What Can I do While I'm Pregnant?

Help! I'm Pregnant and I'm Painting!
Safety Tips for Moms-to-Be

We've heard from so many women who upon getting pregnant suddenly experience a serious urge to nest. Rebuild the guest room into a themed nursery? Baby-proof every nook and cranny in the house? Build a giant log cabin in the back yard? Hormones have incredible power to help motivate you to get things done, but make sure you keep yourself and your baby safe while your super-mom skills kick in.

While we typically encourage taking projects on yourself, being pregnant creates a few risk factors you need to take into account before getting started. So, with that in mind, we've asked a few of our favorite OB/GYNs for a few basic rules to live by, at least for nine months:

Rule #1: If it stinks, stay away:
Avoid toxic chemicals to protect your unborn child.

(You'll have enough of smelly diapers before you know it.)

Some experts advise you to avoid overexposure to some common household chemicals. The key word here is "overexposure." So, if you smell something suspicious in your general vicinity, leave the area. But what are considered "toxic chemicals" and how can you avoid them?

Toxic Substances

TETROGENS: (Basically, this is a substance that can potentially cause genetic changes in a fetus.) Most of us know about the negative effects to a fetus when mom uses illicit drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, and some prescription drugs. What you may not know is that the more common tetrogens around the house—such as paint, paint removers, bleach, lye, even cat litter-can also be dangerous to an unborn baby.

Now remember that for the vast majority of such chemicals the risks are there only after prolonged exposure. But to be on the safe side, if a project involves working with a toxic chemical of any kind, it's best to delegate the task to someone else.

Painting Baby's Room

Painting the baby's room can be exciting but most paints and sealants give off fumes that can be dangerous to your unborn baby. Refinishing baby furniture might seem like a great idea, but be aware that sanding or scraping old paint can release toxic particles into the air you breathe.

Jane Tip: If you are working on a pre-1970 home, be cautious as lead-based paints were often used during this period. Sanding or scraping lead based paint can release lead into the air. Lead poisoning can cause severe developmental problems in unborn babies. If you think your home might contain lead, contact an environmental home assessor to help determine the amount of lead and what you can do about it.

Here are a few ways you can protect your unborn baby while working around the house:

  • Select a water-based paint that is designed for indoor use and doesn't contain lead or mercury. Most indoor latex paints fall into this category. But always check the label to make sure.
  • If you must use oil based paint schedule painting or renovation for a time when you are not around, allowing several hours for the fumes to dissipate before returning.
  • When you are storing unused paint or chemicals make sure they are sealed tightly and try to store them outdoors.
  • If something stinks (including your husband), leave the room. Put fans in any room you're repainting to speed drying and disperse toxic vapors (more on this below).

A Sticky Situation: Glues & Solvents

Remember that glues and solvents fall into the toxic chemical category. So stick to working on those projects that use nuts and bolts—pun intended.

The strongest glue you should be using is basic Elmer's glue. Any type of epoxy or rubber cement should be a "no-zone" for you during your pregnancy. Their vapors, even in small amounts, could be harmful. Click here for our complete guide to adhesives.

Again, the best way to determine what to use and what to avoid is simple: if it stinks, stop and get someone else to do it.


Proper ventilation is a must. Regardless of being pregnant, we can't stress enough the importance of good ventilation. You can create good ventilation by opening windows or doors opposite from each other. This creates cross ventilation and keeps your working space safer. If ventilation isn't clearing out the vapors then consider leaving the area.

Jane Tip: Use exhaust fans (blowing air from inside the room to outside through a door or window) to ventilate while painting or renovating.

Also consider covering air conditioning and heating vents in the room being worked on to prevent the fumes from circulating to other areas of your house.

Rule #2: Cover Up!
Protect your child by protecting yourself.

While protective apparel for doing home improvement may not be glamorous or fashionable, you should definitely wear it anyway. Most of us think, "What's a little saw dust?" Remember anything that touches your body can possibly affect the development of your fetus. We know gloves and masks can be annoying and sweaty but think of wearing them as a way to protect yourself and your child.

What to use:

You'll need a mask that fits properly and has no gaps, which can decrease efficacy. A gas mask or ventilator isn't necessary-though if you're considering a project that requires one; it's not one you should be doing while pregnant!

As for gloves, we recommend both disposable latex and vinyl for those with latex allergies. Nitrile gloves (thick gloves similar to those for dishwashing) are recommended when working with more caustic products like paint removers, stains, urethanes, mineral spirits, etc. All those projects will have to wait until after the baby's born. Want more safety tips for your home and your family?

