Tattoos and Breastfeeding: What You Need to KnowOct 12, 2023
Tattoos and breastfeeding is a topic that comes up in my practice often. Just because you are on a breastfeeding journey with your child, it doesn't mean that you have to give up everything else in your life. Many women have questions like this but are too afraid to ask their healthcare provider for fear of judgement.
Hopefully, this article will clear up some of your most burning questions about tattoos and breastfeeding.
What Exactly is a Tattoo?
Before we can look at the risks of getting a tattoo before or during breastfeeding, let's get on the same page with some definitions.
A tattoo is a form of body art that involves permanently injecting ink into the skin. It is a permanent design or pattern that can be created on various parts of the body. Tattoos have been used as a form of self-expression and cultural significance for centuries.
The process of getting a tattoo involves using a tattoo machine. The supplies include a power supply, a hollow tattoo needle, and tubes that deliver the ink into the skin. The tattoo artist uses the needle to puncture the skin and deposit ink into the dermis (second layer of the skin). The needles of the machine move up and down to deliver the ink, creating the desired design or pattern.
Different Types of Tattoos
Permanent tattoos are just one type of tattoo. There are also temporary tattoos, such as henna tattoos. The dye for this kind of body art is derived from the henna plant. The ink is then applied to the skin. These types of tattoos leave a temporary design. Henna tattoos eventually fade away as the skin sheds its upper layer.
Both permanent and temporary tattoos are a popular form of artistic expression and self-identity. They can hold personal meaning or simply be a visual representation of someone's style, personality and culture.
However, it's important to carefully consider the design, placement, and potential risks associated with getting a tattoo.
Safety of Tattoos and Breastfeeding
Safety is a common concern for many moms who are considering tattoos while breastfeeding. While there may be potential risks involved, you can minimize your risks with safety precautions. You should also take into consideration that it may be difficult to get a tattoo while breastfeeding. Most tattoo artists will not knowingly tattoo a pregnant or breastfeeding mother out of concern for liability.
First and foremost, it is important to choose a reputable tattoo artist who follows strict hygiene practices. Tattoo parlors are regulated by local health departments. This means that they meet specific standards for cleanliness and safety. If you select a reputable tattoo artist, you can greatly reduce the risk of infection or other complications.
During the tattooing process, there is a small possibility that ink molecules can enter the bloodstream. The amount of ink released into the body is typically minimal. However, it is still important to consider the potential effects on both the breastfeeding parent and the baby.
Additionally, some tattoo inks may contain heavy metals or other substances that could be harmful to a breastfeeding baby.
How You Can Minimize Risks
To further minimize any potential risks, I recommend that you wait until at least several months after giving birth before getting a tattoo. This time allows your body time to recover from delivery as well as establish a stable milk supply. Your body's ability to heal and care for your new tattoo also improves if you wait several months after delivery.
Additionally, as your baby gets past 9 months after birth, they are not completely dependent on breast milk as their sole source of nutrition. This decreases their potential risks from the tattoo process.
While getting a tattoo during your breastfeeding journey may have potential risks, it can be considered safe with proper precautions. Choose a reputable tattoo artist, wait several months postpartum, and practice proper aftercare.
As always, consult your healthcare professional or lactation consultant before making any decisions. I also recommend that you disclose your breastfeeding relationship to your tattoo professional. Additionally, you should meet with your tattoo artist ahead of time. This will ensure that everyone is on the same page and at the same level of comfort with proceeding.
Tattoo Ink and Breast Milk Supply
Tattoo ink particles are too large to enter your breast milk. This means that they are unlikely to get to your baby through your milk. Additionally, the ink particles are trapped under the second layer of skin and therefore not much gets into your circulation.
However, it is not known what it looks like when the ink particles break down. There is a possibility that they can get into your circulation and therefore your breast milk.
More research is needed in order to understand if this poses a risk to nursing babies.
Ink Particles in Breast Milk
While the risk of ink particles transferring into breast milk is minimal, it is important to understand the potential mechanisms through which this can happen.
During the tattooing process, ink particles are injected into the deeper layers of the skin using a tattoo needle. Some of these particles may find their way into the bloodstream. While the body's natural healing response may cause the skin to create a barrier around the tattooed area, there is still a possibility of ink particles entering the bloodstream.
Once in the bloodstream, it is theorized that ink particles could potentially be carried into the milk supply. However, there is limited scientific research on this topic, and no studies to definitively confirm or deny the presence of ink in breast milk.
