Pregnancy can be an exciting time for redecorating your home and preparing your baby’s room. However, you may want to reconsider any plans for painting projects. Painting during pregnancy is not recommended.  Paint chemicals and fumes can cause harm to your developing baby. In addition, depending on the age of your home, some of the paint in it may contain lead. In 1978, lead-based paints were banned for home use in the U.S.  Homes that were built prior to this date likely have lead-based paint, which can be extremely hazardous to the health of your growing baby. Lead exposure during pregnancy can result in premature birth, low birth weight, and miscarriage.  It may also interfere with your baby’s brain development. You can read more about the dangers of lead exposure during pregnancy here and about the link between lead-contaminated water and fertility here. In addition to lead, which poses a significant risk during pregnancy, paint fumes carry their own risks.
What are the Risks of Household Exposure to Paint Fumes to My Baby?
Until recently, no studies had looked at the risk of exposure to paint fumes within the home during pregnancy. Several previous studies had found links between birth defects and occupational paint exposure (working in an occupation that involves paint) or recreational paint exposure (abusing paints or glues to experience “a high”). [4,5] A recent study has found that exposure to paints within the home may also pose a significant risk to your baby. The study looked at 19,935 moms and babies in the Danish National Birth Cohort to determine if residential exposure to paint was associated with birth defects.  Of these, 1,404 women were exposed to paint fumes in their home within the first trimester of pregnancy. This study found that exposure to paint fumes during pregnancy was associated with a more than two times higher risk of birth defects in the central nervous system (brain, spine, and spinal cord), urinary system, and the ears, face, and neck. Based on the results of this study, expecting moms should avoid painting a room or furniture during pregnancy, especially in the first trimester.
Talk to your doctor before beginning any painting project. Your doctor will explain the possible risks to your baby and how you can minimize these risks. Ideally, all redecorating projects should be performed prior to becoming pregnant.  If this is not possible, consider asking a friend or family member to perform painting or renovation projects for you, and minimize time spent in newly painted rooms until after the area has been properly ventilated for several days. If you plan on painting during pregnancy, ensure to follow handling instructions and safety tips to reduce your exposure to harmful chemicals in paint.
Types of Exposure
Paint exposure can occur by three primary methods: inhalation, absorption through the skin, and ingestion. [5,6] Inhalation occurs by breathing in paint fumes and paint dust that may be created during the process of peeling or scraping old paint. A respirator mask that filter vapors from paints and thinners should be worn to protect from paint fumes. Paint can be absorbed through the skin, so it is important to wear long-sleeved pants, a long-sleeved shirt, and gloves. In addition, paint can be unintentionally ingested by swallowing paint dust or chips. Food and drinks should be kept out of the painting area and should not be consumed while painting.
Homes with Lead-Based Paint
Lead-based paint is very dangerous to pregnant women and children. Paint dust around the home can expose you to the dangers of lead. High amounts of lead exposure can occur when lead-based paint is disrupted, damaged, or chipped, causing lead dust in the home. [5,7] Pregnant women should never scrape or peel lead-based paint. If you have lead-based paint in your home, it should be removed by a certified contractor. You should stay safely out of the work area until the lead paint is removed, and the area has been properly cleaned to remove any residual dust or paint chips. The contractor can provide a written statement to prove that the lead has been eliminated and that the area is safe.
Types of Paints
Two general types of paints are available for household use: oil-based (alkyd) and water-based (latex) paint. Oil-based paint is often used for outdoor painting projects.  Pregnant women should avoid exposure to oil-based paints because they generally emit more fumes than water-based paints. Water-based paints labeled as “zero- VOC” or “low- VOC” emit fewer volatile organic compounds (VOCs).  VOCs are chemical vapors that can be hazardous to the health of both you and your baby. While many water-based “zero-VOC” and “low-VOC” paints emit fewer VOCs, they still emit some harmful VOCs, such as formaldehyde. Therefore, you should always take necessary precautions to minimize exposure to paints, limit time spent in newly painted rooms, and properly ventilate your house when painting. Colorants (the pigments that give the paint its color) can add VOCs to the paint as well, so it is important to choose a low-VOC colorant.  Water-based paints can also contain ethylene glycol ethers and biocides, which should be avoided by pregnant women. 
How to Ventilate Your Home While Painting
Rooms must be properly ventilated during the painting process and after applying fresh paint. [8,6] Windows should be kept wide-open (weather permitting) while painting and for two to three days after painting is finished. Window box fans should also be used during and after painting. The fans should be pointed to move air and fumes towards the outdoors. If you participate in the painting procedure, you should take frequent breaks and either go outside or in a different room to get fresh air. Stop painting and immediately get fresh air if you experience symptoms of dizziness, fatigue, nausea, and headaches.
You can find more tips about safe painting practices from the United States Environmental Protection Agency.
- American Pregnancy Association. Paint and Pregnancy.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Prevention Tips.
- The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Lead Screening During Pregnancy and Lactation.
- Hjortebjerg D, Andersen AM, Garne E, Raaschou-Nielsen O, and Sørensen, M. Non-occupational exposure to paint fumes during pregnancy and risk of congenital anomalies: a cohort study.
- MotherToBaby. Paint.
- United States Environmental Protection Agency. Healthy Indoor Painting Practices.
- United States Environmental Protection Agency. Preparing for the Nine Months that Last a Lifetime.
- United States Environmental Protection Agency. Promoting Good Prenatal Health: Air Pollution and Pregnancy.
- Federal Trade Commission. Before You Buy Paint.