Can You Get A Tattoo While Breastfeeding? Experts Explain The Risks

There’s no greater milestone than becoming a momma. And if you’ve recently given birth, you might want to mark the momentous occasion with a permanent piece of artwork strategically placed somewhere on your body. Before you schedule your session, though, you might need to find out first if you can get a tattoo while breastfeeding, because nursing might make it a no-no… for now, anyway.

You’ve gone through the pain of labor and delivery, so you’re probably feeling pretty powerful right about now. So getting a tattoo shouldn’t be too tough, right? But even if you’re itching to get inked, you might need to wait a while until it’s safer to do so. “In general, it is best to hold off on getting a tattoo until after breastfeeding,” Dr. Marisa Garshick, MD, a dermatologist, tells Romper. “As with many elective procedures, it is typically best to hold off until pregnancy and breastfeeding are complete, given limited studies.”

Here’s everything you need to know about getting inked as a new nursing mom.

Can You Get A Tattoo While You’re Breastfeeding?

Getting a tattoo after the birth of a baby is becoming a tradition for new moms. In the study “Women and Tattoos: Fashion, Meaning, and Implications for Health,” researchers found that more women than men are now tattooed. And with the rise of new mommas getting inked, you’d think that there would be studies to support the safety of doing so — but there aren’t any. There’s even a study, “Tattooing” that shows the lack of critical knowledge available to allow women to make the right decision to get a tattoo while breastfeeding.

So can you get a tattoo while you’re breastfeeding? Possibly, but probably not, according to Leigh Anne O’Connor,IBCLC, LCCE, a certified lactation consultant. A reputable tattoo artist will sit down with you first to go over your health history to make sure that you’re a qualified candidate for getting inked — and that includes asking if you’re pregnant or nursing. “Many tattoo artist will refuse to tattoo breastfeeding people or at least have them sign a waiver,” she says. Unless you lie and state that you’re not pregnant or breastfeeding, it might be more challenging to find someone who will perform the service.

How Does A Tattoo Work?

If needles already make you nervous, you might want to understand how the tattoo actually works. “When tattoos are created, the ink is injected into the dermis, a layer in the skin,” explains Dr. Garshick. “This layer of skin also contains blood vessels and lymphatics, and while most of the ink stays in the dermis, some is thought to pass through the lymphatic system to the lymph nodes.” That’s right, tattoo ink doesn’t just stay right underneath the surface of your skin — it travels throughout your body, too. In fact, tattoo pigments can reach other internal organs as well, according to a study.

Here’s Why It Might Not Be Safe To Get A Tattoo While You’re Breastfeeding

Infection, infection, infection. Although it’s unlikely (but not impossible) that the tattoo ink will enter the bloodstream, other nasties can, according to Dr. Charles Puza, MD, a dermatologist. “There’s minimal evidence that tattoo ink enters the bloodstream,” says Dr. Puza. “However, tattoos can pose a risk for the individual receiving the tattoo, because bacterial infections from tattoos can certainly enter the bloodstream.” Your body could also have an allergic reaction to the tattoo dyes, which might cause further health complications.

But beyond an infection, there are additional (and more dangerous) risks. “While the risk is small if proper safety precautions are employed, there is always a risk of infections such as HIV which could potentially impact the baby if breastfeeding,” warns Dr. Garshick. This can occur if the equipment being used isn’t clean, meaning that you might get an infection of the blood (like hepatitis or HIV) due to a tattoo, according to the Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health. That makes it even more critical to not get a tattoo while you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.

Emmanuel Lavigne / EyeEm/EyeEm/Getty Images

Getting A Tattoo While Breastfeeding Could Affect Your Milk Supply

The process itself of getting inked might not be problematic, but the aftermath definitely could be. “The overall safety of getting while breastfeeding is unknown, but there are risks that may occur with any tattoo such as infections or tattoo-related hypersensitivity reactions,” says Dr. Garschik. “The treatments that could be required may not be safe in the setting of breastfeeding or may alter potential milk supply.” So if you take certain meds to combat an infection, it might make breastfeeding more difficult or diminish your supply.

Getting A Tattoo While Breastfeeding Might Hurt The Healing Process

Of course, taking proper care of your tattoo post session is important. But your tat might not heal properly if you’re breastfeeding. “A woman, pregnant or postpartum, has hormones and body changes that should regulate and get back to ‘normal or baseline’ prior to getting a tattoo,” Dr. Shari Sperling, MD, a dermatologist tells Romper. “These changes can affect the way a tattoo can heal, and depending on location, can change the appearance of the tattoo itself.” That’s why that precious little baby toes tattoo might morph into Hobbit feet as your body adjusts.

If You’re Going To Get A Tattoo While Breastfeeding, Here’s What You Need To Know

Let’s say that just can’t wait to get some artwork on your arm and are willing to accept the risks. “Regardless of when you decide to get a tattoo, it is always important to go to a trusted place to reduce any chance of infections,” says Garshick. And size definitely does matter when it comes to your new tat, especially if you’re nursing. “If getting a tattoo, I would caution against getting a large surface area done at once,” says Dr. Puza. “Try to do the smallest amount possible as a test spot and give the body several weeks to possibly trigger any reaction.”

Although you might want to get a tattoo right away, it’s best to wait until after you’ve stopped nursing to get inked. There are a lot of risks to consider, and you don’t want to do anything that could potentially hurt your (or your baby’s) health, as well as break the bond that breastfeeding has created. When you’ve eventually weaned your baby, you can get a tattoo to celebrate how far you’ve come as a momma — and not having leaky boobs anymore.

Studies cited:

Farley, C., Hoover, C., Rademeyer, C. “Women and Tattoos: Fashion, Meaning, and Implications for Health” 2019.

“Tattooing” 2021.

Sepehri, M., Sejersen, T., Qvortrup, K., Lerche, C., Serup, J. “Tattoo Pigments Are Observed in the Kupffer Cells of the Liver Indicating Blood-Borne Distribution of Tattoo Ink” 2017.

Experts:

Leigh Anne O’Connor, IBCLC, LCCE, a certified lactation consultant

Dr. Marisa Garshick, MD, a dermatologist

Dr. Charles Puza, MD, a dermatologist

Dr. Shari Sperling, MD, a dermatologist

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