The art of the tattoo is at least 6,000 years old and tattooing is the sixth fastest-growing American industry. Of those who have tattoos, 70% have more than one tattoo and 20% have more than five. 36% of Americans between the age of 18 and 29 have at least one tattoo. 72% of adults with tattoos have tattoos that are usually hidden by clothing. I happen to have several myself, most of them hidden by clothing. There is some great statistical information about tattoos, who gets them, and where on the body is the most popular place. Ever wondered about the truth behind breastfeeding and tattoos?
With tattoos being a popular pastime, is it safe to get a tattoo when breastfeeding? Let’s look at the details.
We should start by considering that the FDA has not approved ink for tattoo use. This means that the ink being used is not regulated, so it’s a good idea to have some background knowledge about the tattoo artist of your choice. Tattoo ink can also cause an allergic reaction, so that is something to keep in mind as well. The tattoo process isn’t necessarily a simple one.
How Tattoos Happen
“When the needle with ink enters the skin, it deposits the ink in the second layer of the skin – the dermis. Their pigment activates the immune system of the body which sends macrophages which in turn eat the pigments of the ink. Some of the macrophage cells remove the pigment while others stay in the dermis along with the color. Others stay in dermal cells called fibroblasts that make the dermis along with nerves, blood vessels, and collagen fibers. These fibroblasts don’t fall off the skin when the epidermis (outer layer of the skin) regenerates but stay in the skin until they die and are also absorbed (along with pigment inside them) by other, living fibroblasts which makes the tattoo permanent.”
There are a few things you should be aware of when you plan on getting a tattoo. This is regardless of breastfeeding.
Make sure the shop is a reputable one. This means they have proof of training, and the shop has been there a while. Even better if you know someone else who has been to this shop for a tattoo, and all turned out well. If you do not see proof of training or some sort of certification, feel free to ask about it. Some tattoo artists have a portfolio of their work. Take a few minutes to flip through it and make sure you like what you see.
Look around. Is the shop clean? Are they using needles and gloves that are fresh, new, packaged? How do they clean their equipment? Does your tattoo artist give you specific instructions on how to take care of your tattoo? They should guide you on the best way to avoid infection and ensure safe healing.
One of the biggest risks for tattoos is infection. Because tattoo shops are overall cautious and safe with equipment and procedure (don’t get a tattoo in someone’s basement, or by a friend who needs the practice), serious infection is not an issue. We are talking about things like HIV or Hepatitis. However, if you do not take good care of your tattoo and keep it clean during the healing process, you are risking infection. After having a baby, your immune resistance is lower. Consider waiting a few months until your system is a bit stronger. I have had several tattoos over the years and each artist gave slightly different instructions regarding keeping it covered or what kind of healing ointment to use (if any). However, all were consistent in instructing cleaning the tattoo with antibacterial soap to keep it clean as it heals.
Regulations for Breastfeeding and Tattoo
If you are considering a tattoo while you are still breastfeeding, there are no firm regulations in place against it. You may have a difficult time finding a tattoo artist who will tattoo a breastfeeding mother if they’re aware of it. Or they may have you fill out a specific waiver. This is because there is not a lot of research regarding breastfeeding, breastmilk, and tattoos.
How Old Is Your Baby?
It is recommended to wait until your baby is a bit older before deciding to get tattooed. This is for a couple of reasons:
Waiting until your baby is older will give your body more time to heal. As mentioned, healing is the biggest risk factor (not only for breastfeeders but for anyone who gets a tattoo). The more healed you are the less likely you will have problems with infection.
If you wait until your baby is older, maybe at least 9 months, we know your baby will be less dependent on breastmilk alone. Typically, babies are increasing their intake of solids at this point, and they are taking less breastmilk.
Tattoo Removal and How It Happens
What about tattoo removal? As tattoo demand increases, so does tattoo removal. Just like tattoo placement is not necessarily simple, neither is tattoo removal:
“Each pulse of the laser sends light energy into your skin. We use different wavelengths of laser light to treat different colors of ink in your tattoo. As the light energy is directed into your skin, it is selectively absorbed by the tattoo ink particles trapped in the dermis of your skin. When the ink particles absorb this energy, they instantly shatter into tiny fragments. Once the laser has broken the ink into smaller pieces, your body’s immune system works to remove the ink over the following weeks, flushing it away from the tattooed area. We see the result of this as the tattoo lightening in appearance. Each additional laser treatment breaks down more and more ink until the tattoo can no longer be seen.”
Is Tattoo Removal Safe For Breastfeeding?
It is unknown whether or not the ink that has been broken down by the laser can be passed into breastmilk. It is recommended to wait until you are no longer breastfeeding before deciding to undergo tattoo removal with laser treatments.
As with anything you do in this life, there are always risks to consider, and this is no different. Be sure to do your research about who is giving you the tattoo and take healing instructions seriously.
Smith, Amelia. “7 Most Frequently Asked Questions from Tattoo Removal Patients.” Home, info.astanzalaser.com/blog/7-most-frequently-asked-questions-from-tattoo-removal-patients.
Zuckerman, written by Arthur. “38 Tattoo Statistics: 2020/2021 Industry, Trends & Demographics.” CompareCamp.com, 12 Feb. 2021, comparecamp.com/tattoo-statistics/.
“What Makes Tattoos Permanent? – How Tattoos Work?” How Tattoos Work? – What Makes Tattoos Permanent?, www.historyoftattoos.net/tattoo-making/what-makes-tattoos-permanent/.
Commissioner, Office of the. “Think Before You Ink: Are Tattoos Safe?” U.S. Food and Drug Administration, FDA, www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/think-you-ink-are-tattoos-safe.