“The most important thing to remember is that older furniture may have been painted with lead-based paints. Lead-based paints were used historically and houses built before 1978 would certainly contain lead,” Barbarajean Magnani, Ph.D., M.D., Director of Toxicology at Tufts Medical Center, tells Romper. So while that mid-century crib you find at an estate sale may look awesome, there’s a good chance it could contain lead, in which case you should not repaint it yourself. If you can’t live without that particular crib, you can hire someone to professionally strip it (not in your home) and repaint it for you, but this is definitely a job best left to professionals who have the proper tools and gear.
Even unpainted vintage cribs may be problematic, as “antique [or] heirloom baby furniture… may have been coated with lacquer [or] varnish that contains lead,” Dr. Magnani says. “Lead is harmful for children since it can interfere with their growth and produce impaired mental capacity, among other problems. There is no known safe level of lead.”
If you’re looking to give a newer crib a fresh coat of paint — maybe it’s wooden and you want it to be white, or you’re going for a monochromatic look where the crib matches the walls — there are ways to safely paint. First things first, though: The jury is still out on whether or not it’s safe for pregnant women to paint because, as with many things pertaining to pregnancy, there aren’t many studies available. The general consensus is that it’s best to limit exposure to paint fumes while pregnant, per Babycenter, and Dr, Magnani says it’s not recommended for pregnant people to paint.
If there’s no one who can help you with the job, then wear a mask while painting and make sure the room is well-ventilated (or better yet, paint the furniture outside). And of course, always choose a non-toxic paint and check-in with your doctor who can help you make the right call for your specific situation.
“Modern paints do not contain lead and the safest paints to use are ones with low (less than 50 grams per liter) VOCs or zero VOCs (volatile organic compounds). These paints contain less harmful chemicals,” Dr. Magnani says. Paint on all children’s furniture, whether you’re buying it painted or doing the work yourself, “should be listed as non-toxic with low odor and minimal additives (VOC-free).” pediatrician Dr. Natasha Burgert tells Romper. It’s also important that the crib be properly sanded so the paint adheres and won’t flake or chip.
You can ask at your local hardware store for a VOC-free paint that does not require the use of primer, per Healthline, which means there will be fewer chemicals involved.
It’s also important to consider your timing when painting a baby’s room or furniture. Whenever possible, paint the nursery or any furniture several months before baby is due, “so any lingering fumes can dissipate,” Dr. Magnani says.
If you’re hoping to incorporate some vintage pieces into the baby’s room, “be sure the crib is up to current safety standards including slats and corner posts at safe dimensions and avoiding older drop-side crib models,” Dr, Burgert says. Safety guidelines change regularly, so even if the crib doesn’t seem very old, it’s still wise to have it checked out by a safety expert.
There are ways to safely paint a baby crib, though if you have the option, it’s best to ask a spouse, friend, or professional to do the actual legwork for you (you still get to do the fun part — choosing a color). Always first check that it meets modern crib safety standards, (outlined on the Consumer Product Safety Commission), then opt for a non-toxic, VOC-free paint and make sure you’re in a well-ventilated area. And if you suspect the crib is from before 1978, make sure to have a professional handle the painting as it’s likely to contain lead.
Natasha Burgert, M.D., pediatrician & nationally recognized child health expert.
Barbarajean Magnani, Ph.D., M.D., Director of Toxicology at Tufts Medical Center