New Flooring Installed Before and After Birth Can Cause Breathing Problems in Infants

Panel Floor WorkAlthough many expectant parents decorate or renovate in the months before the birth of a new baby, a new study published in the journal Environment International finds that exposure to volatile organic compounds (VOC) in new flooring before and after birth can increase the risk for wheeze in infants.

Previous studies have linked VOC exposure to childhood breathing problems. The present study from the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) and the “St Georg” Municipal Hospital sought to evaluate the impact of prenatal exposure on early wheeze and to identify sensitive time windows.

Using data from the LINA birth cohort study, the researchers assessed renovation activities and respiratory outcomes during pregnancy and at age one using questionnaires. Additional data included VOC concentrations at both time points. The researchers then studied the associations using logistic regression analysis.

Two-thirds of the families carried out renovations during the pregnancy. Every sixth replaced flooring.

According to the study, installing new flooring during pregnancy increased the risk for physician treated wheeze during the first year of life especially in children with an atopic predisposition such as a parent with asthma, hay fever, or other allergic diseases. In this sense, it seems very critical that homeowners consider these problems when planning flooring or other renovations. Detailed information on when to replace your roof, floor, or windows can help them plan the renovation work so the mother or infant will not suffer any health problems.

The researchers found that floor coverings such as wall-to-wall-carpets, PVC material, and laminate increased the levels of the VOCs styrene, ethylbenzene, octane, 1-butanol, tridecane, and o-xylene. VOCs escape from new flooring and are absorbed by the human body through breathing in the contaminated air. Probably this is the reason many people still have concrete flooring in their homes.

That being said, installing new flooring after pregnancy also increased the risk of wheezing among infants, although to a lesser degree. Only the associations between wheezing and styrene and wheezing and PVC flooring remained significant for exposure after birth.

Explains Dr. Ulrich Franck from the UFZ:

“We therefore do not recommend that laminate, carpet or floor coverings be laid in the homes of pregnant women. Although the concentrations of these volatile chemicals are lower if no adhesive is used when installing the flooring, even then the concentrations are still high enough to significantly increase the risk of infants suffering from respiratory complaints in their first few months.”

Concludes Dr. Irina Lehmann from the UFZ, who heads the LINA study on lifestyle and environmental factors and their influence on the risk of allergies in newborns:

“The design of our long-term study with a comprehensive evaluation of environmental exposure before and after birth offers us a unique opportunity to study effects of this exposure on children’s diseases. According to our results, exposure to these volatile chemical compounds seems to be more critical in pregnancy than in the first year of a child’s life.”

The findings of the present study indicate that home renovations, especially the replacement of flooring, should not occur during pregnancy but should wait until after the first of life, particularly in families with a history of atopic diseases.


New flooring can lead to breathing problems in babies, even if laid during pregnancy:
Prenatal VOC exposure and redecoration are related to wheezing in early infancy:

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