Is It Safe To Get A Tattoo While Breastfeeding?

After nine months of hard work and sacrifice, your new baby is here and healthy. You did it, Momma! And what better way is there to commemorate this achievement than with a toast ... or maybe some new body art.

During pregnancy, women are urged to stay away from things that could be damaging to the development of the baby. That means that moms-to-be often abstain from tiny pleasures like post-work cocktails, triple-decker club sandwiches, and the acquisition of new tattoos. And while a glass of wine and a fat, cold cut hoagie can be safely enjoyed just as soon as the baby is out in the world, some pregnancy restrictions carry over to the breastfeeding stage of momhood.

There's no denying that breastfeeding has many benefits. Not only does breast milk typically contain all the nutrients your baby needs, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention points out that breastfeeding can also lower the risk of many diseases for both mom and baby. However, because certain medications, substances, viruses, and toxins that a nursing mother is exposed to can be transferable through breast milk, women who are nursing are encouraged to continue practicing caution.

Mommas looking to mark the occasion of their baby's birth with some new ink may be wondering if it's safe to go under the needle while breastfeeding. Here's what we found out.

Breastfeeding and tattoo ink

Despite the commonness of tattoos, it's important to recognize that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hasn't deemed any tattoo inks safe for the purpose of injecting it into the skin. Chemical & Engineering News explains that tattoo inks often contain a variety of chemicals and heavy metals — some of which may even be toxic. What's more, research has indicated that pigments from tattoo inks have the capability of traveling throughout the body as they are broken down. This has led many tattooed mommas to wonder whether their ink could be negatively affecting their nursing infants.

Medela clears this up by explaining that, because the molecules in tattoo ink are so large, there isn't any risk that it could be transferred into your breast milk. However, there's no evidence to suggest that this doesn't change over the months and years that your body breaks down the pigment.

However, the potential transference of harmful chemicals isn't the main deterrent from getting a tattoo whilst breastfeeding. Indeed, a 2019 article published in The Journal of Midwifery & Women's Health cites concern over the risk of infection as the main reason breastfeeding women should abstain from getting inked.

The risk of infection

Whether you're actively breastfeeding or not, infection is listed among the most common side effects of getting a new tattoo (per WebMD). Because tattoos are to be treated as an open wound, people who don't follow aftercare instructions are susceptible to localized infections caused by bacteria. There's also a chance of contracting infections like methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, which are treated using medications that may not be safe to use while breastfeeding.

Systemic infections — which can result in the contraction of illnesses like tetanus, HIV, and hepatitis — are also possible if the tattoo artist fails to use sterilized tools. Because viruses like HIV are transferrable through breast milk, Baby Center urges breastfeeding mothers who are looking to get tattooed to find a reputable tattoo artist to reduce the risk of infection that could impact nursing infants.

While some people believe that getting a new tattoo while breastfeeding is safe so long as you take the proper precautions, WebMD suggests that, because your body needs time to heal after a tattoo, getting some fresh ink while breastfeeding — when the body is already under additional stress — may not be wise.