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Should Pregnant Women Paint?
Q: I'm six months pregnant and want to prepare a nursery for the new baby. Is is safe for me to paint the nursery?
A: As exciting as it is to prepare your home for the new baby, it's best to leave the painting to someone else. All paints contain chemicals that could affect your baby, and there aren't enough studies to provide reassurance on the safety of paint exposure.

There are two kinds of home paints: latex and oil-based. Oil-based paint contain solvents called glycol ethers, chemicals that have been associated with miscarriage. Other solvents found in oil-based paints and paint thinners may also be linked to miscarriage or birth defects. Latex paints contain significantly fewer organic solvents, making them the safer choice if exposure is necessary during pregnancy. However, paints may release low levels of toxic emissions for years after application. The healthiest paints to use are called low-VOC, which means they are low in volatile organic compounds. These paints don't have strong fumes and have significantly lower emissions, making them a good choice for the inside of your home.

It's hard to predict the degree of toxicity from painting your house, especially because it's hard to determine your precise level of exposure. Studies that have looked at paint exposure have focused on (1) occupational exposure (mothers who paint professionally) and (2) paint abuse, referring to mothers who sniff paint to get high. In situations of paint abuse, there is evidence of birth defects and intrauterine growth retardation. Occupational exposure may be associated with an increased risk of miscarriage.

Preparing your home for painting may expose you to other hazards. Removing old paint (especially if your home was painted before 1977) may be a source of lead exposure. High blood lead levels are associated with fetal toxity and a variety of minor birth defects.

If you do choose to paint, minimize your exposure. Don't sand or scrape away old paint unless a trained professional has determined that it is lead-free. Wear protective clothing and gloves while painting and maintain good ventilation in the room. Choose low-VOC paints. Paint with a brush, as spray painting increases your exposure through inhalation. And please don't eat or drink in the room you're painting.

Laura E. Stachel M.D. Obstetrician & Gynecologist