Lemon Sorbet. A tart and yummy dessert, yes, but also the sweet yellow color my husband and I chose when planning our first nursery, 12 1/2 years ago (ok fine, I chose it and he said something along the lines of “Yes, Jen, it’s great!”). As you can deduce from the noncommittal shade, we didn’t know the gender of our first child, but, unfortunately, that wasn’t the only thing we didn’t know.

During those heady days of my first pregnancy, I was totally green — and by that I don’t mean nauseous or environmentally aware. In fact, quite the opposite on both fronts; I never had a smidge of morning sickness, and I was woefully unsophisticated when it came to the potential hazards of nursery painting. I knew that household paints no longer contained lead, and that I shouldn’t actually take brush to wall (the smell would be unpleasant, not to mention that ladder-climbing was low on my to-do list). But there was quite a bit more that I didn’t know and, over time, I learned of the many nasty chemicals in conventional paint, ones that could be unhealthy for mother-to-be and for baby as well, even as the shade looks pretty on the wall.

Toluene, formaldehyde, benzene. These toxicants are just a few of the many volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that were once necessary to the performance of paint. They invisibly vaporize in liquid and solid form, and can offgas at differing levels for years, contributing to very poor indoor air quality. In addition, certain paints labeled “antimicrobial” or “antibacterial” may contain harmful chemicals that can emit over time as well. Many brands have replaced the above chemicals with less-toxic ingredients, but these toxicants may still be found in certain conventional paints — the kind you might buy if you didn’t know better.

But guess what: now you know better! To avoid the acute symptoms of VOC exposure (headaches and dizziness) as well as potential long-term problems (cancer, nervous system issues), there is plenty you can do. Herewith, some advice for protecting yourself and your belly, as well as some colorful paint brand choices for the room your babe will call home.

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