Can I Paint While Pregnant?

Pregnant woman painting nursery

Keith Berson / Getty Images

Decorating the nursery is practically a rite of passage for expectant parents. Once nesting mode kicks in and your attention turns to preparing for your new arrival, you might find yourself flicking through color swatches and coming up with designs for your dream nursery.

As excited as you are, you might have reservations about whether or not painting while pregnant is safe. While it is generally deemed to be low risk, there isn’t any concrete evidence to confirm this. For that reason, there are important safety considerations to take into account before embarking on your DIY project.

“With proper precautions, painting a baby’s nursery is usually considered safe,” says Sara Twogood MD, a board-certified OBGYN in Los Angeles and co-founder of Female Health Education. “However, there is limited data to support safety or harm with paint exposure in pregnancy.”

Painting While Pregnant

Paint exposure during pregnancy is hard to study, and the studies that have been conducted are conflicting, Dr. Twogood points out. “Overall, the factors to take into consideration are types of paint, ingredients in the paint such as solvents, and the amount and duration of exposure,” she says.

Avoid using the solvents involved in stripping paint glossing or staining, urges Andrea Chisholm MD, a board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist and member of Verywell Family's Review Board. “The concern with painting is exposure to paint and solvent fumes known as volatile organic compounds or VOCs,” she says, noting that there is some evidence to suggest that sustained exposure to these solvents can cause birth defects or increase the risk of miscarriage.

For that reason, when it comes to painting during pregnancy, the scope and the nature of the project are crucial.

For example, painting in a well-ventilated room with paint that is low in VOCs is deemed to be less of a risk than renovating an old house where lead paint could be present, which is dangerous for both the pregnant parent and developing baby. However, you may feel that you would prefer not to take the risk at all and instead enlist someone else's help with the decorating.

Every pregnancy is different. Be sure to consult with a healthcare provider about your circumstances if you have any questions about painting while pregnant.

Is It Safe For Baby?

There is limited evidence to support safety or harm to a baby if the expectant parent is exposed to paint during pregnancy. However, there are factors that can increase any risk and should be avoided. These include:

  • Exposure to lead paint   
  • Exposure to chemicals during the first trimester    
  • Climbing a ladder

Exposure to even low levels of lead can be dangerous for both the pregnant parent and their developing baby. While you can rest assured that the paint that we buy today doesn’t contain lead (it was banned for residential use in 1978), anything that could create lead dust—sanding or scraping old paint from the woodwork in an old home—should be avoided entirely.

Additionally, while exposure to paint during pregnancy isn't well studied, toxic exposures during the first trimester should be avoided as this is most crucial to your baby's development. For the second and third trimesters, caution should be executed. This means opting for a paint that is low in VOCs, and avoiding solvents like paint stripper. You should also keep the room well ventilated and limit your exposure.

“Any fumes that cause symptoms like eye irritation, feeling dizzy, and nausea or vomiting should be avoided,” says Dr. Twogood, adding that you should also avoid the painted area until the ‘new paint’ smell has gone.

But it isn't just the exposure to potentially toxic chemicals that could do harm to you or your unborn baby. Due to the changes in your body affecting your balance, it is best to avoid climbing a ladder or putting yourself in a precarious position to get to hard-to-reach areas, warns Dr. Chisholm.

Benefits of Painting During Pregnancy

If cracking open a window and picking up a paintbrush doesn’t feel like an obvious pregnancy pastime, perhaps keep in mind the benefits of embarking on creative endeavors while pregnant. Some benefits include lowering stress levels and helping prepare for your baby’s arrival.

Engaging in artistic activities, such as drawing or painting, has been shown to minimize anxiety and lower stress levels. And with high levels of stress in pregnancy increasing the chance of premature birth, as well as having a low-birth-weight baby, anything that can help keep your cortisol under control is a good thing.

So whether it’s stenciling rainbows onto your baby’s crib or painting the nursery the perfect shade of pink, setting time aside for some creative expression will feel just as good as it looks.

In addition to lowering stress levels, painting during pregnancy can be an excellent way to succumb to the ‘nesting’ urge that some parents-to-be experience during the latter stages of pregnancy.

