Is it safe to paint or be around paint fumes during pregnancy?
The answer depends on what type of paint you're using or being exposed to.
Some paint contains ingredients that you should avoid during pregnancy. In general, paint contains a pigment or dye that's suspended in a liquid to which thinners, solvents, and drying agents may have been added. The pigments in paint can include metals such as lead, zinc, and aluminum.
Latex (or acrylic) paint
This is the most common type of paint. It doesn't contain solvents, can be cleaned up with soap and water, and is generally considered safe to use and be around while you're pregnant as long as the area is well ventilated. If the fumes make you feel ill, though, get fresh air and have someone else finish the job.
Oil-based paint contains solvents and requires turpentine or mineral spirits for cleanup.
Some studies over the years have shown that exposure to solvents may increase the risk of having a miscarriage, and heavy continued solvent exposure may raise the risk of birth defects and learning problems – so using oil-based paint or being around the fumes during pregnancy is generally not recommended.
You can have someone else paint your house using oil-based paints, as long as you aren't around while they're painting. It's okay if you can still smell the paint fumes after the house has been well ventilated. As long as you're not feeling ill from smelling the fumes, there are no known risks to your baby.
Don't worry if you painted or were exposed to paint fumes before you knew you were pregnant, as the chance that you harmed your baby is very small.
If you must be exposed to oil-based paints routinely because of your occupation, it's best to take the following precautions:
- Limit the amount of time you spend working with oil-based paints. Because it's hard to say exactly how much exposure is safe, you'll have to use your best judgment. If at any time you begin to feel ill from the fumes, stop working and get fresh air until you feel better.
- Good ventilation is necessary. Keep the windows open to avoid inhaling paint fumes, and wear a mask or ventilator to screen out harmful particles and fumes.
- Wear gloves, long pants, and a long-sleeved shirt to protect your skin if you're getting covered in paint.
- To avoid accidentally ingesting any chemicals, don't eat or drink where you work.
Lead-based paint, commonly used before the 1970s, is no longer sold but is of particular concern because it was used in so many buildings. Scraping or sanding any kind of old paint, or being in a place while scraping or sanding is taking place, is definitely not advisable. You could inhale lead dust, which can be harmful to both you and your baby.
Leave 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.
About birth defects
Anyone can have a baby with birth defects. Birth defects affect 3 to 5 percent of babies, and less than 10 percent of these defects are thought to be caused by exposure to teratogenic agents such as alcohol, drugs, medications, maternal disorders, and chemicals. (A teratogenic agent is something that alters the development of a fetus.)
Still, taking good care of yourself – eating a healthy diet, avoiding alcohol and recreational drugs, and checking with your healthcare provider before using any medications – will improve your odds of having a healthy baby. Limited, cautious exposure to paints and paint fumes should not raise your risk for problems.
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