Can I get my house painted during pregnancy?: The risks of inhaling paint fumes while pregnant

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With that adorable baby bump, comes immense responsibilities. While you take ample care about your food, rest and exercise, you also need to consider external factors.

For instance, is it safe to paint your house while pregnant? Are these chemicals harmful?

The excitement of welcoming your tiny tot into this world is undoubtedly very high. And for most mums, there's lots of enthusiasm over what your nursery should look like and of course, it's colour. But before you pick up your paintbrush or appoint someone for the job, here’s what mums-to-be might want to know.

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

Studies have not been able to measure the exact amount of paint to which each woman is exposed, thus the effects of these chemicals on the unborn baby are not fully known.

However, most paints contain solvents (petroleum-based chemicals) that can cause health problems if you inhale too much of them, whether during pregnancy or not.

As such, it is best for pregnant women to limit their exposure to paint and paint fumes, especially in the first trimester.

According to Lisa Valle, DO, an ob-gyn at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, the first trimester is considered the riskiest time as baby’s organs are formed during this period. 

PHOTO: Unsplash

Potential risks of exposure to paint fumes

The risks of exposure to paint fumes range from short-term effects like nausea, irritation of the skin, eyes, nose or throat, trouble breathing, allergy, dizziness and headache to long-term effects like liver, kidney, respiratory and nervous system damage.

In addition, some studies have shown that exposure to solvents during pregnancy may increase the risk of miscarriage.

According to researchers, the time frame in which babies are exposed to home renovations and the level of exposure does matter, with the possibility that continued heavy exposure to solvents may increase the risk of having a baby with birth defects and learning problems. 

However, due to the difficulty in measuring how much of the various substances the body absorbs, the exact risks to pregnant women remain unknown and it is best not to take the chance.

If painting work is required, the safest option is to let someone else do the painting, or postpone the work until after the baby is born.

Although there are differing theories in relation to birth defects caused by inhaling paint fumes while pregnant, it is not worth risking your precious baby’s life. So, what can you do if you’re really looking forward to renovating your nursery? 

Use safe paints

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Ensure that you pick your paint carefully after reading the label for any lead or high VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) content.

While the safest paints too may not be completely VOC-free as per the Environmental Protection Agency, you can still find pregnancy-safe organic paints with the VOC-free label. These may be on the costlier side but they’re your saviours when used with all the safety measures.

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Water-based or acrylic paints are deemed much safer than solvent-based paints and spray paints. Additionally, they dry faster, offer good colour retention, don’t give out much odour and work well even over the existing oil-painted walls.

On the other hand, while Oil-based paints are extremely durable and can withstand routine contact, making it ideal for mouldings and trims, they are said to be high in solvent concentration and often contain harmful chemicals. They are, therefore, not advisable for use during pregnancy.

Here’s a tip: To know whether the paint is water or oil-based, simply wipe it with denatured alcohol. If the paint doesn’t come off, it is oil-based and if it comes off, then it is water-based.

Apart from the possible risk of inhaling paint fumes while pregnant, oil paints also give off a strong odour and have a ‘hard to clean’ texture. 

Inhaling fumes while pregnant: How to ensure a safer pregnancy during painting works

PHOTO: Unsplash

1. Let the air in

Ensure that the room is well-ventilated when you’re doing all the work so that the paint fumes don’t linger inside. This helps you breathe fresh air and lower the risk of inhaling fumes while pregnant.

2. Don’t ditch the mask

It’s best to use face masks or respirators to protect yourself from harmful fumes. If nausea or dizziness seems to dominate, don’t stay there; get out of that room immediately.

3. Skin is king

Cover your skin with gloves, full-sleeved clothing, long pants and goggles so that the paint doesn’t stick to your skin. Any paint on the skin must be washed off with soap and water right away.

4. Leave the balancing act

Pregnant women tend to have a shift in their centre of gravity, which means losing body balance becomes a common thing.

Therefore, if there’s a task of balancing to be done, like climbing the ladder, simply welcome someone else to do it.

5. Why paint the food?

It is highly possible for food and beverages to get contaminated in a room that’s being painted. So, avoid consuming food and drinks in a room filled with paint fumes.

6. Paint can wait

Make sure to take frequent breaks so as to get some fresh air and rest. You might also want to consider limiting the time you spend painting in order to reduce exposure to chemicals.

The best option is to get someone else to do the paintwork and avoid entering the room while others do the work.

7. Bid goodbye to paint fumes!

It is best to not only wash your hands thoroughly after using paint but also to take a shower and wash your hair to get rid of any traces of paint fumes.

8. Avoid painting during the first trimester

Even with all the precautions, it is best to avoid painting during the first trimester. This is a crucial period of pregnancy as your baby’s vital organs are developing and you do not want to risk it at any cost.

To steer clear of inhaling paint fumes while pregnant and keep your baby safe from major health risks, ensure that you don’t use newly painted rooms during your first trimester. 

And when your baby has arrived, he/she can wait for a month or two before sleeping in that nursery.

This article was first published in theAsianparent.