It’s something you’ve been wanting to get for a while and you’ve finally built up the courage to do it. But now you’re pregnant, and you don’t know if it’s safe to get a tattoo or if you should hold off.
It’s best to wait to get your tattoo, says Jimmy Belotte, an attending physician in the division of general OB/GYN at Montefiore Health System and an associate professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, New York.
Belotte says one of the main concerns is the risk of you (and potentially your baby) developing an infectious disease like Hepatitis B or C, or even HIV. These viral infections can be transmitted when tainted blood enters the bloodstream of an otherwise healthy person. This can happen if non-sterile needles are used for tattooing.
While studies have shown there’s a very low risk of developing these diseases if you get a tattoo at a licensed facility, there is still a chance. And Belotte says the chances of passing an infectious disease you get during pregnancy on to your baby are generally low, but they do vary for every person. You need to take into consideration the prevalence of the specific infection in that community, the individual’s vaccination records and the tattoo parlor’s quality-control measures, he explains. He also recommends you look at the tattoo shop’s violations or citations from the health department.
According to the American Pregnancy Association, it is possible that chemicals in the tattoo dye may also affect a baby’s development during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. And because there are so few studies done on getting tattoos during pregnancy, researchers don’t really know what the effects are during any trimester.
This is why many doctors advise against getting a tattoo while pregnant and even while breastfeeding. Betty Greenman, an international board-certified lactation consultant explains that while the ink molecules are too large to get into a mother’s breastmilk, she still doesn’t recommend moms get fresh ink while nursing.
“There is no evidence that tattoos have any adverse effect on breastfeeding,” she says. “However, what is concerning to me is the infections that can happen if you don't use a licensed tattoo parlor. I feel moms should wait until they have weaned their baby off breastfeeding.”
Pregnant women who are planning to get an epidural during labor may worry they can’t get one because they have a tattoo on their back where the needle will need be injected. But Roanne Preston, the division head of obstetric anesthesia and the department head of anesthesiology, pharmacology and therapeutics at the University of British Columbia, says you can get an epidural if you have a tattoo on your back.
“Ideally, we find a clear space to place the needle,” he says. “If a clear space is not available, then we make a small incision in the skin in order to minimize the likelihood of displacing small amounts of skin with tattoo ink further into the tissues of the back, and most importantly into the epidural space, via the epidural needle.”
If you have gotten a tattoo in the past six months, your anesthesiologist might be a bit more concerned about giving you an epidural. This is because in the first six months after getting a tattoo, the ink isn’t fixed and could become displaced by the epidural needle, explains Preston, who is also the interim department head of anesthesia at British Columbia’s Women’s Hospital. “The theoretical concern is that the ink could then cause a tissue reaction, which could lead to growth of tissue around the area—like scar formation,” he says.
He says if there is not a clear space to give you an epidural, some anesthesiologists may choose not to give you one or may opt to give you the small incision option instead.