Is it safe to get a tattoo while breastfeeding? - Evidence Based Babies
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Is it safe to get a tattoo while breastfeeding?

Tattoos are a big part of society. People have had tattoos done since way back in the neolithic or new stone age. Whether it’s a part of your culture, or it’s just a personal preference, many people get tattoos, including new moms.

If you’re a breastfeeding mother who’s also a tattoo lover or if you’d just like to get a new tattoo done, we get it, your little one is your pride and joy, and you may want to get new ink to celebrate your baby and your motherhood or even your breastfeeding journey. You may be wondering whether it’s safe to have a tattoo done while breastfeeding, if it’ll affect your milk supply, whether you should wait for a certain time or if it’s best to wait until after weaning. It’s always important to consider any possible risks with anything you do.

The tattooing process and tattoo inks

Tattoo artists use a handheld electric tattoo machine that’s fitted with many needles which is coated with ink. These needles will puncture through the first layer of skin, about 1.5 to 2mm deep. The needles will puncture the skin between 50 and 30 000 times per minute. These needles will pierce through the first layer of skin and inject the ink into the dermal layer, which is the second layer of the skin.

Once the ink is injected into the skin’s dermal layer, it will become permanently trapped under the skin. It may break down over a long period of time. It’s unknown whether small ink molecules can pass through the breast milk as it breaks down over the months and years. Tattoo inks contain different types of compounds, including heavy metals such as cobalt, cadmium, titanium, lead, mercury and manganese. There are also synthetic and vegan compound inks available if it’s preferred.

Is it safe to get a tattoo while breastfeeding?

There is currently very little research or evidence on the safety of having tattoos done while breastfeeding or whether it can affect breast milk and the breastfeeding baby. So, there isn’t a straightforward answer. If a mother wishes to get a tattoo done while breastfeeding, it’s best that she learns about all the risks involved and how to minimize the chance of complications.

Recommendations on the safety of getting tattoos done while breastfeeding, are made based on how we know the body works, how we know breast milk is produced, and how medications and other molecules pass through breastmilk. We also look at other risk factors such as local and systemic infections that could potentially be a risk during the tattoo procedure or during aftercare.

The risks involved in getting a tattoo while breastfeeding

– Tattoo molecules and breast milk

From what we understand about breast milk production and how molecules transfer into the breast milk, it’s believed that the molecules of the ink used for tattoos are too big to pass through breast milk. There are of course possible very small particles that may be able to pass through, and we don’t know what effect it could potentially have on a breastfeeding child.

– The risk of local bacterial infection and allergic reaction

There is always a risk of local infection after any procedure, including the tattoo procedure. Where there is an open wound, there is a risk of infection. Whether it’s due to the tattoo artist or tattoo parlor not following universal precautions, or the person getting the tattoo picking up a local infection during aftercare due to not following strict aftercare guidelines. Sometimes infections happen despite everything done perfectly.

There are many antibiotics compatible with breastfeeding, but sometimes an antibiotic that’s contraindicated while breastfeeding may be required for many different reasons such as allergic reactions toward certain antibiotics and antibiotic resistance etc.

– The risk of systemic infections

Systemic infections, which are bloodborne Infections, can also occur when the tattoo artist or tattoo parlor is not following universal safety precautions. With unhygienic and non-sterile equipment and materials, systemic infections are easily transmitted between different clients.

Systemic infections include infections such as hepatitis b and hepatitis c, tetanus, HIV and MRSA. Although these infections are not necessarily contraindicated while breastfeeding, it is a choice each parent has to make on whether they feel comfortable continuing their breastfeeding journey. Each of these infections and the medications needed to treat it, could potentially have its own risk of transmission and side effects to the child. These systemic infections and the medications used to treat it, are usually considered compatible with breastfeeding. It’s best to discuss the specific infection and medication with an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) or medical professional experienced in treating breastfeeding mothers.

Just like with local infections, sometimes antibiotics and other medicine that are contraindicated while breastfeeding may be required as treatment for a variety of reasons.

