Craving the Smell of Paint While Pregnant (Why It Happens!)

One of the first things to come to mind when associating paint or painting with a pregnant woman is nesting. Women who are experiencing nesting will start to prepare their homes for the new arrival. But what if nesting is not the reason behind a pregnant woman wanting to be around paint? 

While it is not heavily documented, craving certain smells while pregnant is a common occurrence. However, pregnant women should note that exposure to paint fumes can have potential birth risks. Painting during pregnancy can be safe, but it is important to follow all protective safety measures, including waiting until the second trimester.

Read on to learn about craving the smell of paint while pregnant including if it is safe to be around paint and the effects it could have on your baby.

Is it normal to crave smells during pregnancy?

Scientific data and statistics on smell cravings during pregnancy are hard to come by. It appears that many pregnant women are not openly discussing this craving with their healthcare professionals. What you will find are numerous blogs and forums where women are going to voice their concerns. 

The urge to smell or sniff a substance is an olfactory craving. Pregnant women experiencing this type of olfactory craving for paint should not be alarmed as they are not alone. 

Studies, while limited, have been conducted on the craving for smells – especially non-food items – and the many aspects that contribute to it.

Is craving smells while pregnant normal? Yes, however, if the substance you crave is hazardous it could pose a risk to both you and the baby which is the reason many women are not discussing their cravings. 

Nevertheless, when these cravings arise you should let your physician know.

What is pica during pregnancy?

Pica is the craving to consume non-food items. One craving that is synonymous with pregnancy, that many don’t know as pica, is the craving for ice. 

Items listed as pica include soap, cornstarch, dirt, and coffee grounds, to name a few. These items that are craved have little to no nutritional value and if ingested can be potentially harmful to mother and unborn child.

Some items on the pica craving list can be an indication of a deficiency or other health-related issues. For instance, the craving to consume ice could mean an iron deficiency. Therefore, these cravings should be discussed with your healthcare professional. 

What is desiderosmia during pregnancy?

According to a few studies, the compulsion or desire to smell certain items while pregnant is separate from pica. In these select studies, the call for further research and analysis of the craving for smells was made.

Desiderosmia is a term used for craving smell. This condition is loosely connected to pica but it is characterized by specific cravings for smells instead of non-food objects. Like pica, desiderosmia is also connected to iron-deficiency anemia. 

The studies, which can be found on the NCBI site and on the ASH site, concluded that the desiderosmia decreased when the iron-deficiency anemia was treated. 

Is smelling paint bad during pregnancy?

The main concern when smelling anything is the potential harm that the substance will pose. As expected, inhaling hazardous substances comes at great risk to both mother and unborn child. Is paint considered hazardous?

In general, if you are using modern household paint the risk is considered low. However, it is recommended that if a pregnant person is to be subjected to paint, that it be done after the first trimester. 

Why wait until after the first trimester? The first trimester is the stage in which the baby’s essential organs are developing.

According to the American Pregnancy Association, when it comes to evaluating the level of paint toxicity, you have to take into account the degree of exposure as well as the chemicals and solvents in the paint.

By now, everyone (those with and without children) should know to stay away from lead paint. This paint has not been used since the 1970s, however, some older homes may still have remnants of it. 

Therefore, while you may not be painting with lead paint, you may need to remove old paint that is lead-based. This type of exposure to lead paint could lead to lead poisoning and should thereby be avoided and left to professionals. 

To safeguard against the risk associated with paint inhalation, use the following preventative measures:

  • Use water-based paint.
  • Wait until after you are thirteen weeks pregnant to paint.
  • Paint with doors and windows open.
  • Wear protective clothing (masks, gloves, pants, long sleeve shirt, and goggles).
  • Wash hands immediately when done.

Spray paint

Taking it easy and not overexerting yourself is the common advice given to pregnant women which is probably why they may consider spray painting. The advantages to spray paint are that it is easier to apply, it is faster than brush painting and it dries faster. But is it wise?

Spray paint is typically oil-based and has a strong odor. In addition to the odor, it contains volatile organic chemicals (acetone, xylene, and toluene) that are easily inhaled.

Because there is a chance of you inhaling the paint fumes via the mist, spray painting is NOT recommended. Inhalation of the spray paint could cause headaches, irritated eyes, nose and/or throat, and nausea. 

Oil-based paint

Some people love remodeling and changing the color scheme in their homes. While there are others who would prefer to choose their decor with longevity in mind. For those who chose the latter, when painting you may look to oil-based paint. However, if you are pregnant, should you?

Oil-based paint is durable and is able to last on the surface for an extended period of time. However, it is composed of volatile organic chemicals such as turpentine and its use has been restricted in several areas.

While it does offer longevity, this type of paint is considered hazardous and should be avoided if pregnant. It can cause skin irritation and an upset stomach. If accidentally ingested and the mineral oil gets to your lungs, you could experience breathing problems and pneumonia. 

Water-based paint

The safest paint to use whether pregnant or not is a water-based paint. What makes it the safest choice?

Water-based paint contains acrylic. And as the name suggests, the solvent for this paint is made up primarily of water. This chemical makeup means that it releases significantly less amount of volatile organic chemicals than oil-based paint.

While it is considered the safer paint, it is still wise to reduce your risk of exposure to any volatile fumes it may emit. This means you should make sure the room is well ventilated and you avoid the area/room while the paint dries. 

Inhalation of volatile organic chemicals can lead to headaches, dizziness, irritation of the nose, eyes, and/or throat, and nausea to name a few. And overexposure could lead to damaged organs. 

Stains and other wood treatments

Stains are available as oil, water, or gel-based. Each offers its own unique advantage for its uses such as slow drying with better finish or fast drying with protection against mold and mildew. But what does this mean for pregnant women?

Similar to paints, the stains may contain toxic ingredients that are harmful to both mother and unborn child.

If you are pregnant and choosing to stain, you should be mindful of the ingredients and always use them in a well-ventilated area. 

Polyurethane and other clear coats

After you have spent so much time and energy in remodeling, decorating, or nesting, you would want to ensure that your work is protected. So applying a finish that will protect against water and scratches may be your next step. However, just as with the other substances, is it safe to do?

The degree of toxicity for clear coats varies depending on the substance being used. For instance, water-based polyurethane has low toxicity and shellac is categorized as a natural product.

The types of clear film finishes are:

  • polyurethane (water or oil-based)
  • shellac
  • varnish
  • lacquer

Polyurethane, shellac, and varnish can all be applied with a brush or rag. However, due to the thin consistency, lacquer is sprayed on. 

Regardless of the method of application, when applying clear coats it should be done in a well-ventilated area to avoid any health risks from inhalation exposure. 

Due to possible risk factors when pregnant, chemicals that emit fumes should be avoided altogether or at least until after you have passed the thirteen-week mark.