Heavy Metals in Tattoo Ink
Heavy metals can enter the breast milk if ink particles from the tattoo make their way into the bloodstream. Tattoo ink is not regulated by the FDA. While scientific studies have yet to definitively prove or disprove this transfer, caution should be exercised. If heavy metals are present in the breast milk, they can potentially affect the baby's health.
Lead exposure, for example, has been linked to developmental delays and cognitive impairments in children. Mercury is known to cause neurological damage, and arsenic and cadmium can have adverse effects on the kidneys, liver, and other organs.
Potential Risks of Getting a Tattoo While Breastfeeding
In addition to the potential transfer of harmful particles to the baby, it is also important to consider other risk such as allergic reactions, infections and emotional consequences of getting a tattoo during breastfeeding.
As with the introduction of anything new to the body, there is always a risk of an allergic reaction. Tattoo ink is no different. If you have never had a tattoo before or if you are getting a tattoo during breastfeeding while your immune system is a little different than baseline, you could potentially have an allergic reaction.
This could range from a local reaction of the skin in the area of a tattoo to a full blown anaphylactic reaction. It is important to consider how something like this could affect your breastfeeding relationship with your baby.
In addition to the previously mentioned risks, there are some other potential concerns associated with getting a tattoo while breastfeeding. One important factor to consider is the impact on the healing process. Tattoos require a certain amount of time to heal, during which the skin goes through a natural regeneration process. However, this healing process may be affected by hormonal changes and the body's overall stress level, both of which can be influenced by breastfeeding.
The risk of bacterial infection is another significant concern. The tattooing process involves the use of needles that penetrate the skin, creating an opportunity for bacteria to enter the body. If proper precautions are not taken, such as using sterile equipment and following post-tattoo care instructions, there is an increased risk of bacterial skin infections or even blood infections.
Furthermore, the stress associated with getting a tattoo can potentially affect breastfeeding. Breastfeeding parents are already experiencing physical and emotional changes postpartum. The added stress of the tattoo process can potentially impact milk supply. Stress has been known to affect the production and letdown of breast milk.
An additional emotional consideration is regret. Are you going to regret getting this particular tattoo once you are out of the postpartum period? During this time, your hormones greatly influence your emotions.
Choose A Reputable Tattoo Artist and Parlor
When you consider a tattoo while breastfeeding, it is essential to prioritize a safe experience. As we have discussed previously, a reputable tattoo salon and artist will greatly decrease your chances of complications.
Professional tattoo artists who prioritize hygiene and adhere to strict safety protocols greatly reduce potential risks. Be sure to do thorough research before selecting a tattoo artist and parlor. Look for reviews, check their portfolio, and inquire about their sterilization practices.
A reputable tattoo artist will use sterile equipment, such as single-use needles and tubes, and follow proper sanitation guidelines to minimize infection risks. Additionally, reputable tattoo artists will provide comprehensive aftercare instructions to ensure proper healing and minimize the risk of complications.
Give yourself peace of mind by choosing a professional tattoo artist and studio.
Health Department Oversight
Tattoo parlors and artists are subject to regular inspections to ensure compliance with local regulations. The health department checks for proper sanitation practices. This includes sterilizing equipment and using disposable tools. This will minimize the risk of infection. They also verify that tattoo artists follow safe tattooing processes, such as using clean needles and ink.
In addition, the health department monitors the tattoo industry by conducting investigations and following up on complaints. They investigate potential risks, such as the use of unsafe ink or equipment, and take appropriate action to protect the public.
By regulating tattoo parlors and artists, the local health department plays a vital role in safeguarding the community. Their efforts help ensure that tattooing is performed in a safe and hygienic manner, minimizing the risk of infections and other health complications.
Sometimes breastfeeding mothers feel like they lose a part of themselves during their postpartum days. While self care is extremely important during this time, a tattoo is something that can wait. As a lactation consultant, pediatrician and breastfeeding medicine expert, I highly recommend waiting to get a new tattoo until you are finished breastfeeding.
In my opinion, the risks outweigh the benefits. However, it is my job to show you the evidence and your job to make the decision that is best for your body and your baby.
© 127 Pediatrics; October 2023
This article is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice.
Dr. Andrea Wadley is the owner, pediatrician, and breastfeeding medicine specialist for 127 Pediatrics. She has an established house-calls only pediatric practice in Colleyville, TX. She is also the owner and operator of the 127 Pediatrics Online Breastfeeding Medicine and Education Center.