Congratulations — you’re having a baby! Maybe you want to commemorate your news with brand new mom ink. While getting a tattoo is safer than ever (in fact, 40 percent of adults in the U.S. have tattoos), getting a tattoo while pregnant brings up a whole slew of issues and questions. Primarily, can you get a tattoo while pregnant?
First off, there are always some health concerns when you permanently ink your body, pregnant or not. These include having allergic reactions and/or contracting infections, like Hepatitis B or C, or even HIV, all of which can also infect your unborn child. Then, of course, there’s the pain and after-care of the tattoo. You’ve got so much going on right now with taking care of yourself and your baby. Do you really want to expend your energy on the upkeep?
There are no hard-and-fast rules to getting a tattoo while pregnant, but there are certainly risks to mother and child — some of which you might want to consider before you go under the needle.
Is it safe to get a tattoo while pregnant?
Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of research on pregnancy and tattoos. Some studies suggest that tattoo ink can travel through the lymph nodes, while other research suggests specific components in tattoo ink can affect the placenta. According to the American Pregnancy Association, it is possible for chemicals in the tattoo dye to affect baby’s development during the first trimester of pregnancy. However, there’s little information about the risk of tattoos after the first trimester of pregnancy.
Some of the existing research focuses on the risk of contracting infectious diseases, such as Hepatitis B or C, and HIV. Most tattoo studios adhere to strict cleanliness, enforced by state and local authorities, so the risk of infection is negligible. However, it’s still recommended that you wait to get a tattoo until after your baby is born.
Another factor to weigh? Emotional stress. We probably don’t have to tell you that tattoos come from a hand-held electric machine with solid needles coated in ink. Those needles pierce into the dermal (second) layer of the skin to inject the ink. Even if you have a high pain tolerance, the process can still hurt like a mother-you-know-what and be both physically and mentally stressful. And of course, the bigger the tattoo, the longer time you will spend in the chair — in potentially uncomfortable positions — getting inked. In other words, getting tattooed can be stressful AF, which can also compromise the immune system. You should always avoid stress during pregnancy when possible, so placing unneeded added pressure onto your baby for the sake of some fresh ink isn’t typically encouraged by healthcare professionals.
Can getting a tattoo while pregnant affect your epidural?
Yes, some research indicates getting a tattoo while pregnant could affect your epidural. Evidence points toward an increased probability of such issues with tattoo designs on the spine or back. Why? Tattoos in those areas are already at a higher risk for irritation and infection. While there’s minimal medical data on this, some doctors have suggested that the tattoo needle could push pigmented tissue into the spinal column, leading to an infection or anomaly (like a scar formation) that could interfere with receiving the epidural. The main concerns surround new tattoos, especially those as fresh as six months or less. Because the ink isn’t fixed yet, it could become displaced by the epidural needle and cause an infection.
In a similar vein, some concerns center on women who already have existing back or spinal tattoos (you know, like the dragon tattoo you got in college) and whether or not they can receive a proper epidural. However, according to the American Pregnancy Association, very few studies exist on the risks present for women with existing back tattoos who choose to receive an epidural. So far, these studies haven’t found any conclusive data that indicates there are risks, so most anesthesiologists will offer an epidural to a woman with a back tattoo.
What should you do if you get a tattoo while pregnant?
Ultimately the choice is yours whether you get a tattoo while pregnant. If you simply can’t wait to get your ink, taking some precautions is advisable. According to the American Pregnancy Association, you should:
- Ensure ahead of your appointment that you’re working with a registered tattoo artist (if you live in a state that does, indeed, register tattoo artists).
- Make sure your tattoo artist always wears gloves during the procedure and has a sterilizing unit to sterilize their equipment. Be a stickler! It’s totally merited in this instance.
- Look around — is the tattoo parlor clean and tidy, including all floors and surfaces? Don’t feel bad about walking out if anything you see gives you pause.
- Confirm with your tattoo artist that all the needles used are new, disposable, and strictly single-use.
- Inquire about the dressings. Are they sterile? Packed? Unopened?
- Don’t overlook the dyes or ink, either. Those should also be sterile, packed, and unopened before used on you.
- Before you even sit in the chair, double-check that the artist will be available for the first 24 hours. If you have issues, you need to be able to touch base!
With all of this said, it merits mentioning again that the standing recommendation is to wait until after you’ve given birth before you get inked.