OK. Yes for the DIY (some of it, but No for the table saw!)
There is no cut and dry answer to these questions because they depend on how comfortable you are with using power tools, safety equipment, and what risks you are willing to take… that’s true whether you are pregnant or not.
Hopefully, I can give you some valuable information on what the risks are, and what I think are important factors to consider to help you answer this question for yourself!
There are many kinds of DIY tasks and many kinds of power tools, buy only a few main concerns for the pregnant woman.
Many power tools and DIY projects generate a lot of noise which if loud enough can potentially be harmful to an unborn baby. You should always wear earplugs, but your baby can’t.
Still, this may not present the problem you may think it does.
Unborn babies begin to hear in the womb between 24 and 28 weeks, around 40 decibels (dB) of sound, which improves as the baby approaches full term.
Studies suggest that chronic loud noises and short, very loud bursts of noise can trigger problems like hearing loss, prematurity, and growth issues (American Academy of Pediatrics).
Most experts consider painfully loud noises for long durations, like a rock concert, to be too loud for a pregnant woman, but consider shorter durations of loud noise, like a busy street or vacuum cleaner, to be OK . In addition, the amniotic fluid only reduces the noises in the outside world a little bit.
What is a moderate to loud noise level (one that would be OK for a pregnant woman)? Here’s a few guidelines to give you an idea:
Rock Concert ~ 120-150 dB (way way too loud!)
Subway ~ 90 dB (potentially dangerous)
Busy Street ~ 80 dB (probably OK)
And many power tools lie right at or slightly above the level of the busy street…
Here’s a few:
Circular Saw ~ 100 dB (use sparingly and for only a minute or two)
Drill ~ 90 dB
Orbital Sander ~ 80 dB
So using most power tools is no more dangerous (in terms of noise) than the subway or a busy street, so they are probably OK for short durations (but not chronically)….
For more go to The NIOSH Power Tools Database for power tool sound levels by manufacturer and specs (the sound power level is the dB sound level of the tool).
What is a moderate duration? Take frequent breaks when working with loud tools. A couple of hours seems like a reasonable amount of time per day for moderately loud tools (play it by ear – haha)… just don’t run your sander all day every day for a week ;)
Finally, vibration shouldn’t cause any troubles… back massagers are generally OK for pregnant women, and a power tool, like an orbital sander, will put vibration into your hands, but not so much your belly… just don’t sand with your belly ‘K ;)
Heidi Klum Maternity Overalls
Like paints, glues, dyes, pigments, solvents and oils …
The problem with toxic exposure in the form of paints, adhesives and other products (mineral spirits, gasoline, welding) is that there isn’t a lot of information available to the general population about what is dangerous, or what constitutes prolonged exposure. There are also thousands of chemicals in our everyday lives, and very few studies about their effects on pregnancy.
I read a few scientific studies (see citations below) regarding exposure to volatile organic solvents (VOCs) and other chemicals during pregnancy in order to share this information with you.
Exposure to paint fumes during pregnancy was very common (45% in a Danish study), but the study showed no adverse affects on pregnancy.
Another study shows inconsistent but suggestive evidence that welding fumes increases the risk for preterm delivery and low birth weight.
Mild carbon monoxide exposure resulted in normal fetal outcome, but severe poisoning causes severe outcomes. Lead poisoning also has devastating effects.
The Bottom Line.
- Exposure to toxins can effect the development of the baby’s organs (during the first trimester) and can damage already developed organs throughout pregnancy (and the rest of your life in fact).
- Go ahead and paint, but use water-based paints (acrylic is best, do not use oil- or lead-based or any paint made prior to 1990).
- Don’t use spray paint with M-butyl ketone (MBK) in it. It can cause neurological harm to your baby.
- Don’t use polyurethane sprays. If you must use polyurethane, use it in liquid form and outdoors.
- Since you’re using water-based paint, you don’t need to be exposed to paint removers, but if you do need turpentine for something, let someone else handle it.
- Use protective equipment. Avoid skin and eye contact by wearing gloves, long sleeves, and goggles. Use a dust mask. If the particles are fine (like for spray paint, or carpet glues) use a quality respirator (however these can cause breathing stress, so if in doubt ask your doctor and use sparingly).
- If possible, go green. Use products with reduced VOCs, toxicity or chemical additives. Adhesives made of natural rubber are good too.
- VOCs are most toxic in the first 48-72 hours, so reduce early exposure for best benefit. Too bad the nasty smell lasts longer…
- Avoid lead in any form. Check old paint, wallpaper and walls for lead before you remove them. If exposed, get a blood lead test. Lead stores in your bones, and re-enters the blood during pregnancy.
- For more information, you can contact the Pregnancy Environmental Hotline (1-800-322-5014 *updated).
- And take care of yourself!
A multicenter, prospective study of fetal outcome following accidental carbon monoxide poisoning in pregnancy. [Koren et al., Reprod. Toxicol., 1991]
Lead poisoning in pregnancy. [Klein et al., Presse Med., 1994]
Non-occupational exposure to paint fumes during pregnancy and fetal growth in a general population. [Sørensen et al., Environ Res., 2010]
Paternal and maternal exposure to welding fumes and metal dusts or fumes and adverse pregnancy outcomes. [Quansah et al., Int Arch Occup Environ Health., 2009]
I was “lightly electrocuted” while pregnant with my second son… though it scared me, in many cases a light shock will cause no harm.
Still, household voltage can be very dangerous (pregnant or not), so always turn off the circuit breaker before doing any electrical work! In particular, pregnant women should be way more cautious when dealing with electricity. Never do any work that might expose you to high voltage (500 volts).
That said, the severity of damage that can occur depends on the current, duration, and situation (like the presence of water)… to be safe, talk to your doctor if you do get electrocuted when pregnant.
If there are problems resulting from the shock, they will occur immediately following the shock, the baby still moving afterward is a great sign :)
4. Bodily Injury
This may be the most important, and the hardest to judge. It depends strongly on your abilities and comfort with risk.
Driving to work when pregnant involves a certain amount of risk of getting into an accident that could hurt you and the baby. This keeps many women from driving, but many more are comfortable with the risk.
Hammering your finger while pregnant will hurt (no more than usual though), and is unlikely to cause your baby any problems. However, severely cutting yourself is another matter.
If you are very comfortable, competent and careful with your drill, miter saw, hammer, or sander, than you are probably fine as long as you wear your protective equipment religiously and take extra care. It’s a risk, but it is generally up to you what you feel comfortable with.
However, there is one power tool that I strongly suggest avoiding until after your baby is born… that is the table saw.
The table saw is hands-down the most dangerous power tool in the workshop, and especially for pregnant women.
I say this because the most common injury from the table saw is caused by kickback, when the wood or a piece of it is sent at high speed back at the operator. Happens that this is belly height on most people. These injuries can be mild to fatal, and while a punch in the gut is no fun on a regular day, it is especially dangerous when you are pregnant.
Just don’t use a table saw when you are pregnant ‘K!
Also be very very careful when working at height… now that you’re pregnant your balance is off, and falling is both more likely and more dangerous! Stay on the ground if you can ;)
So the big picture is that you can do most of your DIY projects just fine if you are careful, wear protective gear and limit exposure (problems occur for repeated exposure – like 8 hours a day, every day for weeks…)
Ok, let me know if I missed something, or if you have a specific question! I also found this article interesting… 10 Biggest Pregnancy Myths Debunked, though it didn’t cover power tool usage ;)