on March 17, 2016
Painting While Pregnant

As soon as you find out your baby-to-be’s gender, you’ll probably be ready to choose the perfect paint color for your little one’s nursery. Or maybe you just have a painting project you’d like to do and you happen to be pregnant.

But you’ve probably heard that you shouldn’t paint when you’re pregnant. So now what?

Here’s a closer look at what you should know about painting while you’re expecting and how to stay safe.

Is Painting While Pregnant Dangerous?

Continued exposure to solvents can increase the chances of birth defects and learning disabilities. Some studies have suggested that paint exposure during pregnancy puts your baby at a slightly increased risk for childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia. But more research is needed to assess this risk.

For these reasons, it’s best to avoid working directly with oil-based paints during your pregnancy. If you work with this kind of paint, speak with your employer.

Painting a room in your home will likely mean a very low level of exposure to anything dangerous to you or your baby. But the American Pregnancy Association advises that it’s still wise to avoid exposure to oil-based paints and any latex paints that have ethylene glycol ethers and biocides.

The best recommendation to ensure the safety of you and your growing baby is to find someone else for the job.

What Types of Paint Are Pregnancy-Safe?

The American Pregnancy Association notes three general categories of paint that a pregnant woman might be exposed to. These include:

  • latex paints (water-based)
  • oil paints (made with either synthetic or natural oils)
  • enamel paints

Latex paints contain no solvents and can be cleaned with soap and water. Oil-based paints contain solvents that can be dangerous during pregnancy.

There’s no way to accurately measure exposure to paint during a woman’s pregnancy. The chances of paint toxicity depend on two factors: the specific chemicals in a given paint, and how much exposure to these chemicals a pregnant woman has.

Staying Safe While Painting During Pregnancy

If it’s not possible to pass off the painting to someone else, you can reduce your risk of exposure. Follow these guidelines from the American Pregnancy Association:

  • Wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and gloves to protect your skin.
  • Keep the area well-ventilated by turning on ceiling fans and opening windows.
  • Take frequent breaks for fresh air.
  • Don’t bring food or drinks into the area being painted to keep solvents and chemicals from contaminating them.
  • Wash your hands when you’re finished painting.

Painting a room is considered normal, incidental exposure to paint. The American Pregnancy Association notes that there are no studies showing that this type of exposure is harmful to developing babies.

Don’t worry if you’ve already painted your nursery, or if you’ve been exposed to a room being painted. You can discuss it with your doctor if you’re concerned, but the chance of any problems stemming from this exposure is low.

What About Lead-Based Paints?

While today’s household paints generally don’t contain chemicals known to be harmful to pregnant women or their babies, that wasn’t always the case. Before the 1970s, lead-based paint was in widespread use. Even today, lead-based paint can pose a risk to pregnant women and their babies.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most of the lead found in homes comes from old paint. As it ages, it begins to crack and peel, becoming a fine dust that’s easily inhaled. Tackling a home renovation project like sanding or scraping old paint before painting on a new color can form lead dust. Lead poisoning can be caused by breathing this dust, or by swallowing lead.

Lead can pass from a mother to her developing baby. If you have too much lead in your body during a pregnancy, it can cause serious complications. These include:

  • greater risk of miscarriage
  • greater risk of delivering too early
  • delivering an underweight baby
  • damage to your baby’s brains, kidneys, and nervous system
  • future learning or behavior problems for your baby

The risk posed by old lead paint is likely what’s fueled the concern about painting during pregnancy. To keep your developing baby safe, you should avoid stripping and sanding old paint while you’re pregnant.

Instead, delay the project until the baby arrives, or find someone else to do this kind of work. Be sure to avoid fumes by staying far away until the project is complete.

Recommendations and Precautions

Before you begin a painting project, speak with your doctor. Avoid oil-based paints, including spray paint. These might contain solvents that can be dangerous to your developing baby.

Look for paints that are designed for use in nurseries and children’s rooms because they often contain fewer chemicals. Contact the manufacturer if you have concerns about a particular ingredient.

The Takeaway

When it comes to painting while pregnant, it’s best to err on the side of caution. There are some household activities that should be passed off to a partner, family member, or friend. Take extra care and ask for help when assembling and moving nursery furniture, or hanging heavy wall décor pieces or lighting. If you’re still worried about exposure to harmful chemicals, have someone else paint the nursery.

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