Cosmetic Medicine / Plastic Surgery Pregnancy / Obstetrics

Can you get a tattoo while pregnant or breast-feeding?

Pregnancy is a unique and memorable time and getting a new tattoo can be a way of marking the occasion.

However, if a woman is thinking about getting a tattoo while pregnant, it is essential that she understands the risks and knows what precautions to take.

Is it safe to get a tattoo while pregnant?

pregnant lady with tattoo
Taking precautions may reduce the associated risks with getting tattooed during pregnancy.

There is limited research on the safety of getting a tattoo during pregnancy. If a woman chooses to get tattooed during pregnancy, there are some steps she can follow to ensure she is taking all possible precautions to reduce any associated risks.

It is a good idea to let the tattooist know about the pregnancy. This way, they can make sure that the studio is set up safely before they begin.

To get a tattoo done safely, a woman should also:

  • Make sure the tattooist is a registered practitioner.
  • Make sure the studio has separate spaces for tattooing and piercing.
  • Ensure the tattooist uses new gloves for each procedure.
  • Feel confident that floors and surfaces are all clean.
  • Check that the tattooist uses an autoclave, a unit to clean and sterilize equipment in between uses, or disposable equipment.
  • Check that all needles are brand new.
  • Make sure that all dyes and ink used for the tattoo are sterile and unopened, or that they are taken from single cups and thrown away after use.
  • Check that the tattooist is easily reachable during the first 24 hours after they have carried out the procedure.

The tattooist should also supply contact information and be happy to be contacted with questions and concerns in the months following the tattoo.

People should voice any concerns about the safety, cleanliness, or practices of a tattooist or tattooing facility. A reputable studio and experienced tattoo artist will have no problem addressing any concerns a person has.

If anyone is worried that their tattoo was performed in unsafe or questionable conditions, they should contact their doctor and request to be tested for hepatitis, HIV, and syphilis as soon as possible.


Risks

Lady getting a tattoo on her back
As long as hygiene and safety procedures are followed, the risk of developing an infection should be quite low.

The primary concern about getting a tattoo when pregnant is the risk that it may lead to an infection.

The chances of developing an infection are low if a woman follows all the safety and hygiene procedures.

However, serious infections such as Hepatitis B or HIV can be passed on to the baby during pregnancy.

Symptoms of these infections can take years to become noticeable, and it may take a liver function test to diagnose these infection types.

A fresh tattoo is an open wound and therefore susceptible to infection. Signs of an infected tattoo include:

  • fever or chills
  • foul-smelling discharge, pus, or red lesions in and around the area of the tattoo
  • areas of hard raised tissue around the tattoo
  • dark lines that become visible in or around the tattooed area

Following the studio’s aftercare instructions should minimize risks of a tattoo becoming infected. However, if a woman experiences any of the signs of infection, she should seek medical attention immediately.

There is also minimal research available on the safety of dyes used in tattooing and pregnancy.

It is possible that the chemicals in the dye are passed to the unborn baby and could affect its development, particularly during the first 12 weeks.


Things to consider

Getting a tattoo is not a decision anyone should take lightly, as it means a permanent change to a person’s body.

Depending on its location, the shape of the tattoo may change during the pregnancy as the body changes to accommodate the baby. The tattoo may not return to its original shape after the pregnancy.

Many pregnant women develop stretch marks on their hips, thighs, and stomachs, which may also change the appearance of a tattoo.

If a woman chooses to get a tattoo on her back, this could affect whether she decides to have an epidural during labor.

There are insufficient studies on whether a new tattoo causes any increased risks when having an epidural. Most anesthesiologists should not refuse to give an epidural even if a woman has a back tattoo.

Scar tissue may form where the epidural is given, which may affect the appearance of an existing tattoo.

If a pregnant woman is considering getting a tattoo on her lower back, it is a good idea to check the hospital policy on lower back tattoos and epidurals. If the tattoo is very new and still healing or has become infected, an epidural may not be recommended.

A pregnant woman is also more susceptible to certain skin conditions that can make getting a tattoo difficult and more painful.

These skin conditions include:

  • Pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy (PUPP). This skin condition can cause a red rash, bumps, and areas of swelling, usually on the legs, arms, or stomach.
  • Prurigo of pregnancy. This is an itchy and uncomfortable rash that causes small bumps called papules to appear on the skin. It can last for months after a woman has delivered her baby.
  • Impetigo herpetiformis. This is a rare form of psoriasis that can cause side effects, such as nausea, vomiting, fever, and chills.
  • Hyperpigmentation. Hormone changes that occur in a woman’s body during pregnancy can also cause hyperpigmentation in some women. Hyperpigmentation causes some areas of the skin to darken. It affects up to 70 percent of pregnant women and is made worse by sun exposure.

What about henna?

In some cultures, it is customary to receive henna tattoos during pregnancy to bring good luck.

The henna tattoos are usually applied to the pregnant woman’s belly during the final trimester. Henna works by staining the skin with natural dye and lasts up to 4 weeks.

Henna tattoos are considered safe to get during pregnancy. However, it is essential to ensure that the tattooist is not using black henna. Henna tattoos should be applied with dark brown or red henna.

Black henna is unsafe as it contains para-phenylenediamine (PPD), which can be very damaging to the skin, causing burns and blisters.


Can you get a tattoo while breast-feeding?

Lady with tattoos breast feeding her baby
Tattoo ink cannot pass through to breast milk.

Some women have concerns about the safety of getting a tattoo while breast-feeding. However, a tattoo needle only reaches the dermal layer of the skin, and the molecular structure of the ink is too big to pass through breast milk.

However, women considering having a tattoo while breast-feeding should be aware of the possible risks of developing an infection that may harm the baby. While the risk of infection is low, it is possible. Although infections, such as hepatitis and HIV do not necessarily spread through the breast milk, contact with cracked or bleeding nipples while feeding can increase an infant’s risk of contracting a disease.

It is usually safe to breast-feed when sick with a minor infection or illness. However, a woman should be sure to ask for antibiotics that are safe to use during breast-feeding if she visits a doctor for a bacterial infection.

Taking appropriate precautions, such as researching the tattooist, checking out the studio, and following aftercare instructions will minimize any risk of infection.


Takeaway

Is it OK to get a tattoo while pregnant? This depends on the individual. While there are many precautions a pregnant woman can take to minimize risk, there is no guarantee that infection will not occur.

Many women prefer to wait to get a new tattoo until after their baby is born and they have stopped breast-feeding. This ensures that any associated risks of getting a tattoo will not affect their child.

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