Is it safe to get a tattoo removed while breastfeeding?

Just like with getting a tattoo, removing tattoos and the risks it imposes is unknown due to very limited research.

Laser tattoo removal causes the ink to shatter into smaller particles which is picked up by the immune system and filtered out by the liver. Whether some of these tiny ink particles could potentially pass through breast milk and cause harm to a child is unknown.

Removing tattoos holds the same risk of local infections that getting a tattoo holds, especially during the healing phase as removing tattoos may cause swelling, blistering and scarring. All of which is considered open wounds. Open wounds are always infection risks, even if it’s well taken care of.

Things to consider if you do decide to get a tattoo while breastfeeding

– If possible, wait until the 12-month mark before getting or removing a tattoo. Until the age of 1 year, breast milk is the main source of nutrition whereas after 1 year of age, a child would be fine without breast milk if the worst were to happen.

– Ensure that the tattoo parlor is licensed and registered (if applicable in your country) and has a good reputation and is known to be hygienic and professional.

– Your tattoo artist should only use sterile equipment and materials and should always be gloved during the procedure. Single use inks are best.

– Mind the position. Some spots on the body may take longer to heal and may be more sensitive and even more prone to local infections. As a mother, it’s important to consider your baby when choosing a location for your tattoo. Babies can be very wiggly, especially near the breasts and chest.

– It’s incredibly important that you follow the correct aftercare procedures to reduce your risk of infection.

– Look for signs of infection. If you present with any symptoms or signs of infection, contact your healthcare provider immediately.

– An International Board Certified Lactation consultant (IBCLC) is a really good resource to help educate and support you during your breastfeeding journey. They can offer you support by sharing all the available evidence regarding tattoos, infections and medications.

Common symptoms of infection

– Irritated skin

– Slight fever

– A rash, red or bumpy skin around the tattoo

Serious signs of infection

– Fever

– Swelling

– Nausea and/or vomiting

– Shivering

– Puss coming from the tattooed area

– Lesions around the tattooed area

If you show any signs of infection, seek immediate medical care.

Alternatives to getting a tattoo while breastfeeding

If you’re feeling the urge for a new tattoo, but you’re not willing to take the risk, why not option for a temporary alternative?

Temporary tattoos are a possibility. Natural Henna tattoos are also a great temporary alternative. They’re natural, they look great, and they are perfectly safe to get while breastfeeding.

Important notes on getting a tattoo while breastfeeding

A lot of information about tattoos and tattoo ink while breastfeeding is unknown. The main risk with getting tattoos are possible infections. The risks of infection are very small, especially if you get your tattoo done at a reputable and professional tattoo artist and follow through with thorough aftercare and take special care of the tattoo site. Even if complications do happen, breastfeeding can usually continue as normal. But it’s important to remember that there is always potential risks and some complications could possibly interfere with the breastfeeding journey, and sometimes these complications can end a breastfeeding journey.

Most tattoo artists will also not tattoo a breastfeeding mother, at least not in the first 12 months as they also understand the importance of breastfeeding and that breastmilk is the main source of nutrition in the first year of a child’s life.

Something to take note of if you may possibly want to donate blood or breast milk, is that some countries may have a waiting period after having a tattoo done before you can donate again. 

It is a choice only you can make but do make sure that it’s the best choice for you and your baby. If you decide to get a tattoo done while breastfeeding, ensure that you make use of a reputable tattoo artist and that you’re following the aftercare guidelines as best as possible to reduce the risk of any complications.

Remember, breastfeeding with tattoos and after getting or removing tattoos is still better choice for your baby than weaning them off the breast and start formula feeding. There is no need to stop breastfeeding. Breastfeeding can continue for as long as you wish.

Always consult with an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) and a medical professional before undergoing procedures and using certain medications. Most of the time it will be safe and even if it’s not, there is almost always a safe alternative if needed.

Additional information and resources:

Journal of midwifery & women

La Leche League International

Current tattooing while breastfeeding research and recommendations

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