There are a number of health concerns to be considered when breastfeeding your baby, and getting a tattoo done or removed is one of them. “Can you get a tattoo while breastfeeding?” is what many moms on forums and chat groups are desperately seeking answers to, along with those who are sunken in regret having gotten tatted.
Thankfully, it’s not all doom and gloom after all. Read on to learn all there is to know about tattoos and its impact on breastfeeding.
A brief history of body modifications
Body modifications or “body mods” are a group of practices involving branding, scarification, piercing, tattooing, and other forms of body art.
Historians, archaeologists, and body artists agree that body piercing has been performed in one way or the other globally for more than 5,000 years.
Nowadays, body modifications have experienced a surge in popularity, with people from all walks of life and demography getting body mods of various types.
Everyone does it – from celebrities to doctors to university dons – even stay-at-home moms.
Women get tattooed and pierced as a form of self-expression, sexual booster, or in commemoration of a life event.
Some women have tattooing done for cosmetic purposes such as permanent makeup, breast reconstruction, or to conceal scars or disfigurements.
More than 20 million Americans, more than half of whom are women, have one or more tattoos and up to 30% have piercings, while close to 10% have had both.
And this explosion is showing no sign of slowing down in the near future.
Breastfeeding is now on the rise, again
Along with the boom in body modifications, breastfeeding has seen a recent resurgence in popularity.
Breastfeeding rates are skyrocketing and it doesn’t come as a surprise that many new mothers who have body mods or are thinking about having them in the future might have concerns as to the safety of breastfeeding.
So, if you’re amongst those asking if you can get a tattoo while breastfeeding, then this article is here to answer your questions, while dispelling a few myths along the way too.
Can you get a tattoo while breastfeeding?
First off, let’s find out exactly what tattoos are and why it’s such a new age concern for breastfeeding moms.
Tattoos are a permanent form of artwork that is created by injecting ink into the dermal layer of the skin.
Tattooing has a long, well-documented history. The word “tattoo” is derived from the Polynesian word, “tattau,” which means “to mark,” or “tap” in reference to how the tattoo was applied.
Tattoos have been found across cultures in Asia, Africa, and the Americas, as well as Europe and Australia, for thousands of years.
Tattoos are a permanent works of art etched into the flesh and are not without risk. Tattooists usually work with a handheld electrical machine that is fitted with solid needles coated in ink.
The needles pierce the skin hundreds of times per minute to a depth of up to a few millimeters.
The risks of getting a tattoo include:
- Allergic reaction to the inks
- Contracting a skin infection. Signs of infection include irritation, redness, itching, redness, or pus on or near the tattoo
- Contracting a blood-transmitted infection like HIV, tetanus, hepatitis C, tetanus, or MRSA. Unsterilized tattoo machines can transmit these infections.
- Complications following a tattoo procedure may require treatments that may not be compatible with breastfeeding. For instance, some medications cannot be used when breastfeeding. In addition, your baby can contract HIV through breast milk.
Systemic infections or local infections are some of the major infection concerns. Systemic infection happens when precautions are not taken by the tattoo artist or the tattoo parlor.
Research shows that there is a possibility of contracting infections such as HBV, HCV, and syphilis while getting a tattoo done.
A few of these infections may pass through the breast milk to enter the baby. The risks get higher when your nipples are cracked or bleeding.
Local infections become severe when you are not devout to follow-up sessions after the first treatment or follow the recommended aftercare instructions.
Generally, human milk banks do not accept breast milk from a lactating woman who has had a tattoo job done in the past 12 months, due to the potential risk of contamination with hepatitis C.
A few women asking “can you get a tattoo while breastfeeding?” may show adverse reactions to the tattoo ink thereby disrupting breastfeeding.
This could be as a result of hormonal changes during pregnancy. Also, some reactions that may not have occurred before could occur postpartum.
Some inks used in tattoos have been shown to have carcinogenic characteristics or bacterial contamination, and it’s possible to have an allergic reaction to tattoo inks.
Allergic reactions include symptoms such as localized itching, swelling, burning, and redness to the area of the skin next to the tattoo.
These effects can last for days or even weeks. Carry out a patch test at least 24-hours before the procedure.
Another documented hazard in getting inked while breastfeeding is developing allergic reactions from the use of lidocaine, a topic anesthetic.
This spray painkiller is used by a lot of tattooists during the tattooing procedure.
According to studies, lidocaine can pass into the breast milk in minute amounts. Even the manufacturer of the drug urges anyone administering this to nursing moms to use it with caution.
This is an undesirable scar or bump that may occur after the application or removal of a tattoo.
Sometimes, tattooing leads to granulomas, which are essentially small bumps or knots formed around the foreign body perceived by the system (tattoo pigment particles).
Some women may develop swelling or burning on the tattoo area when they have an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) done.
This happens rarely and does not last for a long time. Be sure to inform your doctor that you have a tattoo if he prescribes an MRI.
Safety when breastfeeding and getting a tattoo
The ink used for tattoos in the United States are not approved or regulated by the FDA (fda.gov); hence, they are not approved for injection under the skin.
Tattoo inks used for the skin’s dermal layer are manufactured from different compounds including heavy metals like cobalt, cadmium, and manganese.
These are the same chemicals found in painter and printer toners. There are mixed opinions on whether it is advisable to get a tattoo while breastfeeding.
No governmental body or medical authority has forbidden tattoo inking while a mom is currently breastfeeding.
At the same time, no research exists to highlight the drawbacks of breastfeeding and getting tattooed.
