There are a lot of things that change when someone finds out that they’re pregnant. These alterations often include a sharp change in someone’s daily rituals and habits. Some things that were once easy become more difficult or, worse, dangerous to the health of a pregnant person and their child. Smoking cigarettes, eating certain foods or lifting and carrying a certain amount of weight at any given time all take on new meanings.
When preparing for the arrival of a new baby, many parents go through a phase of reorienting and redecorating their homes and building nurseries so their households are ready to meet the demands of a tiny new human. This takes the form of softening sharp corners, assembling new furniture, and, of course, painting. That leaves many parents wondering: is it actually safe for me to paint while I’m pregnant?
In this article, we’ll talk about this topic a little more in-depth, as well as possible alternatives if you find you’re in a desperate mood to redecorate (it’s called nesting, and it happens!).
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While there may be some slightly differing opinions out there, the consensus is pretty clear: it’s generally considered not safe for a pregnant woman to be painting, and it’s best to limit your overall exposure to paint fumes while you’re carrying. This is because most paints contain petroleum-based chemicals that can cause health problems if you inhale too much of them.
It’s been difficult for researchers to conduct studies regarding the specifics of the possible risks associated with inhaling paint fumes while pregnant, since ethically speaking researchers can’t purposely expose pregnant women to health hazards.
Studies done on rats, however, have shown that those exposed to paint solvents while pregnant had significant spatial memory function issues in their offspring that continued into their adolescence, suggesting similar things can happen to human children exposed in the womb as well.
Some other issues that may come up for babies exposed to high levels of paint fumes while in utero are:
- Congenital abnormalities
- And other birth defects
Currently, it’s believed that these risks are only really a large concern for babies whose mothers are exposed to excessive amounts of fumes on a consistent basis (i.e. those who “huff” or sniff paint recreationally), and that most common household painting tasks (like painting a room) don’t involve too much of a risk.
Still, some mothers may not want to take the risk!
Safer Paint Alternatives
If you feel you absolutely must get that room painted, obviously the safest course of action would be to have someone else perform the task if you can. But if that’s unavoidable, it’s not completely out of the question for you to paint yourself if you take the proper precautions and use some safer paints that are out there on the market today.
The biggest health risk comes not so much with painting walls with newer paints (as they tend to be made with far less VOC’s, or volatile organic compounds) as it is avoiding coming into contact with older ones that may include more harmful ingredients such as lead.
In general, you want to try and avoid paints that are:
Instead, opt for paints that are:
- Milk based
- All natural
- Labeled “VOC Free”
While using safer, more natural paints is one way to help lower your risk of any potential birth defects, just using general safety and common sense when painting can also go a long way!
Some general safety tips to follow when busting out the paint to help you avoid excessive exposure to hazards:
- Make sure to protect your skin by wearing clothing that covers your body as much as possible—this includes items like long pants, long-sleeved shirts, and gloves
- Be certain that the room and house you are working in are as well ventilated as possible! This means opening up the windows and turning on fans
- Give yourself a time limit and work in easy-to-manage chunks of time and make sure to take breaks and get fresh air frequently
- ALWAYS keep food or drinks away from the area you’re working in so solvents and chemicals will not accidentally be consumed
- Open the windows in the room you’re working in and leave them open for two to three days after you’re finished to allow paint fumes to exit the room. You should also avoid entering a freshly painted room during this timeframe.
- Close any leftover paint containers and seal them tightly to prevent any vapors or chemicals from leaking into the surrounding area.
Keep in mind as well that not all trimesters are created equally, and it can be especially dangerous for mothers to paint during their first trimester.
This is because the first trimester is the most critical and sensitive time for a developing fetus as key organs and body functions are being developed, and studies have shown that congenital abnormalities were present in the renal and nervous systems of babies exposed to solvent-based during the first trimester.
So, is it safe to paint while you’re pregnant? In order to protect you and the health of your baby as much as possible, the answer has to be no.
While it’s true that general household paints and painting projects (like painting the nursery) probably won’t hurt you too much in the long run, an excessive amount of time spent inhaling any kind of paint fumes increases the risk of birth defects and abnormalities in your unborn child, and many parents would just find it safer to not take that risk at all.
If you find you absolutely must paint that room, please do so wisely by investing in paints that are free of VOCs and practicing general safety guidelines when painting like wearing protective clothing, keeping the rooms well ventilated, and taking breaks every few hours to get some fresh air.
Of course, if you could hire someone else to do the painting, that would be better for everyone involved!