Pregnancy and Paint Exposure

Pregnant women may be exposed to paint through different circumstances that include household use, recreational use, or occupational use.

There are basically three categories of paint which you could be exposed to: latex, oil, and enamel. The degree of toxicity during pregnancy is challenging to predict because there are currently no methods of measuring actual exposure. The likelihood of paint toxicity depends on the chemicals and solvents found in the paint along with the amount of exposure.

What about pregnancy and household paint use?

The most common question related to pregnancy and paint exposure has to do with moms who want to paint their new baby's nursery or finish decorating the house before the baby arrives. Unfortunately, there are no studies that document the effects of household painting on pregnancy and the developing baby.

Currently, the assumption is that household painting involves very low levels of exposure. The recommendation is still to minimize or avoid painting altogether, if possible. Ideally, you can get someone else to do the job for you.

Lead based paint was commonly used prior to the 1970s, so you should avoid getting involved with removing old paint because of the risk of lead exposure. According to the FDA, exposure to lead paint increases the likelihood of lead poisoning and mental retardation. Scraping and sanding old paint should be completely avoided. This puts higher concentrations of solvents and chemicals in the air to be inhaled. The recommendation is to have someone else do this part of the job and ideally remove yourself from the location until the project is complete.

If you are just too excited and you must paint the nursery, make sure you follow these guidelines to decrease the likelihood of paint exposure:

  • Protect your skin by wearing protective clothing that includes long pants, long-sleeved shirts and gloves.
  • Be certain that the room and house are well ventilated; open the windows and turn on fans.
  • Limit the time you spend on the project; take breaks and move into the fresh air frequently.
  • Keep your food and drinks away from the area so that solvents and chemicals will not accidentally be consumed.

What about pregnancy and occupational or industrial paint use?

Occupational and industrial paint circumstances (ie... painting cars,) warrant concern because of the consistency and level of exposure to paints and solvents. The largest concern involves situations that involve spray paints due to the high quantity of mist created, which can potentially be inhaled.

It is recommended that precautions be taken to minimize exposure and reduce any potential risks to the developing baby. Protective clothing and effective ventilation can help reduce the level of exposure and potential risk to the baby.

What about pregnancy and recreational use?

Recreational use of paints involves sniffing or inhaling paint solvents. Recreational use of paints is potentially harmful to you whether you are pregnant or not. Sniffing and inhaling paints provides direct and higher levels of exposure and increases the risk of harm to the baby, whether it is a miscarriage or a birth defect.

What if I have been exposed to paint already?

Currently, there are no studies that document harm to the baby during normal and incidental exposure to paint (i.e. painting a room). The only studies to date that note a problem for miscarriage and malformations has to do with the higher levels of exposure through recreational use (sniffing and inhaling regularly).

If you have been exposed to paint, rest assured that the likelihood of any problems is low. According to the FDA, today's paints do not contain lead and are probably not dangerous. Let your doctor know of any paint exposure and together you can discuss the potential risk, if any.

What are the recommendations and precautions?

  • Avoiding paints and solvents is the safest course of action.
  • Talk to your physician before taking on painting projects.
  • Paint exposures that involve household painting are likely to have less exposure than occupational settings.
  • Wear protective clothing, masks, and keep the area ventilated.
  • Avoid latex paints that contain solvents such as ethylene glycol ethers and biocides.
  • In general, water colors, acrylic, and tempura paints are recommended over oil paints.
  • Limit duration, and frequency of your painting.

Reprinted with permission from American Pregnancy Association