Can You Get a Tattoo While Pregnant?

Credit: David Clifton

There are so many rules for pregnant women —how to sleep, when and where you can travel, how much weight to gain, what you can and can’t eat—that it’s understandable to want to indulge in something just for you, something personal and meaningful. A bit of self-care, if you will. Getting a tattoo falls under the breadth of self-care, and the precise inclination to commemorate such a beautiful, important time in your life forever in ink is completely understandable. Since the potential ramifications of getting a tattoo affect both you and your soon-to-be baby, though, it’s incredibly important that you are aware of the all of the risks involved, so we reached out to a slew of experts to learn more on whether you can get a tattoo while pregnant. Here’s what a dermatologist, an obstetrician a longtime professional tattoo artist, and a maternal-fetal medicine expert have to say about making a decision to get a tattoo while pregnant or not.

A dermatologist’s opinion

Dr. Vail Reese, M.D. of Union Square Dermatology in San Francisco would not advise anyone to get a tattoo while pregnant. “Professional tattoo parlors know how to tattoo safely, but theoretically, if one were to use the same tattoo needle for two individuals, there could be a transfer of blood-borne illnesses,” Reese says.

“Also, it’s pretty well documented that during pregnancy, a woman’s immune system is slightly lower than normal, and often there’s [a greater presence] of bacterial infections, fungal infections, herpes flares, et cetera in pregnant women,” he explains. And since as humans we rely on our immune systems to handle the tattoo pigment and to fight off any potential illnesses, for that reason alone Dr. Reese wouldn’t recommend either getting a tattoo or doing tattoo removal on a pregnant woman.

“In general, tattoos are safe, but in pregnancy, I think it’s wise to be as careful as possible.”

An obstetrician’s opinion

Interestingly, gynecologist and obstetrician Dr. Tara Autumn Douglas Cherry, MD, of Seton Medical Center in Austin gave the go-ahead on whether you can get a tattoo while pregnant, but with a few stipulations.”Yes, tattooing is safe during pregnancy, but the stakes are just higher if the woman were exposed to an infection,” she says. “Therefore, as with any tattooing, the tattooee would want to make sure the tattoo artist and establishment are following health/sterility codes to prevent infections.”

A tattoo artist’s opinion

Ryan Kunsman, owner and tattoo artist at Arcola Creek Tattoo in Madison, Ohio, says he will not tattoo pregnant women in his shop. “Getting tattooed exposes your unborn child to all of the same risks you willingly expose yourself to in the process of tattooing. The biggest concern is passing a blood-borne pathogen such as hepatitis and HIV on to the fetus, but other concerns such as reactions to pigment and skin infections like MRSA that will cause stress on the child and steal much need energy and nutrients to fight off illness are important to consider as well.”

Additionally, he has a similar stance for women who are breastfeeding. “For the same reasons, I recommend waiting until after you are done breastfeeding as well.”

A maternal-fetal expert’s opinion

Emily DeFranco, DO, associate professor and maternal-fetal expert with the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, speaks to the lack of understanding surrounding the risks involved for pregnant women.

“The most common concern raised with regard to tattooing in pregnancy is related to the risk of acquiring a blood-borne infection such as HIV or hepatitis from improperly sterilized equipment. It is true that unsterile technique does pose an infectious risk to the pregnant mother, however, the potential risk of exposure to the dye itself is less commonly considered,” DeFranco says.

“In general, it is advisable to avoid exposure to any chemical, medication, or potential toxin that has not been proven to be safe in pregnancy. There are many exposures that fit this category, such as hair dyes and skin dyes used in tattooing. Although both may have been used widely in pregnant women over the years, there is a lack of scientific evidence to demonstrate that these are either safe or potentially harmful to the developing fetus.”

The bottom line

So it seems that the jury is still out regarding the safety of tattoos during pregnancy. Even the U.S. government isn’t clear in their stance on tattooing in general, as tattoo parlors are regulated for safety at the state level, but the FDA has not approved any inks for injecting into the skin. On top of that, ink can easily be contaminated, says Dr. Linda Katz, M.D., M.P.H., director of the FDA’s Office of Cosmetics and Colors. “While you can get serious infections from unhygienic practices and equipment that isn’t sterile, infections can also result from ink that was contaminated with bacteria or mold,” she says.

Plus, there’s no sure-fire way to tell if the ink is safe. An ink can be contaminated even if the container is sealed or the label says the product is sterile.” With the potential for ink contamination, unsterile tattooing practices resulting in blood-borne diseases, allergic reactions, skin infections, and more, any person being tattooed takes on a certain amount of risk, pregnant or not, but on the other hand, 38 percent of the world’s population has tattoos, but only 10 percent of tattooed people experience any complications whatsoever. In the end, just like anything else with your pregnancy, it’s your prerogative to weigh your options and make the choice that feels right for you and your baby— and that includes whether or not if you can get a tattoo while pregnant.

Related: The Best Questions to Ask Your Tattoo Artist Before Your Appointment

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  1. Interesting that there are so many differing opinions – seems like it’s better to be safe than sorry, though! I wonder what other health conditions (aside from skin conditions) could affect one’s tattoo experience?

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