Studies show that having control over the environment that you will be will welcoming your baby into is a key aspect of childbirth preparation. Feel free to give in to the biological urge to spruce up your surroundings—just make sure you adhere to the following precautions and that you don't overdo it.

Safety Precautions

If you want to paint while pregnant, there are some precautions you can take to help lower any potential risks.

Choose Paint Wisely

Not all paints are created equally, so opt for a paint that is low in VOCs or better yet, has no VOCs. The United States Environmental Protection Agency's minimum requirement of 'low VOC' in latex paints is no more than 250 grams per liter (gm/l) of VOCs and no more than 380 gm/l for oil-based paints.

However, there is an increasing number of brands, such as Clare Paint or Benjamin Moore Aura, that contain zero VOCs. Check the label on the side of the tin to find the VOC level or call the company for more information if you are unclear.

“If you are going to paint, consider using low VOC paint which is better for you, the baby, and the environment,” says Dr. Chisholm. She adds that solvents like paint stripper or wood gloss should be avoided as these contain higher levels of VOCs and can be harmful to your unborn baby.

Limit Your Exposure

As your exposure to potentially harmful chemicals increases, so too does the risk to your baby. "Amount and duration of exposure is likely important—the less the better," says Dr. Twogood. So while painting your baby's nursery is generally deemed safe, renovating your entire house is not advised.

If your home is undergoing an extensive or prolonged renovation, consider avoiding any exposure to harmful chemicals by staying with a friend or relative or booking a hotel room until the fumes have cleared.

Keep Space Well Ventilated

When using any products that contain VOCs, whether it's paint or cleaning products, make sure that you are allowing plenty of fresh air into your workspace in order to decrease your exposure.

“Make sure that the room you are painting is well ventilated,” says Dr. Chisholm. Use a fan or open a window, and avoid eating or drinking in the room to prevent any accidental paint ingestion.

Use Protection

Minimize the risk of contact with paint on your skin by wearing eye protection, gloves, long pants, and long sleeves.

"Avoid paint getting on [your] skin or in [your] mouth," says Dr. Twogood. She also cautions that you should rinse off any spillages that occur immediately with water.

Pregnancy Safe Alternatives

With the right precautions in place, painting during your pregnancy is generally deemed to be low risk. However, due to the lack of solid evidence to confirm this, you may decide that you would prefer not to take the chance. But that doesn't mean you have to shelve your plans to update your space. Here are some suggestions for pregnancy-safe alternatives to painting.

Create a Gallery Wall

Whether it is your baby's nursery, the hallway, or your living room, a gallery wall is an effective way to liven up any blank wall—and no paint is required. Use a combination of your favorite photographs, pictures, or artwork, and arrange them in a way that reflects your taste and personality. This is a great way to create a focal point in your home without busting out the paint.

Non-Toxic Wall Stickers

Removable and reusable non-toxic wall stickers are such a quick and easy way of decorating your baby's nursery. And the best bit is that if you want to change the placement at any point, you can just take them off and start again. Opt for a brand that is vinyl, PVC, and BPA-free to keep the toxin levels low.

Macrame Wall Hanging

Unleash your creativity by making your own macrame creation for your home. Whether it's a macrame planter, a wall hanging, or a macrame rope rainbow for your baby's bedroom, not only will you will get enjoyment from making it (not to mention all the health benefits that come with art therapy too) but you will create a one of a kind piece for your family to enjoy. Check out YouTube for tutorials.

A Word From Verywell

While painting during pregnancy is generally deemed to be low risk to you and your baby, there isn’t any concrete evidence to confirm this. For that reason, you might choose to avoid it altogether.

However, if you do still want to go ahead with your project, there are precautions you can take to reduce any risk. These include avoiding solvents, choosing a paint that contains low (or no) levels of VOCs, keeping the room well-ventilated, and limiting your exposure to paint fumes and other chemicals. If you need further assistance or advice on whether this activity is appropriate for you and your pregnancy, consult an OBGYN, midwife, or healthcare provider.

10 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Nicola Appleton
Nicola Appleton is a UK-based freelance journalist with a special interest in parenting, pregnancy, and women's lifestyle. She has extensive experience creating editorial and commercial content for print, digital, and social platforms across a number of prominent British and international brands including The Independent, Refinery29, The Sydney Morning Herald, HuffPost, Stylist, Canva, and more