When your baby is finally born—after nine (er, 10) long, long months—something happens. In between leaky breasts, exhaustion, and the aches and pains of childbirth, a beautiful love for your child is imprinted on your heart. And the logical next step? Imprinting your skin by getting a tattoo! It’s a fun way to express undying love for your newborn. But there’s just one problem: you’re still breastfeeding.
Can you get a tattoo while breastfeeding or will the ink somehow make its way to that precious milk (and the tiny belly that consumes it)?
For me, breastfeeding came with a list of things I couldn’t do. (Namely, eat anything with tomato sauce or ever use a nursing cover.) So, when my sister proposed getting a tattoo when I was just two months postpartum—with no plans to stop exclusively nursing my son—I was torn. Is that allowed? Will getting a tattoo affect my breastfeeding baby in some way? Well-intentioned mothers had advice that ranged from “it will poison your baby” to “pump and dump, and you’ll be fine.” It’s definitely confusing.
Here's the truth: getting a tattoo while exclusively breastfeeding increases the risk of passing an infection to your baby.
However, some experts say it’s fine. So, what’s a concerned mom to do? Before you head to the tattoo parlor, you should know that doctors, breastfeeding organizations, and even tattoo artists have differing opinions on whether or not you should get a tattoo or wait until your baby has weaned. Learn more below, and be sure to check with your healthcare provider before you get a tattoo while breastfeeding.
Getting a tattoo while breastfeeding comes with general risks—plus the possibility of lowering your milk supply
La Leche League International suggests mothers wait at least 9 to 12 months after birth, or until the baby is no longer fully dependent on breast milk, to get a tattoo. This is mainly due to the risks associated with getting a tattoo, like an infection or an allergic reaction, which could be passed to the baby through breast milk.
Suzanne Friedler, MD, FAAD, board-certified dermatologist with Advanced Dermatology PC, does not advise getting a tattoo while breastfeeding. “The tattoo ink isn't the concern, it's all about potential infection,” she tells Motherly. “There’s always a risk of infection. And if that happens, the infection can be transmitted to the baby.”
Dr. Friedler also explained your skin changes during pregnancy and has to “get back to baseline” after you have a baby, which is another reason you should wait to get a tattoo. You don’t want to get a tattoo and have it look different in a few months!
“After pregnancy, the body needs to heal,” Dr. Friedler says. “So, it's a good idea to wait at least 9 to 12 months before getting a tattoo if you want to breastfeed.”
Chrisie Rosenthal, IBCLC, is a board-certified lactation consultant and breastfeeding expert with The Lactation Network, tells Motherly, “The risks include scar tissue, allergic reactions, bacterial skin infections and blood infections, which could potentially be passed into your breast milk and on to the baby.”
Related: Meaningful tattoo ideas for moms
Other factors to consider include potentially lowering your milk supply if you have a complicated, painful, or extended recovery, adds Rosenthal.
“While the tattoo is healing, it's considered an open wound,” she says. “If that wound becomes infected, it could potentially be passed onto baby as well.” Wiggly babies aren’t the easiest to control—so they could come into contact with the infected tattoo wound (something even formula feeding mamas need to watch out for).
Some experts believe tattoo ink will not reach your milk or your baby
Much like recommendations on drinking alcohol while breastfeeding have changed, some experts now say that tattoo ink most likely won’t reach your milk or your baby.
Samantha Radford, PhD, exposure scientist and chemist behind Evidence-Based Mommy, tells Motherly, “Getting a tattoo while breastfeeding is generally safe.”
She adds, “The molecules in tattoo pigment are too large to cross into the blood (and therefore, breast milk). If a person chooses to get a tattoo while breastfeeding, they can go directly back to breastfeeding afterward, no pump and dump needed.”
In fact, Dr. Radford doesn’t believe in the pump or dump method for anything—even when undergoing anesthesia for surgery.
Kecia Gaither, MD, MPH, FACOG, double board-certified in OB/GYN and maternal fetal medicine, director of Perinatal Services at NYC Health + Hospitals/Lincoln in the Bronx, tells Motherly, “There are no scientific studies, to my knowledge, obviating getting a tattoo while breastfeeding. The ink stays within the upper layer of skin.”
Although, Dr. Gaither does mention the risks associated with utilizing unsterilized needles, which include HIV, Hepatitis C, skin infection/MRSA, or tetanus.
Others point out that there just isn’t enough evidence to know if the tattoo ink will completely stay away from breast milk. “While it's assumed that ink molecules are too large to pass into breast milk during the tattoo process, it's unknown whether the ink can pass into breast milk as it slowly breaks down in the body months to years later,” says Rosenthal. “This is why it's safest to wait until after baby has weaned.”
Tattoo artists may want to avoid liability in case something goes wrong
Even if you want to get a tattoo while breastfeeding, it may be hard to find someone willing to do it. The tattoo artist may refuse due to liability reasons in order to protect themselves in case anything does happen to you or your baby after getting a tattoo.
“I'd rather you wait until you're done breastfeeding to ascertain the safety of your baby,” Eveleyn Ott, professional tattoo artist at Soul Canvas Ink, tells Motherly.
“There are always risks in getting a tattoo,” she adds. “So, yes, there are risks for your baby too, because at this moment, your risks are your baby's risks.” Ott mentions you aren’t risk-free “no matter how well your other tattoos have turned out.”
And because tattoo recovery time takes 1 to 3 weeks, at least, that’s a long time to stop breastfeeding while you wait to see if an infection will pop up. Especially when you consider some reactions to tattoos can take “weeks or years to appear,” according to the American Academy of Dermatology Association.
Bottom line: It’s probably best to wait
Getting a tattoo while breastfeeding may not be worth the risk of passing an infection to your baby. You may want to hold off on getting a tattoo right after having a baby even if you aren’t breastfeeding, as your body will go through changes during the postpartum months. If you do decide to get a tattoo, make sure you go to a place that is sterile and meets local health standards. Afterward, do your best to keep your tattoo clean and away from the sun to lower your risk of an infection that could be passed to your baby. To stay on the safe side, wait to get a tattoo until after your baby’s first birthday. Just think of it as another gift for your little one: a permanent reminder of your love!
Suzanne Friedler, MD, FAAD, is a board-certified dermatologist with Advanced Dermatology PC
Kecia Gaither, MD, MPH, FACOG, is double board-certified in OB/GYN and maternal fetal medicine, and director of Perinatal Services at NYC Health + Hospitals/Lincoln in the Bronx
Eveleyn Ott is a professional tattoo artist at Soul Canvas Ink
Samantha Radford, PhD, is an exposure scientist and chemist behind Evidence-Based Mommy
Chrisie Rosenthal, IBCLC, is a board-certified lactation consultant and breastfeeding expert with The Lactation Network
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Tattoos: 7 unexpected skin reactions and what to do about them. American Academy of Dermatology. 2022 from https://www.aad.org/public/everyday-care/skin-care-basics/tattoos/tattoo-skin-reactions.
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