Pregnancy is tough.
Not only do you have to carry around a growing human (usually pressed against your bladder), but you have to deal with total strangers constantly touching your expanding waistline.
However, there are things far worse than the loss of personal space. Like being routinely pummeled with a list of things you shouldn’t be doing.
If you are pregnant, you’ve probably been told you can’t drink coffee or alcohol. Someone probably also told you not to eat sushi, seafood, queso dip, or raw cookie dough.
It’s like pregnant women are expected to take a nine-month hiatus from anything fun!
It may have been a lack of caffeine, but when someone told me I should stop shooting during my pregnancy, I almost considered going on an actual shooting spree.
Even if that spree only involved targets (although targets resembling the people who kept touching my tummy wasn’t completely off the table).
Shooting while you’re pregnant definitely presents a unique set of worries. However, taking a break from shooting for a full nine months may not be the best way to address those worries.
Taking time off from the shooting range may sound like absolute torture, but it can also have dangerous consequences, especially if you have a concealed carry permit or are a law enforcement officer.
Marksmanship is a degradable skill and an extra-long vacation could have a serious effect on the skills you’ve worked hard to develop.
The good news is you don’t have to completely give up shooting until after you’ve given birth.
(As a side note: There are plenty of safe ways to shoot BEFORE you give birth. However, I strongly advise against shooting WHILE giving birth. Labor tends to make women feel a tad bit aggressive, especially toward doctors and their significant other. It’s best to leave firearms out of the mix.)
Keep reading to find out how to maintain your shooting skills during pregnancy while preventing harm to you and your unborn baby.
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Is it Safe to Shoot During Pregnancy?
There is no shortage of friendly advice floating around the internet about shooting during pregnancy. Unfortunately, most of it is anecdotal or relies on a “better safe than sorry” line of thinking.
The truth is there is only meager research-based information on the subject.
Although women are the fastest-growing shooting demographic, we are still a comparably small portion of the population. Because female shooters are such a small minority, research facilities aren’t exactly lining up to invest time or precious research dollars into studying us.
Pregnant shooters make up an even smaller section of the population. All pregnant shooters are women, but not all women shooters are pregnant. And if they are, they only fall into that category for 9 months tops.
Honestly, pregnant shooters are basically a statistical anomaly.
Also, there aren’t a ton of doctors willing to perform double-blind studies on pregnant women and their developing fetuses. No one wants to willingly expose unborn babies to substances or circumstances that could cause potential harm.
So, experimenting on pregnant women is a no go. (Do you want zombie babies? Because that’s how you get zombie babies.)
Despite the scarcity of research-based double-blind studies, there are resources available to help families make informed choices about combining range time and pregnancy.
Although research isn’t shooting specific, there have been studies that address how lead and noise (the two biggest concerns for pregnant shooters) could affect you and your baby.
The Hidden Dangers of Lead
Lead exposure is a serious issue for shooters whether they’re baking metaphorical buns or not.
The average cartridge primer is approximately 35 percent lead. The vast majority of bullets also contain lead, even if that lead is covered in some sort of jacket material.
When you pull the trigger and the firing pin strikes the primer cap, microscopic lead particles are discharged into the air. More lead vapor is created through friction as lead projectiles travel at extreme speeds through metal gun barrels. Even more lead particles are vaporized when the lead bullet impacts the target or the backstop.
Whether lead particles come from the primer or the projectile, once they become airborne, anyone in the area can easily inhale them.
And if lead dust settles on skin, clothing, or range surfaces, it can be absorbed through the skin or accidentally ingested. There’s nothing like a sprinkle of good old-fashioned lead to add some extra flavor to your favorite meal.
All joking aside, lead poisoning is a serious issue. This toxic heavy metal can impact every organ in the human body. High levels of lead in the bloodstream can cause serious issues like high blood pressure, nerve disorders, muscle and joint pain, and even infertility.
The real danger, especially for regular shooters, is that lead exposure is cumulative. That means, once inside the body, that lead isn’t going anywhere. It is there to stay.
What About Mom and Unborn Junior?
While lead exposure is a serious concern for everyone, there are some risks specific to pregnant women and their unborn babies.
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), “lead exposure has known adverse effects on maternal health and infant outcomes.”
Lead readily crosses the placenta, so when the mother is exposed to lead, so is Junior. In fact, traces of lead have been found in developing brains as early as the first trimester.
Lead exposure during pregnancy increases the possibility of miscarriage, premature rupture of the membranes, pre-eclampsia, pregnancy hypertension, and premature delivery. These conditions endanger both Mom and Junior.
For Junior, lead exposure during his time in the womb can result in low birth weight, a host of birth defects, and delayed mental development. (You don’t have to take my word for it. You can find the relevant studies here, here, and here).
Shooting is a Noisy Affair
It’s no secret that shooting is loud. Although contained, the explosion produced when propellant combusts is violent and booming. The extreme noise produced by a single gunshot can cause serious and lasting damage to your inner ear. This is why most gun ranges require some form of ear protection.
Centerfire weapons produce sound levels that range from 140 to 170 decibels. For perspective, a small .22-caliber rimfire rifle produces a 140-decibel report. A rocket launch measures in at about 180 decibels.
Exposure to any sound above 140 decibels can potentially cause physical pain, ringing in the ears, and immediate and permanent hearing damage. However, prolonged exposure to any sound much more than 85 decibels can potentially cause hearing loss.
