shootingpreggers2Recently, a highly controversial issue was brought to my attention: shooting while pregnant. In the last few weeks, several pregnant women have approached our range desiring to get some practice. As I informed them of the potential risks, they were surprised and one even said that their doctor had never mentioned shooting on the list of “forbidden” activities. I had assumed that the risks were well-known to gun enthusiasts, if not doctors, and was surprised by the reactions of the women. I began exploring both pregnancy and shooting blogs and sites and was very surprised to see that most of the advice given is dismissive of the risks and encouraging of the activity. Lead is such a well-known danger to children and babies that my initial reaction was incredulity. I was very surprised to see so many people encouraging pregnant women to expose their babies to such peril. However, I soon found well-researched and documented sites that offered practical advice on the measures a woman may take to mitigate or eliminate her exposure to lead. With my skepticism still firmly in place, I would prefer a scientific study measuring the amounts of lead detected in subjects who take such precautions and in subjects that do not. While the scientist in me bemoans the lack of conclusions such a study would provide, I do realize we are speaking of pregnant women (who are highly cherished and protected in our society) and that such a study is likely to never be approved (and rightly so). The same goes for studying the effects on the developing baby of the sound of a defensive caliber handgun firing. Keeping all this in mind, I have searched for studies that may shed some light on this issue while recognizing concrete answers may never be found. And ultimately it is a personal decision between you, your spouse and God.

The Risks



As most of you probably know, much of the ammunition in circulation today contains lead in the projectile (bullet) portion of the cartridge. As the gun is fired, the primer ignites the powder and the powder exploding forces the bullet out of the cartridge, down the barrel and hopefully down range. During this process, some debris from this explosion escapes the firearm and travels out into the air. This debris may contain unburnt powder from the primer and propellent, and likely also contains lead dust. This gun shot residue is adept at finding its way to the shooter’s hands, arms, face, clothes and hair. At this point, the lead dust may be aspirated into the shooter’s lungs, and from there pass into the bloodstream. The lead may also be absorbed through the skin if the shooter neglects to wash off afterwards. Proper ventilation will help reduce the amount of GSR that blows back on the shooter. Once lead is in the body, the majority is stored in the bones while the remaining is stored in the blood and soft tissue. The concern with pregnancy is that lead easily passes through the placenta into the baby and the effects of lead exposure are much worse for infants and children than adults. A fetus is more susceptible to lead toxicity than adults because of the more permeable blood-brain barrier, the significantly lower amount of bone mass for lead sequestration, and the vulnerability of the developing central nervous system. Cord blood tests typically reveal the fetus to have very close Blood Lead Levels to the mother’s BLL. Many people feel they are safe with a blood lead level of <10 μg/dL. However, expectant mothers need to take note that a growing number of studies are finding fetus’ are effected well below the old 10 μg/dL benchmark. Writing for the National Institute of Health, Gilbert and Weiss put it this way,pregnant_1450316c

“Now, not only is there overwhelming evidence of effects at low levels, but it is increasingly apparent that the rate of decline in intellectual impairment is greater at BLLs below 10 μg/dL than above. Overall, every 1 μg/dL increase in blood lead results in a decrease of 0.87 IQ points. For BLLs below 10 μg/dL, a 1 μg/dL increase results in a 1.37 IQ decrease (Canfield et al., 2003).”

In May of 2012, the CDC revised the 10 μg/dL Level of Concern to 5 μg/dL while acknowledging 0 μg/dL is the ultimate goal. So what are these effects that researchers are so concerned about?

Adverse Health Effects of Blood Lead Levels <10 μg/dL

  1. Decreased IQ
  2. Decreased cognitive function
  3. Decreased neurologic function
  4. Slower development
  5. Greater odds of having Dental Caries
  6. Later onset of puberty
  7. Decreased renal function,%202004%20-%20single%20spaced.pdf


Another cause for concern I discovered in my research is that during pregnancy your body may pull lead out of your bones (thereby increasing your Blood Lead Level) in place of calcium. Structurally, lead and calcium are very similar and your body may pull lead out of your bones instead of the calcium it needs. While I was not able to find any scientific studies to back me up, my instincts tell me this means that simply foregoing any shooting while pregnant does not guarantee BLLs will not rise during pregnancy and thus endanger the baby. Translating that into daily life means (though I am a long way from any pregnancy) I will be much more careful to take steps to minimize my lead exposure today to protect any future children I may have.


While there are steps you can take to protect yourself from lead exposure (which might possibly nullify all the dangers of lead listed above), I don’t know of any way possible to shoot a defensive caliber handgun and still protect the baby from the sound of gunfire. We wear hearing protection to protect our ears, but there aren’t any muffs available to protect a baby in the womb. Some argue that the baby’s ears have not developed until 24 weeks and the fetus is not able to hear loud noises until then. However, consider this, the military has long invested time and money developing weapons that use electromagnetic (sound) waves outside of our natural hearing range. These weapons are designed to affect people (make them extremely hot, dizzy, nauseous, etc…), even though the people cannot hear a thing. The baby may not “hear” the noise by way of the ears but loud noises are related to adverse health effects in the fetus. The threshold of pain for most adults is typically around 140 decibels and 120 dB for children. The average defensive handgun is between 153 dB and 164 dB. The shock and stress the baby may feel from such an onslaught of vibrations may be why loud noises are “associated with several disorders, including miscarriage, intrauterine growth retardation, preterm delivery, hearing loss in babies and children, altered immune response in the fetus, and hypertension. A combined exposure to noise and lead seems to have an increased toxicity, causing heart lesions, which are not observed for those agents alone.”

There are also new reports indicating babies react negatively to ultrasounds. They may be far more sensitive to electromagnetic waves than we knew.

The Benefits

woman_with_gunSo what are the benefits of shooting while pregnant? Maintaining your skill with a firearm is the foremost benefit. Others have offered the following reasons to continue shooting: relieve some pregnancy-induced stress, spend quality time with loved ones, and continue to qualify for work or sport.

My Conclusion

Why risk it? Pregnancy is for 9 months, but the life developing within you has a lifetime ahead of him or her. Why risk making that life more challenging for that precious child when you have a choice? You have wisely chosen not to drink alcohol or smoke for the sake of your child (along with a myriad of other things). Why not include shooting on that list? And add an airsoft pistol to your gun cabinet.



National Institute of Health,

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Lead Exposure from Indoor Firing Ranges Among Students on Shooting Teams,

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, A Review of Evidence of Adverse Health Effects Associated with Blood Lead Levels <10 μg/dL in Children,%202004%20-%20single%20spaced.pdf

Other Great Resources:

Lead first trimester most dangerous?  Sex-specific effects


Non-lethal sonic weapons

  1. MamaLiberty says:

    Washing improperly may actually increase lead absorbtion. As soon as possible after shooting, I use a baby wipe on my face and any other exposed skin. When I get home, I first rinse with tepid water, then apply soap and wash with tepid water, rinsing thoroughly and immediately. If I shower instead, I start out with the coolest water that is comfortable and finish with warm once I’m thoroughly clean.

    Hot water opens the pores of the skin and would help the lead absorbe faster. Dry, chapped skin is also more permeable. I apply a light coat of “waterproof” sunscreen, hand or body lotion to exposed skin before shooting as well, just to create a little barrier.

    I have not been pregnant for 44 years, but I have to agree that shooting would not be something I’d choose to do then. Airsoft and pellet guns would seem to be a much wiser choice to maintain skills.

  2. Excellent article. Hard to find a post of this quality.
    Thank you

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