There are many everyday hazards that pregnant mothers are faced with the task of avoiding. Second hand smoke, pollution and even certain foods have potential consequences for an unborn child, and there are even more questionable substances that pregnant mothers must confront. One question that often arises is: Can pregnant women paint?
The simple answer is no; painting while pregnant can cause harm to a developing baby, especially during the first trimester. However, the answer ultimately depends on the type of paint used and the level of exposure. There is reason to believe that pregnant women can tolerate painting for short periods of time, but only if the paint is free of solvents.
Oil-based paints usually contain solvents like ethylene glycol, ethers and biocides. A high amount of exposure to these solvents, along with the zinc, mercury and aluminum that is also found in paint, have been shown to cause miscarriage, birth defects, learning disabilities and mental retardation. It is also usually assumed that paint used before the 1970’s contains lead, which is extremely detrimental to health on all levels.
These chemicals and heavy metals vaporize when being used in paint and can easily be inhaled. Even when removing old paint, by sanding or scraping, these hazardous chemicals turn to dust, which can be inhaled or end up circulating throughout the building. For a pregnant mother, it is always best to leave the building and have somebody else do the job.
Water colors, acrylic, latex and tempera paints are considered safer to use than oil-based paints. This does not mean that they are completely safe. All paints have chemical ingredients in them, such as paint thinners and drying agents. There simply are not enough studies that show exactly what the safe levels of exposure to paint fumes are.
The “Do’s and Don’ts” of Painting While Pregnant
With the right precautions, it is generally considered safe for recreational painting, such as painting the nursery some new welcoming colors. Some good guidelines for painting while pregnant are:
- Only use paint that is labeled as having zero or low Votlatile Organic Compounds, or VOC.
- Wear protective clothing, such as gloves, a long sleeve shirt, pants and a mask.
- Always keep the room open and ventilated to let the paint fumes escape.
- Paint for short periods of time.
- If the paint fumes are causing any sort of nausea or ill-feeling, stop immediately and have somebody else finish the job.
- Never eat, drink or store food next to paint to avoid ingesting chemicals.
- Never sleep in a newly painted room – wait until the faint scent of paint is completely gone.
Birth defects are not common, so rest assured that an acute exposure to paint fumes is highly unlikely to cause any permanent damage. The most risk is with those whose occupation it is to work with these harmful chemicals. Pregnant women should not work any occupation that involves handling chemicals that interfere with the development of the fetus, which are called teratogenic agents.
It is good to note that less than 5 percent of babies have any birth defects whatsoever. Less than 10 percent of those babies’ birth defects are considered the result of teratogenic agents, such as chemicals, drugs or alcohol. Still, they do happen, and it is always wise to avoid these harmful agents as much as possible.