FAQ on Tattoos and Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding and tattooing are enjoying resurgence in popularity. You may be wondering if it safe to breastfeed your baby if you already have a tattoo. You might be thinking of getting a tattoo or having a tattoo removed and wish to continue breastfeeding without interruption. This FAQ is intended to answer your questions about Tattooing and Breastfeeding.
Is it safe to get a tattoo while breastfeeding?
Tattoos are created by injecting ink into the dermal (second and third) layer of the skin. Tattooists use a hand-held electric machine that is fitted with solid needles coated in the ink. The needles enter the skin hundreds of times a minute to a depth of up to a few millimeters. The ink that is used in tattoos in the United States is subject to FDA regulation as cosmetics, but none are approved for injection under the skin. However, the ink molecules are too large to pass into breastmilk.
General information about tattooing also applies to breastfeeding women. Local and systemic infections are the most prevalent risks of tattooing. Local infections can occur when the recommended aftercare regimen is not followed. Aftercare includes keeping the tattoo clean with mild soap and water, not picking at the scabs and keeping the tattoo out of the sun. Tylenol is often prescribed for the pain, if needed. Systemic infections occur when universal precautions are not followed by the tattoo artist and can include such diseases as hepatitis, tetanus and HIV.
It is very important to screen the tattooist and the shop carefully, checking with the local health department for local laws and regulations. Professional tattooists will follow universal precautions such as sterilization of the tattoo machine using an autoclave, single-use inks, ink cups, gloves and needles, bagging of equipment to avoid cross contamination, and thorough hand washing with disinfectant soap. Most tattooists will not knowingly tattoo a pregnant or breastfeeding mother. It is suggested that mothers wait at least until the child's first birthday to give their bodies a chance to recover completely from childbirth before getting a tattoo.
Is it safe to have a tattoo removed while breastfeeding?
Tattoo removal is now accomplished with the use of lasers. The laser energy causes the tattoo pigment to fragment into smaller particles which are picked up by the body's immune system and filtered out. The removal process is bloodless, low risk and has minimal side effects. The same aftercare as for a tattoo applies to its removal.
There is no evidence suggesting that tattoos affect the breastfeeding relationship or have any effect on breastmilk. If you have chosen to adorn your body with a tattoo and give your baby the baby the best start in life by breastfeeding you can feel comfortable in your decision.
Resources for additional information
The La Leche League International manual The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding has lots of good information on breastfeeding your baby. This book is available from LLLI's Online Store. You may also find it in bookstores or libraries in your area. It has been through six revisions and contains all the latest research-based information available about breastfeeding.
Many mothers find it helpful to call a local Leader or attend a La Leche League meeting. The support and information of other breastfeeding mothers may make a big difference for you. Check out the section of our Web site entitled How to Find a La Leche League Leader Near You.
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Wilson-Clay, B. and Hoover, K. The Breastfeeding Atlas, 2nd edition. Austin, Texas: LactNews Press, 2002; 146.