Pregnancy comes with a long list of things to avoid: everything from sushi, hot tubs, and heavy lifting are crucial no-goes when you’re growing a tiny human.
But can you shoot guns while pregnant?
While there is no concrete evidence that shooting while pregnant is harmful to an unborn baby, risks of lead exposure, loud noises, and undue stress are things to consider.
If you’re pregnant (first off, congratulations!) the choice to continue shooting is a personal one that can only be decided by you and your doctor. That being said, no matter what you decide, there are a few ways you can continue your training safely and effectively.
So, let’s delve into the specifics of what the risks are when it comes to pregnant shooting, and talk about your options in terms of training.
Is It Safe to Shoot Guns While Pregnant?
Shooting is a perishable skill. And the unfortunate reality is, if you skip the range for the next nine months to three years while you’re pregnant and breastfeeding, you run the risk of losing a lot of important skills and muscle memory.
But do the benefits of training and preparedness outweigh the risks associated with shooting guns with a baby in the womb? Is shooting safe for pregnant women, or should it be avoided at all costs?
While we wish there was a conclusive answer to this question, there isn’t. Only a small handful of studies have been performed to understand the effects of shooting on pregnant mothers and their unborn babies.
As frustrating as that is, we can identify the risks associated with shooting while pregnant, and talk about their potential side effects.
Probably the number one concern among pregnant mothers when it comes to shooting is the risk of lead exposure – and for good reason.
Lead is toxic to humans, and should be a concern for all shooters, whether pregnant or not. Most ammo contains lead primer, which is then released into the air every time you fire. That lead then settles on your hands, arms, face, hair, and clothes, and small amounts of it may even be inhaled – especially if you’re in a range with poor ventilation.
That lead can then be ingested in one of two ways: by breathing it in, or consuming it when you touch food with traces of gunpowder residue on your hands.
Unfortunately, if you’re exposed to lead while pregnant, it can and will transfer to your baby as well, according to the CDC. If lead enters your bloodstream while pregnant, it can increase your risk of miscarriage or premature birth, damage the fetus’ brain, kidneys, and nervous system, or even result in future learning or behavioral problems.
Lead contact can also be harmful to the mother herself, and may put her at higher risk of hypertension and preeclampsia.
And to top it all off, the CDC has not yet been able to determine whether there’s a “safe” amount of lead exposure for a mother and fetus. Luckily, there are precautions you can take to minimize how much lead you come in contact with when shooting, but the risk is still enough for many soon-to-be moms to say “No way!”
Unfortunately, lead is not the only contaminant associated with shooting sports.
Other metals like barium, antimony, copper, and arsenic, as well as things like cleaning solvents, can pose a potential health risk for a pregnant mother and baby, according to an article by Elizabeth Kennedy and Dr. Fabrice Czarnecki for Tennessee Tech University.
Many of these metals and chemicals are on the list of things for pregnant women to avoid. So, while there’s no real evidence to suggest that shooting or cleaning firearms is enough exposure to be a problem, it is definitely something to be aware of.
It’s no secret that guns are LOUD. And while you can wear earmuffs or earplugs to protect yourself, your baby cannot (it’s a cute thought, though!).
Some people believe that a baby is protected from loud noises by the mother’s belly and the fluid surrounding them in the womb. While that is true to a point, continuous exposure to loud sounds can not only cause hearing loss, but can result in a low birth weight, premature delivery, and developmental issues according to the Tennessee Tech article.
But how much noise is too much?
Many health regulations recommend pregnant women avoid environments with over 80 decibels of continuous noise and over 140 decibels of non-continuous noise. A gunshot ranges from 125-160 decibels depending on the firearm.
A fetus will start to respond to noises at around 16 weeks, and their ears are fully structured by 24 weeks, so this can be a cause for concern even relatively early in your pregnancy.
Another less-considered factor is that shooting guns when pregnant could cause stress for both you and your baby.
Whether you’re brand new to shooting or a seasoned pro, loud noises can still cause your body to have a stress response, causing undue anxiety and high blood pressure. That’s obviously bad for both the mother and fetus, so if you start to feel your heartbeat elevate, or your baby starts kicking, you may want to hold off on live-fire training for the time being.
Tips for Training While Pregnant
When carrying a gun for self-protection, training is an absolute must.
If you’ve decided to keep shooting while pregnant, there are a few things you can do to help ensure both you and your baby stay safe. If you’ve decided to pause your live-fire training for the time being, don’t worry! We’ve got a few risk-free suggestions for ways you can continue training with your firearm, without ever taking a shot.
Go to an Outdoor Shooting Range
If you’re going to keep shooting, going to an outdoor shooting range while pregnant is non-negotiable. A Girl and a Gun shooting leagues actually forbid members from participating in events that are held indoors, even in well-ventilated state-of-the-art facilities with noise-reduction measures. It’s just not worth the risk.
Minimize Exposure to Toxins
Even at an outdoor shooting range, there are a few additional precautions you can take to reduce your contact with lead.
First and foremost, use lead-free ammo. This is an obvious and effective way to mitigate the lead exposure issue.
If you’re going to be around other people who are shooting, however, you may also want to consider wearing a mask or respirator to avoid inhaling any lead that may waft over to you.
