Is It Safe To Be Around Paint Fumes While Pregnant?

Embarking on a new paint job in the home can be exciting — after all, who doesn't love freshening up and putting their own unique touch on their interior spaces? While painting walls is a task anyone can take on (no need to shell out money for a professional team of painters), there could be some risks to doing so, especially when it comes to the fumes let off by paint.

Healthline explains that though there are different types of paint designed for interior use, including water-based and oil-based products, most contain varying levels of volatile organic compounds or VOCs. When you pop open a can of paint and start applying it to the walls of your home, these VOCs are released in the form of a gas that you then inhale. Consumer Reports adds that breathing in these fumes can lead to a number of unpleasant symptoms, including headaches and vertigo. In the case of an adverse reaction to paint fumes, Healthline advises leaving the space immediately and going outdoors to get some fresh air. If the symptoms don't pass, you may need to call your local Poison Control line for further direction.

If you're currently pregnant, you might be preparing for some general household updates, or even setting your sights on a fresh coat of paint for that nursery you're putting together. For this reason, you may have additional concerns about breathing in paint fumes and whether the potential adverse effects can also harm your developing fetus. 

Modern paints are relatively low risk during pregnancy

Fortunately, there is a low probability of paint fumes causing harm to a fetus during pregnancy (per NHS). However, this depends on the type of paint you use. For example, despite most paints containing harmful VOCs, water-based paints will contain less of them than their oil-based counterparts (via Healthline). As a result, the NHS advises opting for water-based products to reduce overall risk.

The American Pregnancy Association echoes the NHS's assertion that modern paints won't likely cause any damage to an unborn baby as long as you choose lower-risk options, although they do point out that there currently aren't any studies examining the issue in depth. What we do know is that paint containing lead or mercury is a no-go due to the potential for lead poisoning and harm to the brain. Latex paints should also be avoided, as they harbor ethylene glycol ethers and biocides, which are irritants when inhaled.

The American Pregnancy Association also provides some tips for carrying out a safe paint job. For starters, you should wear protective gear, including gloves and masks, and keep the area as well-ventilated as possible. It's also important to take frequent breaks, preferably outdoors or somewhere with plenty of fresh air. Finally, Apartment Therapy points out that nowadays you can find paints with low or no VOCs, which can be a wise choice to reduce risks even further. Products marked as non-toxic or natural are a good place to start.