Is It Safe to Get a Tattoo While Pregnant?
You've got your new design sketched out and you're ready for a new tattoo. But then you find out you're pregnant. If you're asking yourself, "Can I get a tattoo while pregnant?" or "Will a tattoo hurt my baby?" you aren't alone. There are new considerations.
Before you schedule your tattoo session, it might be a good idea to learn the potential risks involved in getting a new tat while you're pregnant.
Risks involved in getting a tattoo
Getting a tattoo always carries the risk of infection. When you're pregnant, there are a few extra potential dangers you should know.
Pregnant or not, infection is the biggest potential risk for anyone getting a tattoo. Infection can occur if your tattoo artist's equipment isn't properly cleaned and sterilized. There's more than the "gross factor" of using dirty equipment.
These unclean conditions can make you susceptible to blood-borne infections such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
What's worse is that these health conditions can be transferred from the mother to the baby during birth. Medications for pregnant women may require a bit more tweaking.
Hormonal changes can cause new sensitivities
Sometimes people discover they are allergic to the dyes used in tattoo ink, even if they didn't have a problem before. Pregnancy can cause unexpected allergies. Managing an allergic reaction while you're pregnant may be more complicated.
"Even the risk of an allergic or autoimmune reaction can be higher in pregnancy because the immune system does shift during pregnancy," explained Geeta Yadav, M.D., dermatologist and founder of Facet Dermatology in Toronto.
Tattoos can hurt. Pregnancy can bring many unexpected changes, and your reaction to pain now may be one of them. Everyone has a different pain threshold, but bodily changes associated with pregnancy can increase the pain level you currently experience.
One study suggested that pain while getting a tattoo doesn't vary between men and women. However, there are differences in the pain they feel after getting a tattoo. The study indicated that women feel higher pain intensity after the tattoo due to bleeding, stress and the time it took to finish the tattoo.
Poor tattoo outcome
You already have that permanent reminder of your first boyfriend etched into your skin. Do you need another lousy tattoo? Unfortunately, the bodily changes during pregnancy can turn the tattoo you thought you were getting into one you'll regret forever.
"The skin also changes during pregnancy, whereby it stretches then contracts postpartum," Yadav said.
The tattoo you get today may not look the same after giving birth. Some women even experience skin peeling while pregnant.
Skip tatting your hips, stomach and breasts while pregnant, suggests Lamaze International. Your skin is likely to stretch, and that tattoo may not look quite the same after you recover from giving birth.
Some women develop a temporary change in their skin color, or melasma. These blotchy, darker patches of skin typically appear during the second or third trimester and can affect how your tattoo looks, while also making it tough for your tattoo artist to work around. After delivery, your tattoo may not look like what you thought you were getting.
Can you get an epidural if you have a tattoo?
Women with a lower back tattoo might have heard that you can't have an epidural, an injection in the back to relieve pain during childbirth. But contrary to this popular belief, epidurals in women with such tattoos are fine, said Kecia Gaither, M.D., board-certified in OB-GYN and maternal-fetal medicine and director of perinatal services/maternal-fetal medicine at NYC Health + Hospitals/Lincoln in the Bronx in New York City.
"This is unless the tattoo is recent, showing signs of infection or raised and scaly-looking," she clarified.
One 2020 study on tattoos and epidurals suggested it was safe for women with tattoos to get an epidural. The study indicated no risk of getting an epidural if you have a healthy, healed lower back tattoo with no inflammation.
Safety tips when getting a tattoo while pregnant
If you decide to go ahead and get a tattoo, there are a few details to keep in mind. Yadav and Tyler Vukmer, D.O., board-certified dermatologist at Accent Dermatology & Laser Institute in Colorado, shared these tips to help minimize any risk of infection if you decide to get a tattoo:
- Always speak with your OB-GYN before getting a tattoo when you're pregnant.
- Visit a licensed artist and get the tattoo in their studio (not at home). When choosing a tattoo parlor, go somewhere that's recognized for superior hygiene and strict standards for sterilization of tattoo equipment. Look for Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) certification if you're in the United States.
- The tattoo artist should thoroughly disinfect all surfaces, wear a fresh pair of disposable gloves and use a sealed, single-use kit. You can always ask to see this kit to ensure that the needles are fresh, new and only for you.
- Be sure to follow your artist's aftercare instructions. Keep your new tat clean and protected to avoid infections.
Signs of infection after a tattoo
You'll likely know if you have an infection, especially if you've had a tattoo before. If you have an infection, you could experience one or all of the following symptoms:
- Weeping or oozing from the tattoo
- Pain increases significantly after the tattoo session
- A foul smell
- Redness progresses towards the body's center in streaks, especially with increasing pain
- Fever or chills
- Sweating more than usual
Seek medical attention if you experience any of these symptoms, especially if you are pregnant. Don't wait to contact your doctor.
Is it safe to get a new tat while pregnant?
You know the risk factors. But there isn't a lot of information regarding the safety of the dyes used for tattooing as it relates to pregnancy.
"Generally, because of the changes to the skin and considering the unknown risks to the fetus, I would recommend waiting until after you have finished breastfeeding to get a tattoo," Yadav said.
"We just don't have enough information on whether or not the ink type used can negatively affect the development of the fetus to definitely say whether it's safe or not to get a tattoo while pregnant," Vukmer explained. "Therefore, it's best to wait until after pregnancy."
"And, generally speaking, getting and healing from a tattoo is not always a comfortable experience, nor is pregnancy. So why subject yourself to both at the same time?" Yadav asked.
However, if you still decide to get one despite the risks, it's best to consult your OB-GYN first to get the green light to do so. You should also notify your tattoo artist that you're pregnant prior to scheduling an appointment.
The bottom line
No law prohibits a tattoo artist from inking a pregnant person. However, many artists may ask you to wait until after delivery (and breastfeeding, if you choose to breastfeed) because of the risk of infection, allergic reactions or a shoddy tattoo outcome. Speak with your doctor to learn more.
Do you need a new doctor? Look to Giddy Telehealth for an easy-to-use online portal with hundreds of healthcare professionals. Many offer same-day appointments and video consultations.