The Dangers Of Painting During Pregnancy

By:    Published: May 8, 2012

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Once a woman finds out she is pregnant, she usually tries to do what is best for her baby. While most women know they should eat right, get prenatal care and avoid smoking, they may wonder what other things they should avoid during pregnancy. One common concern is whether painting during pregnancy can be harmful. The answer may depend on the chemicals in the paint and the extent of exposure.

Chemicals In Paint

In order to understand if painting during pregnancy should be avoided, it is critical to known what chemicals are in paint. There are a few categories of paint, including oil based, enamel and latex. Different categories of paint often contain different chemicals, some of which can be dangerous to pregnant women. For example, some types of paint contain solvents. The solvents are chemicals, such as ethylene glycol, turpentine and acetone, which may be potentially harmful to pregnant women.

In addition to chemicals, paint used to contain lead, which can especially be harmful to women who are pregnant. The harmful effects of lead are well known, and it has been banned in paint since the late 1970s. Although lead is not in paint sold today, homes painted prior to the late 1970s may have lead, and exposure is still possible. According to the March of Dimes Foundation, if you need to have old paint removed, hire the experts and don’t try it yourself.

How Absorption Occurs

Chemicals in paint can get into the body and be absorbed in a few different ways. One of the most common ways for absorption is by inhaling paint fumes or dust particles. Dust particles from paint can occur when old paint is being scraped off or when furniture is being sanded. (For more information on paint fumes, read Dangers Of Paint Fumes And How To Avoid Them.)

Paint chemicals can also be absorbed through contact with the skin, which is why wearing gloves and washing your hands when you finish painting is important. The last way paint chemicals may enter the body is through swallowing dust particles in the air. In addition, it is also possible to place food inadvertently on a surface that has paint dust, and then eat the food. Since there are various ways chemicals from paint can enter the body, using protective equipment is essential to reduce absorption.

Possible Pregnancy Dangers

The dangers paint poses to pregnant women depends on the chemicals they were exposed to and the duration of exposure. In some cases, it is difficult to state the exact dangers, since it can be hard to measure how much of the chemical was absorbed; however, there does appear to be some conclusions on what the dangers may be. For instance, lead poisoning can increase the chances of a miscarriage and premature birth, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Although additional studies need to be conducted, it appears certain solvents used in paints may also be harmful during pregnancy. Low birth weight, birth defects and miscarriages have been associated to high levels of exposure to solvents.

Precautions To Take

It is advisable to speak with your doctor to determine if it is safe to paint. Below are some general precautions to take regarding exposure to paint.

  • Skip the scraping: Scraping off old paint, which may contain lead, should be avoided completely. If someone else is removing old paint, avoid being in the same location until the work is completed.
  • Avoid solvents: The American Pregnancy Association recommends avoiding exposure to paints containing solvents. Consider using water based paints, which usually have lower levels of solvents. If you are not sure about the level of solvents, don’t hesitate to contact the manufacturer or be on the safe side and have someone else do the painting.
  • Limit duration: Be sure to limit the amount of time you spend painting or are around freshly painted interiors. Take several breaks and allow yourself plenty of opportunities to get fresh air.
  • Wear protective equipment: If you are doing the painting, wear protective equipment, such as a mask, in order to prevent inhalation of fumes. Gloves and long-sleeved shirts can help reduce absorption of chemicals through the skin.
  • Ventilate the area: Whether you are painting or someone else is doing the work, it is important to keep a freshly painted room well ventilated. Opening windows and doors, along with using fans can help keep the air circulating.

Usually most pregnant women will only be exposed to paint for a limited time, like when a room is being painted. It is also important to understand not all types of paint are harmful during pregnancy. Some paint may be solvent free and pose less of a risk during pregnancy. Although it is unlikely limited exposure to paint, such as painting a nursery, will cause pregnancy complications, it is always best to discuss concerns with your doctor. In addition, even if you are only going to be exposed to paint for a short period of time, it is best to take the precautions listed above.

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