Rule #3: The shocking truth: Electricity and babies don't mix.

Electricity must always be handled with care but it's a definite no-no during pregnancy. Having respect for electricity during pregnancy is an absolute must.While it's common to accidentally receive a small to moderate shock while working on an electrical project this makes the task extremely dangerous during pregnancy. While your heart has been beating for many years and a slight shock could cause an arrhythmia (irregular heart beat), your heart can easily correct this. As for your fetus, their heart is so young that it may not be able to overcome an arrhythmia caused by a seemingly mild shock. For this reason, we can't stress this highly enough: stay away from electrical projects completely while you're pregnant! Click here for our complete circuit breaker guide.

That said, if you find yourself in a situation where you are the only one at home and you have no other choice but to do some electrical work, make absolutely, positively, 100% sure that there is no electricity coming through the wires you are working on. Don't just rely on the fact that when you flip the switch nothing happens. Use an electrical (or circuit) tester to guarantee it is definitely dead. If you're still not certain, then pull out the candles and relax. This way you can wait in ambiance until someone else comes along to help.

Rule #4: The Earth may revolve around the Sun, but your center of gravity is off.

As your belly begins to grow, your center of gravity tends to shift. This adds to issues of clumsiness. Many women even forget their bellies are there!

For this reason working on an elevated platform like a ladder requires extra precaution. If you must get up on a ladder, make sure someone else is holding on to both the ladder and you. Heck, if someone else is there, make him or her get on the ladder.

Additionally, while your belly can cause clumsiness, it can also make lifting more difficult. Lifting something you would normally find easy to lift becomes increasingly harder the further along you get in your pregnancy.

In lifting anything, make sure to use your legs. The bigger you get the harder it will be to lift something in front of you, due to the fact that your belly's growing but your arms aren't. If you can, find someone else to do any heavy lifting, or take the time to lift properly.

Gardening Can Be a Hazard

Gardening may seem like the perfect task to take on while pregnant, at least during the early stages of your pregnancy. We feel it is important to know there possibly is a silent danger in your garden that can affect your baby. It's called toxoplasmosis. While more than 50 million Americans carry the parasite in their blood called toxoplasma gondii, the vast majority of people will never experience symptoms of this infection because their immune systems protect them from getting sick. This little parasite can cause an infection known as toxoplasmosis.

While you're pregnant, you'll want to take special care to avoid exposing yourself to this unseen danger. This parasite can seriously harm an unborn baby.

The most common transmission of a toxoplasma infection is from cats. Don't worry, you don't have to throw kitty to the curb!

Avoiding contact with the Toxoplasma parasite is easier than you think. It is transported via cat feces. Often humans will come in contact with it while gardening or changing the litter box and inadvertently pass the parasite from their hands to their mouths or eyes. As we said, normally, this never becomes an issue. But if you're pregnant, take these precautions when you are gardening or changing your cat's litter box:

When working in the garden, wear proper gloves and avoid touching your mouth. Assume your cat, or a neighborhood cat, has used your flowerbox as a toilet.

If at all possible have someone else change your cat's litter box while you are pregnant.

If you must change the litter box yourself, use rubber gloves (a mask too if you've got one) and go outside if you can. This will help avoid breathing in potentially harmful vapors.

At Least I'll have Time to Clean the House!

While you're pregnant have someone else take over the clean up duties that require the use of toxic substances such as bleach, oven cleaners, or other cleaning agents. All of these could potentially harm an unborn baby.

If you absolutely must use chemical cleaning agents, wear proper gloves that come to your mid forearm, open the windows to ventilate the room and consider using a respirator to fully protect yourself.

If all of these warnings have you in a tizzy, there's no need to panic. If you've had a bit of exposure to some toxic chemicals, or have worked on some projects recently, more than likely, you don't have to worry. According to the OB/GYNs we consulted, it usually takes prolonged exposure to a substance to have any adverse affect on your child.

We know that life doesn't always allow us to follow exact instructions and that sometimes you just have to do what has to get done. We just suggest taking a moment to think about what you plan on doing before doing it. Is it a project that absolutely must get finished or can it wait until after the baby's born? Is there a temporary solution to your dilemma that won't put you or your baby in possible jeopardy or is there someone else who can help? Remember, these are simply guidelines for you to try to follow as best you can. We just want you to be safe, secure and happy—hey, you're about to be a mom!

See also:
Protect Yourself from Head to Toe
A Home that Grows With You
Turn Your House into a Hazard Free Haven

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