Remember that next time you think about leaving your ear pro in your range bag.
Keep It Down, I’m Growing A Baby
Thankfully, shooters have access to highly effective ear protection. (Check out our article on the Best Shooting Ear Protection if you don’t believe me.)
However, high-decibel noise levels can have serious effects on the mom-to-be in ways that even the fanciest ear pro can’t prevent.
Extreme noise levels during pregnancy have been linked to miscarriage, delayed fetal growth, and preterm delivery.
Mom’s muscle structure provides some noise protection for Junior during his nine-month uterine free float. By the time sounds from the outside world reach him, those noises have been considerably muted and muffled.
However, Junior isn’t completely safe from the loud noises of the world, and it’s going to be really hard to slip him some foam earplugs.
Fluid, such as the amniotic fluid that Baby is floating around in, conducts sound really well. In fact, sound waves traveling through amniotic fluid stimulate Baby’s cochlea the same way sound waves traveling through the air do for us not-in-the-womb people. That’s why Baby will recognize Mom’s voice right after birth.
Serious Solutions for Pregnant Shooters
Like I mentioned before, shooting is a perishable skill. It takes regular practice to maintain that skill.
Besides, shooting is fun, and nine months is a long time to abstain from something you enjoy (just ask your husband or boyfriend).
Thankfully, there are some safe ways to continue your shooting practice while you’re pregnant.
Shoot Without Shooting
If you decide sending lead downrange is too dangerous for you and the baby, there are other ways to maintain your skills until Junior arrives.
Dry fire practice is a fantastic way to go through the motions of shooting without the noise or lead contamination. There are a number of dry fire drills you can run that will help you preserve and improve skills like grip, stance, trigger control, and sight alignment.
If you want to protect your weapon’s firing pin, grab some spring-loaded snap caps for your dry fire practice. Snap caps are shaped like a standard firearm cartridge, only they don’t have the standard primers, propellant, or projectiles. These dummy rounds provide a cushion that helps prevent deformation and wear on your weapon, especially on older firearms.
These are fundamental skills all of us should be working to improve, and dry fire practice may actually be more effective at building them than wasting ammo at the range. Just do it, whether you’re pregnant or not.
This is the safest option you have, so if you’re really concerned about Baby’s needs more than your itchy trigger finger, you’ll want to stick to dry-fire only.
Minimize Lead Exposure
The only surefire way to prevent shooting-related lead exposure during pregnancy is to give up shooting altogether.
However, if you choose to shoot, here are some tips to help you minimize lead exposure while you do it.
- Don’t eat or drink when you’re shooting. Since lead residue on your hands is easily ingested, skip the gun range snack. Show up hydrated and stop for a double scoop of pickle ice cream on the way home.
- Choose a well-ventilated gun range. The great outdoors provides plenty of natural ventilation. If you must shoot indoors, pick a well-maintained range with ventilation that keeps air moving downrange away from shooters.
- Use shooting gloves. By wearing gloves when you shoot, not only will you be stylish, you’ll also prevent lead absorption through the skin on your hands. I’m a huge fan of the PIG Full Dexterity Tactical (FDT) Delta Utility Gloves. (For other options, check out our Best Shooting Gloves.)
- Choose lead-free ammunition. Ammo manufacturers have made some serious strides in lead-free ammunition, helping protect high-volume shooters from excessive lead exposure. Products like Winchester WinClean and Hornady Team Never Quit use lead-free primers and projectiles with a brass enclosed base. Both of these features eliminate airborne lead, allowing you to maintain your shooting skills without guilt or fear.
- Wash your hands with D-lead Soap. Use cool water to work up a good lather on your hands and face immediately after you finish shooting.
- Let someone else clean your firearm. While it’s hard to trust your baby to someone else’s care, cleaning your weapon can expose you to more lead than shooting. Let someone else clean your gun. You can still yell directions from the other room. It’s good practice for parenthood.
Listen to Junior
If you’ve been pregnant for a while now, you probably know that there are things your baby likes and that your baby hates. After all, they make it really clear as they pummel you from the inside.
Think that Junior is up for a short range sesh? Then pay attention to what they’re up to in there. If they start kicking and punching as soon as you pull into the range parking lot, Little One might not be into loud noises.
Limit your session length and give Baby (and yourself) some breaks away from all the action. You can even try out shooting a small cartridge, like .22LR, to help keep the noise down.
I never even considered not shooting during my pregnancies. If I knew then what I know now, I probably would have done things differently.
Thankfully, my kids are fine. Although I sometimes wonder how they keep forgetting to do their homework, take out the trash, and put away their laundry…
Other parents assure me this is normal and not necessarily due to excessive lead exposure in the womb, so I guess I did okay.
The decision to shoot or not to shoot during pregnancy can be a difficult one. Be sure to include your doctor or other health care provider in the decision-making process.
If you decide to put off shooting until after Junior’s arrival, you can keep your fundamentals sharp with some off-the-range dry fire practice. Want to become a dry fire pro? Start with our article on Safe and Effective Dry Fire Training at Home.
Did you choose to shoot during pregnancy? If so, what precautions did you take for your safety and the safety of your baby? Guys, how many guns did you clean for Momma-to-be? Want to shoot better…check out our Definitive Guide to Accurate Shooting.