Getting a tattoo during pregnancy can be symbolic, marking a new chapter in a woman’s life. But is it safe? Needles break the skin during a tattoo, which means there’s always a risk of infection that could potentially be passed onto your baby and harm them. There’s also a chance of the chemicals and dyes used in the inks getting passed on. The chance of infection is minimal but should be seriously considered when it comes to making the decision to get a tattoo or not during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Signs of infection

The risk of a tattoo becoming infected is low, but it’s possible. When a tattoo is healing it will become itchy as a layer of skin and ink peels off, which is all normal. However, there is a chance of developing skin infections, as well as Hepatitis B and HIV, both of which can be passed onto your baby. Signs include fever, chills, smelly discharge, pus, red lesions around the tattoo, raised tissue and dark lines in or around the tattoo. There’s also a risk of the chemicals in the dyes getting to the baby, affecting their development, but there has been little research done to prove or disprove this.

Things to be aware of

Firstly, going to a licensed tattoo artist with a good reputation will reduce your chance of getting an infection from a tattoo. Check that the studio is clean and new equipment is used for you or it’s sterilized in an autoclave machine. Tell your artist that you’re pregnant as some may choose not to tattoo women during pregnancy for safety reasons, so they should be able to make this choice just as much as you can choose to have a tattoo during pregnancy.

The placement of your tattoo should be carefully considered as pregnancy stretches the skin, particularly on the stomach, legs and hips, so tattoo ink would stretch with it. If you are considering having an epidural, make sure any tattoos on your back are fully healed as this further helps to reduce the risk of infection.

Getting a tattoo when breastfeeding

If you choose to get a tattoo while breastfeeding there’s no risk of the ink getting into your breastmilk as the molecule structure of it is too big to pass through. However, there is still the risk of infection and some infections can be passed onto your baby, either through breastmilk or the skin-to-skin contact when nursing, particularly as nipples tend to crack and bleed, creating the opportunity for infection to spread. Treating infections often requires antibiotics and you may want painkillers, but some of these medications shouldn’t be taken when nursing, so this is something you need to be aware of and speak to a doctor or pharmacist about.

Take preventative measures

There will always be a risk of infection, but you can reduce the chance with good aftercare. Every tattoo artist will vary on the advice they give you for caring for your new tattoo, but it’s generally agreed that a few hours after getting a tattoo it should be washed with warm water and a mild soap. Let your tattoo air dry or use a piece of tissue that can be thrown away afterwards, as opposed to a towel. Creams developed specifically for healing tattoos may have antibacterial properties and some come in pump-style bottles, which stops bacteria getting into the cream. Continue to wash your tattoo once or twice a day and apply cream regularly to keep it clean and help it to heal well during the first couple of weeks.

Henna tattoos

Henna tattoos are considered safe during pregnancy as the application doesn’t break the skin. In some cultures it’s traditional to get a henna tattoo on the baby bump in the third trimester, often associated with good luck. There’s never been a link found between henna tattoos and any conditions or illnesses in baby or mother, supporting that it’s safe.

The only problem that can occur is when black henna is used, which is not safe for anyone, even if you’re not pregnant, as it can cause serious allergic reactions, scarring and contact dermatitis.

Getting a tattoo during pregnancy or when you’re nursing is a personal decision. Many women would choose not to, believing that even though the risk is small, it’s still an unnecessary risk that can be avoided. However, others see tattoos as symbolic and want to get them at the time of being pregnant to represent the journey they’re on. If you choose to get a tattoo, always check the studio’s standards first and look after your tattoo to reduce the chance of infection.