by Steve Graham
You want a safe, healthy child, but want to continue home improvement projects during pregnancy. Some projects may be dangerous for pregnant women, particularly exposure to some chemicals in the first trimester. Later in the pregnancy, chemical risks decrease slightly, but the threat of falls from ladders increases.
Here are the right and wrong projects for pregnant women:
Avoid constant, long-term exposure to paint, and avoid spray paint. Paint contains solvents and other organic compounds that may be linked to miscarriages, low birth weight, birth defects, developmental disabilities, and childhood cancer. However, reliable clinical evidence only connects such dangers with high exposures, such as for professional painters or paint factory workers.
No studies have measured smaller levels exposure during pregnancy and specifically linked any problems to a certain chemical. Since 1978, no paint has contained lead, the most dangerous potential ingredient. Avoid exposure to old paint that is chipped and cracked, and avoid scraping or sanding old paint. If such work must be done in your house while you are pregnant, leave the house until after the project is complete.
Newer paint is unleaded, but has volatile organic compounds that may be hazardous, particularly during pregnancy. Look for paint with low VOC levels, and only use light tints. Most tints contain VOCs, with increasing levels in darker colors.
To be really safe, avoid painting. Otherwise, minimize exposure and health risks:
- Talk to your doctor about your painting project
- Wear long pants, long sleeves, and gloves
- Keep the house thoroughly ventilated with open windows and portable fans blowing the air outside.
- Take frequent breaks outside
- Avoid oil paints.
Woodworking and Art
The early stages of a woodworking project, such as cutting, carving, and sanding, can be safe, active, and potentially stress-relieving. Exercise and stress reduction are both important for a healthy pregnancy. However, avoid using any solvents, such as thinners, varnishes, or lacquer — they may contain harmful VOCs. Sprayers in general should be avoided because it is easier to inhale the airborne particles.
Small amounts of carbon monoxide may cause infant brain development problems. Aside from cigarette smoke, the most common household source of CO is a malfunctioning furnace or other HVAC unit. Leave it to a professional instead of working on an HVAC system during pregnancy.
Fresh air and activity is always a good combination, but gardening poses one serious concern. Chemical pesticides and herbicides are always worrisome, but particularly for pregnant women early in the first trimester. Bug killers attack the insects’ nervous systems, and can cause some of the same effects on a developing fetus, particularly in the earliest stages. If chemical pesticides are absolutely necessary, have someone else apply them, and leave the area for as long as possible. Wear gloves, long sleeves, and long pants whenever doing yard work around pesticide-treated plants.
Mold can be quite dangerous to fetal development. If you detect or suspect mold, leave the area and have someone else treat the area. Also avoid carpeted basements or other areas that are likely to be moldy.
Finally, expecting mothers might be disappointed to learn most household cleaners, including bleach, are safe to use. However, take sensible precautions:
- Ensure proper ventilation
- Wear protective clothing
- Never mix chemicals. They can form dangerous compounds
- Switch to natural cleaning products, such as simple baking soda and vinegar if concerned.
With some common sense and thoughtful precaution, many household projects are safe for pregnant women. However, be particularly careful of solvents or other chemical compounds.