Should You Paint When You’re Pregnant?

Lullaby 02/15/2014

It’s par for the course during pregnancy to want to create a special space for your soon-to-be. But, whether you’re preparing a cozy nook in your bedroom or a sublime nursery down the hall,  should you paint when you’re pregnant? Here are the facts.

First of all, as you’d likely assume, all paints are not the same and, typically, paint and pregnancy are not a good mix. Most conventional paints contain harmful VOCs that not only cause immediate impacts to your health, but also potentially long-term impacts on your child’s.

VOCs are volatile organic compounds, or, in simpler terms, gasses released from products and substances. You’ll find them in everything from cleaners and cosmetics to crafting supplies and carpeting. They aren’t all bad, but many VOCs commonly found in paints are linked to health effects like asthma, neuro-developmental impacts, birth defects, and even cancer. Specifically, you’ll find terpenes, formaldehyde, acrolein, phthalates, glycol, toluene, methylene chloride, styrene, trichloroethylene, xylenes, and benzene among others.

A much safer paint option is low or no-voc paint. But, be aware, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) allows companies to call their product zero-VOC even if it contains off-gassing chemicals. Their standards are in place to reduce VOC emissions that create smog, not specifically to reduce or eliminate all VOCs. “Low-VOC” and “zero-VOC” mean a product has fewer VOCs than traditional paints. But, low or zero-VOC doesn’t always mean non-toxic or healthy or safe. Even zero-VOC paints can contain other risky chemicals like highly toxic ammonia and acetone which are not classified as VOCs and are not required by law to appear on the label. Or, the low or zero-VOC claim may only refer to the base paint – not the color tint. So, the moment you add color to your base, you’ve added VOCs right back in.

Third party, eco-friendly, and health certifications can be just as misleading. All third party certifications, including the highest levels of certification, allow for at least 2 teaspoons (about 50,000 parts per million/ppm) of these chemicals as part of their standards. Yet, toxic chemical exposures as low as 5ppm is linked to health impacts ranging from skin and eye irritation to long-term damage to kidney, respiratory, and cognitive functions.

All of these “eco-friendly,” “low-VOC,” and “no-VOC” options are clearly better than conventional, but you should compare the options because some are better than others. Look for transparency of ingredients (which is rare) to make an informed decision.

The information provided on this site is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice or recommendations. Please consult your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding the issues raised here.