Next, you’ll want to wear gloves and/or thoroughly wash your hands with cold water before eating or drinking anything, even if you’re using lead-free ammunition. There could still be residue on your gun from past shooting events, and this is good practice anyway.
Finally, let someone else clean your firearm after range day. There’s no need to unnecessarily expose yourself to the chemicals used in cleaning your weapon, or the lead that’s on it. Plus, it’s a great excuse to pass the job on to your partner, so you can kick back and relax. ;)
Keep the Noise Down
Just because you’re going to the range doesn’t mean you have to bring your trusty 1911 – as fun as it might be.
Ideally, you could use a silencer to help muffle your shots. We also know these aren’t easily accessible for everyone (diapers are expensive!) so the other alternative is to train with a quieter low-caliber gun like a .22.
You can still carry your larger caliber pistol, but bringing a smaller, quieter weapon to the range will allow you to practice without damaging your little one’s delicate eardrums.
Try Alternative Forms of Training
Finally, if you’re going to cease fire during your pregnancy, or just cut back, you may want to view the next nine months as an opportunity to explore other training methods.
The first thing we’d recommend is taking up dry fire training. Dry firing involves drawing and pulling the trigger on an unloaded pistol. This allows you to continue training without ever leaving your house, and, in this case, avoid noise and lead exposure as well (though you should still wash your hands before eating). You can even use a Bluegun if you want to be really lead-conscious!
You could also consider switching your focus to reading various self-defense books and/or taking classes that don’t involve shooting (or keep it to a minimum). You can search for classes and seminars near you through the USCCA or the NRA.
Should I Practice Shooting While Pregnant?
As with many issues related to pregnancy, the decision to shoot while growing a baby is a highly personal one.
There are plenty of experts who recommend playing it safe by avoiding shooting entirely while pregnant. And, there are plenty of alternative training methods you could use to help keep up on your skills.
On the other hand, if you’re part of a club, practice competition shooting, or just REALLY love shooting, it can be a hard thing to give up, even temporarily.
So, what’s a girl to do?
Now that you’re aware of the potential risks and the alternative training methods at your disposal, take some time to come up with a game plan.
We suggest talking to your doctor first and foremost, to see what they have to say about it. They can offer more insight that’s specific to your situation, especially if you have other health concerns to factor in.
Next, it’s important to remember that there’s not an exact regimen you have to follow in your training. Maybe you go to your local outdoor range once a month and practice dry fire training the rest of the time. Or, maybe you switch to a .22 pistol for the next nine months and just keep your range time short and sweet. Do what works for you.
Finally, if you do decide to head to the range, pay attention to your body and your baby. If something feels wrong, then maybe you should skip range day for the duration of your pregnancy.
What About Shooting When Breastfeeding?
We’ve talked a lot about shooting guns when pregnant, but what about after? Can you shoot if you’re breastfeeding?
Obviously, hazards like noise and stress are non-issues to your newborn baby unless you take them with you to the range (which we definitely do NOT recommend!). However, the risk of lead exposure is still a potential issue.
First of all, whenever you go shooting, gunpowder residue containing lead will be left on your clothes and body. Before feeding, or even holding, your baby after shooting, always take a shower and change your clothes. We even recommend going as far as washing your range clothes separately from your baby’s clothes to avoid cross-contamination.
But what if lead gets into your system by inhalation? Is it safe to breastfeed your baby then?
Like with everything else, the lead that goes into your body has the potential to appear in your breast milk. While there is no evidence that the amount of lead that could make its way into your body after shooting is enough to harm your baby, many people choose to err on the side of caution.
If you are going to shoot while breastfeeding, Czarnecki tells shooting expert Julie Golob in her book “SHOOT,” that while breastfeeding moms don’t need to avoid shooting altogether, they should take a few precautions.
“Lead is transmitted from the mother to the fetus, and is excreted in breast milk. For women who are breastfeeding, it is best to avoid unprotected firearms training. Wearing an appropriate respirator and careful hand hygiene should allow most breastfeeding women to safely train with firearms, especially if using lead-free ammunition,” he says.
Shooting while pregnant is a highly personal decision that all comes down to your comfort level and doctor’s recommendations.
Once you’ve weighed the risks – like lead exposure and loud noises – associated with shooting guns while carrying a baby, and considered other training alternatives, all that’s left to do is come up with a plan that works for you.
No matter what you decide, you’ll need a safe and comfortable holster to wear while at the range or practicing dry firing at home. If you’re in need of a new IWB, OWB, or pocket carry holster, visit our Holsters by Gun Model page for Kydex holsters that are custom-made for your weapon of choice.
For more content dedicated to women interested in shooting and self-defense, join our Facebook group, Women of Vedder, to be part of a like-minded community of women who carry!
Interested in items beyond holsters? Check out our Resources Page for links to recommended products like lights, lasers, first aid, maintenance, and more, and browse our selection of apparel, and accessories at our website, vedderholsters.com.
To stay up-to-date on all the latest Vedder Holsters content and offerings, check out our blog and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. And be sure to visit our sister company, GeoGrit, for all of your American-made minimalist wallet needs.