Household paint

(Date: April 2016. Version: 2)

This factsheet has been written for members of the public by the UK Teratology Information Service (UKTIS). UKTIS is a not-for-profit organisation funded by Public Health England on behalf of UK Health Departments. UKTIS has been providing scientific information to health care providers since 1983 on the effects that medicines, recreational drugs and chemicals may have on the developing baby during pregnancy.


Household paints include a number of different products. Water-based paints are generally referred to as emulsions, whereas gloss paints are solvent-based The chemicals in a paint will therefore vary depending on the type of paint. Household paints produced prior to the 1970s may also contain lead which can be released into the air during paint removal.

Is it safe to use household paint in pregnancy?

We cannot provide a yes or no answer to this question because there are very few scientific studies that have investigated whether exposure to paint in pregnancy affects the unborn baby. However, it is very common for pregnant women to be exposed to household paint.

To minimise any possible risk of paint exposure, pregnant women should:
• Use protective equipment when painting (protective clothing, eye goggles, and a face mask that covers the mouth and nose)
• Ensure that the room is adequately ventilated
• Ensure that they are not experiencing symptoms of toxicity (such as dizziness or shortness of breath)
• Use water-based paints wherever possible
• Seek professional advice regarding the safe removal of old lead paint

While decorating, pregnant women should also take precautions to limit the risk of falling from a height.

Can exposure to household paint in pregnancy cause my baby to be born with birth defects?

A baby’s body and most internal organs are formed during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. It is mainly during this time that some medicines are known to cause birth defects.

About 5,000 babies of women who were exposed to paint during pregnancy have been studied. These babies were no more likely to have a birth defect than babies of women who were not exposed to paint in pregnancy. These studies were, however, designed to determine whether paint exposure in pregnancy could commonly cause birth defects but are not big enough or specific enough to show if paint exposure in pregnancy might increase the chance of a baby having a particular type of birth defect. 

A single study has investigated a link with specific malformations. This study identified that kidney malformations might be increased in babies exposed in the womb to paint. However, the evidence for a link is considered very weak as there were only a very small number of babies with kidney malformations in the study. This finding therefore remains to be confirmed in future studies.

Can exposure to household paint in pregnancy cause miscarriage or stillbirth?

A very small study provided no evidence of a link between exposure to household paint in pregnancy and miscarriage. However, because so few women have been studied with respect to this pregnancy outcome, much more research is required to confirm this.

There are no studies that have investigated rates of stillbirth following exposure to paint in pregnancy.

Can exposure to household paint in pregnancy cause preterm birth or my baby to be small at birth (low birth weight)?

A single study of around 8,500 pregnancies exposed to household paint provided no evidence of an increased chance of preterm birth or low birth weight in the baby. Ideally, further research will be carried out to confirm these findings.

Can exposure to household paint in pregnancy cause learning and behavioural problems in the child?

A baby’s brain continues to develop right up until the end of pregnancy. It is therefore possible that taking certain medicines at any stage of pregnancy could have a lasting effect on a child’s learning or behaviour.

There are currently no scientific studies that have examined learning and behaviour in children of women who were exposed to household paint during pregnancy.

It is well-established that exposure to lead in the womb can cause problems with learning and behaviour in children. If you need to remove old paint that possibly contains lead you should seek advice from a professional about how to do this safely.

Will my baby need extra monitoring during pregnancy or after delivery?

As part of their routine antenatal care most women will be offered scans and blood tests from around 11 weeks of pregnancy and a further scan at around 20 weeks to screen for birth defects in the baby. Exposure to household paint in pregnancy is not expected to cause problems that would require extra monitoring of your baby.

Are there any risks to my baby if the father was exposed to household paint?

No studies have specifically investigated whether the father’s exposure to household paint can harm the baby through effects on the sperm, however most experts agree that this is very unlikely. More research on the effects of paint use in men around the time of conception is needed.

Who can I talk to if I have questions?

If you have any questions regarding the information in this leaflet please discuss them with your health care provider. They can access more detailed medical and scientific information from  

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General information 

Up to 1 out of every 5 pregnancies ends in a miscarriage, and 1 in 40 babies are born with a birth defect. These are referred to as the background population risks.  They describe the chance of these events happening for any pregnancy before taking factors such as the mother’s health during pregnancy, her lifestyle, medicines she takes and the genetic make up of her and the baby’s father into account.

Medicines use in pregnancy

Most medicines used by the mother will cross the placenta and reach the baby. Sometimes this may have beneficial effects for the baby.  There are, however, some medicines that can harm a baby’s normal development.  How a medicine affects a baby may depend on the stage of pregnancy when the medicine is taken. If you are on regular medication you should discuss these effects with your doctor/health care team before becoming pregnant.

If a new medicine is suggested for you during pregnancy, please ensure the doctor or health care professional treating you is aware of your pregnancy.

When deciding whether or not to use a medicine in pregnancy you need to weigh up how the medicine might improve your and/or your unborn baby’s health against any possible problems that the drug may cause. Our bumps leaflets are written to provide you with a summary of what is known about use of a specific medicine in pregnancy so that you can decide together with your health care provider what is best for you and your baby.   

Every pregnancy is unique. The decision to start, stop, continue or change a prescribed medicine before or during pregnancy should be made in consultation with your health care provider. It is very helpful if you can record all your medication taken in pregnancy in your hand held maternity records.

Disclaimer: This information is not intended to replace the individual care and advice of your health care provider. New information is continually becoming available. Whilst every effort will be made to ensure that this information is accurate and up to date at the time of publication, we cannot cover every eventuality and the information providers cannot be held responsible for any adverse outcomes following decisions made on the basis of this information. We strongly advise that printouts should NOT be kept for any length of time, or for “future reference” as they can rapidly become out of date.

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