Is it safe to paint or be around paint fumes during pregnancy?

Is it safe to paint or be around paint fumes during pregnancy?

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It's best to limit your exposure to paint and paint fumes while you're pregnant. Most paint contains solvents (petroleum-based chemicals) that can cause health problems if you inhale too much of them.

Research that has looked at paint exposure during pregnancy has not shown consistent results. Studies have not been able to measure the exact amount of paint to which each woman is exposed, and researchers can't put pregnant women at risk by purposely exposing them to a possible hazard.

Some studies have shown that exposure to solvents during pregnancy may increase the risk of miscarriage, and heavy continued solvent exposure may raise the risk of birth defects and learning problems. Having a room in your home painted is probably not a high risk for you or your baby, but you may choose not to take the chance.

If you decide some painting needs to be done, have someone else do the painting if you can. Whether or not you're the one doing the painting, take these precautions:

  • Choose a paint labeled "low-VOC" or "zero-VOC." These are usually latex paints that contain lower levels of solvents, or "volatile oil compounds." (Even the zero-VOC products may still contain some solvents.)
  • Make sure you have good ventilation. Keep the windows open to avoid inhaling paint fumes.
  • Don't eat or drink in the room where you're painting to avoid accidentally ingesting any paint.
  • Leave the area immediately if you experience symptoms like dizziness, nausea, or headache.

If you're the one painting, take these precautions as well while working:

  • Wear a respirator mask to screen out particles and fumes. (These are available in home improvement stores.)
  • Wear gloves, long pants, and a long-sleeved shirt to protect your skin.

If your house is more than 30 years old and scraping or sanding is necessary to prepare the surface being painted, make sure you're not around at the time. Old paint may contain lead, which can be harmful to you and your baby. Leave the removal of lead-based paint to others, and have them do it while you're out of the house. After the paint has been removed and the dust has been cleaned up, it's safe for you to be in that room again.

If painting is a part of your job, consult an industrial hygienist or occupational medicine physician to determine how you can paint safely. You may also want to talk with your employer about doing some other kind of work during your pregnancy.

Learn more

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