And while it is assumed in some quarters that the ink molecules are too large to seep into the breast milk during the tattooing process, some tattoo parlors may not allow you to get tatted if you’re breastfeeding.
They may be alarmed about the slightest risk potential, despite the glaring lack of evidence. They may also be weary of claims and the liability that comes with them.
Also, they feel that the body’s ability to heal after a body art job is impeded during lactation period.
In other words, it is harder to heal when your body is working hard to produce baby’s life drink. Hence, if you do get a tattoo while breastfeeding, the tattooist may need you to sign a legal waiver.
So, if you decide to get tatted when you’re nursing your baby, let the tattoo artist know that you’re breastfeeding so that they can use the same guidelines as anyone else seeking a tattoo.
It is not unsafe to have tattoos done during the breastfeeding period. This is because the molecular structure of the ink is too large to pass into the breast milk.
Breastfeeding women can minimize the risk of infection by choosing a reputable shop that adheres to hygiene guidelines and following the aftercare instructions.
Can you get a tattoo while breastfeeding? Follow these safety measures to minimize the risk associated with tattooing amid breastfeeding:
1. Do your research
Do not, due to peer influence, follow a friend who recently got a beautiful tattoo done just because theirs look beautiful.
Endeavor to visit a registered practitioner, ensuring that the tattoo artist is using single-use needles, ink cups, sterilized equipment, and gloves.
Find out the best and the right places to get your ink done. Talk to several acquaintances that got tattooed previously. And most of all, get acquainted with universal precautions.
2. Check the ambiance
See whether the tattooists are using gloves and fresh containers for the procedure. It is important to check if they are thoroughly washing their hands before applying the ink.
Check if all equipment is sterilized and the used equipment, such as the ink gun, is placed in a safe or sterile place.
Always prioritize hygiene by choosing a clean tattoo parlor. Check with the local health dept. for local laws and regulations.
General precautionary guidelines you should expect professional tattooists to follow include
- Sterilizing equipment with an autoclave
- Bagging materials to prevent cross contamination
- Single use of ink cups; single use inks, needles and gloves
- Washing hands thoroughly with a sanitizer
3. Follow after-tattoo instructions
Internalize all the instructions stipulated by your tattoo artist, before and after the procedure, in order to avoid open wound infections. They’d tell you to:
- Keep the tattoo clean by using water and a mild soap
- Not pick at the scabs
- Protect the tattooed region from exposure to UV light (the sun’s rays)
- Practice good skincare. The more you care, the more you avoid infections.
- Avoid consuming alcohol while the tattoo is in its healing phase.
While there is no strong evidence forbidding breastfeeding women from getting a tattoo, it is strongly advised that you wait until the baby is up to 9 months to a year, or even longer.
Give your body time to heal after childbirth, and get into a good milk supply rhythm.
Universal precautions for tattooing while breastfeeding
Still can’t resist the urge of inking yourself during your milk supply phase? Follow these steps recommended by IBCLC experts to stay on top:
- Avoid getting tats done on the chest or breasts as it may not be possible to take care of the tattoo in those areas while nursing
- Use natural products as they are safer. Artificial colors pose severe, unpredictable risks.
- Existing tattoos won’t create any issues unless they were performed in unhygienic environments. Ensure that you get tested for infections.
- Also make sure to validate the tattooist and the shop before getting work done. Ask the tattooist if one can get a tattoo while breastfeeding and let them know they have to be extra careful.
Artist training, sterilization of instruments and inspection of studios depend on federal/state/municipal laws.
The US doesn’t have any federal legislation regulating body art. However, 41 states have passed legislation regulating tattooing and piercing, with mandatory licensing, permits, or regulation required in only 74% of US states.
Australia regulates all body modifications at the state or territorial level. Like Mexico, Canada has federal guidelines for tattooing and piercing.
Within the EU, regulations vary from country to country and EU-wide regulations are currently in development.
Spain’s laws vary from province to province, while nationwide laws are in place in the UK, Italy, the Netherlands, and Iceland.
Within the US, UK, and Australia, human milk cannot be donated to a milk bank if the mother has received a tattoo with the last 12 months due to possible infectious disease.
I have a tattoo already. Is it safe to remove it while breastfeeding?
An estimated 20% of people who get tattoos later regret the decision and wish to have them removed.
Medical findings say little regarding the safeness of removing a tattoo while breastfeeding. Tattoo removal is done via the use of Q-switching lasers.
The laser causes the tattoo pigment to disintegrate into smaller particles that are picked up by the immune system and filtered out by the lymphatic system.
The most common side effects include pigmentation changes, local infection (for failure of not following an aftercare regimen), and possible allergic reaction to the ink that is now freely roaming in the mother’s system.
However, it is still unclear whether the ink molecules can find its way into the breast milk.
Are there any temporary alternatives to tattooing?
Henna, a natural pigment that has been around for hundreds of years, can be used to make makeshift tattoos on the skin.
If you insist on having a tattoo during breastfeeding without having to be exposed to the risks posed by a regular tattoo, then a henna tattoo would be a great alternative.
A permanent tattoo can always be pursued when you feel it’s safe to do so.
If you got a tattoo while breastfeeding, there’s no need to be hard on yourself. IBCLC practitioners and tattooists will advise that there is a small chance of something happening – and it doesn’t mean it will.
If your baby is fine, don’t overthink it. Not that we condone it, but there are some people who smoke, drink, have beauty injections like Botox, eat utter rubbish, and their babies grow to be healthy kids.
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