Can You Get a Tattoo While Pregnant?

Pregnant woman with tattoos

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While tattoos were once a rarity among women, in recent years it has become increasingly common—even trendy—for ladies to sport ink. According to a 2017 survey, 33% of women reported having a tattoo. If you’re among the one in three who’ve gotten a tat, or if you’ve always thought of doing so, there’s one condition that may bring your inky dreams to a halt: pregnancy.

Wondering about the rules around getting a tattoo during your nine months of baby-making? Here’s what you need to know.

Safety of Getting Inked During Pregnancy

There are plenty of valid reasons you may want to get a tattoo during pregnancy. Maybe you’d like to commemorate this special time in your life with a permanent physical reminder. Or perhaps you had planned to get a tat, only to be surprised by a positive pregnancy test. But is it safe to go ahead with a baby in your belly? Possibly—but doing so comes with significant risks.

According to the American Pregnancy Association, the biggest concern about getting a tattoo during pregnancy is the risk of contracting an infection, like hepatitis B or HIV. Hepatitis B is a serious liver infection that can not only make you very ill, but can also be transmitted to your baby at birth.

Ninety percent of babies who contract hepatitis B develop lifelong, chronic infection. One in four children with untreated, chronic hepatitis will eventually die of related health problems. Likewise, HIV transmits from mother to child in about 15 to 45% of cases. This virus compromises the immune system and can cause failure to thrive in children. 

Another potential issue is an adverse reaction to the contents in the tattoo needle.

“We know that some people respond to the dyes and the metals in the tattoo dye and can have allergic reactions or infections,” said OB/GYN Lauren Demosthenes, MD, Senior Medical Director at Babyscripts. “We would hate for you to have to deal with an infection or allergic reaction while pregnant.”

Plus, according to the American Pregnancy Association, the risks that chemicals in tattoo dyes pose to your unborn baby are unknown.

Guidelines If You’re Getting a Tattoo

If you’ve been bitten by the tattoo bug and have decided to keep your appointment at the parlor while pregnant, it’s imperative to follow certain safety guidelines.

“We know that a reputable tattoo parlor is essential—although rare, infections like hepatitis, syphilis, and HIV can be transmitted through poor hygiene with anything involving needles,” Demosthenes said.

Be sure to vet your parlor by making sure your tattoo artist is licensed in your state. Do a bit of homework ahead of time to ensure the facility uses disposable, single-use gloves and needles, as well as sterile dressings. And don’t be afraid to ask about the frequency and thoroughness of sanitation procedures.

Back Tattoos and Epidurals 

Since the back is such a broad canvas for tattoo art, it’s a common spot to get inked. But a back tattoo may spell trouble for getting an epidural during delivery.

“Some anesthesiologists will not place an epidural through a tattoo on your back,” Demosthenes noted.

However, with a little research, you should be able to determine ahead of time whether your hospital or birthing center performs epidurals over back tattoos, and, if not, what other options are available to you.

As for the safety of getting an epidural with ink on your back, Demosthenes said it’s essentially a non-issue: "Most of the evidence is that it is safe to have an epidural with a back tattoo, so there's little to worry about there.”

What If I Already Have Tattoos?

If you’ve already gotten tattoos prior to pregnancy, you may have concerns about whether your existing ink has any impact on your growing baby.

“For someone who already has a tattoo and is pregnant, the good news is, there’s very little to no risk," Demosthenes said.

The primary issue you may deal with is changes to your skin during the nine months, she added. “Your tattoo image may become distorted as your skin stretches during pregnancy, depending on where your tattoo is.” 

A Word From Verywell

In the end, the decision of whether to tat up during pregnancy is, of course, up to you. But according to experts, it’s wise to err on the side of caution.

“Although the risks are likely very low, we just don’t have the evidence to say that there is no risk,” Demosthenes said. If you choose to breastfeed, “the best thing to do is to plan your tattoo after you have finished breastfeeding.”

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    American Pregnancy Association: Tattoos During Pregnancy. https://americanpregnancy.org/healthy-pregnancy/is-it-safe/tattoos-1178 May 1 2012.

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Protect Your Baby for Life. https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hbv/pdfs/hepbperinatal-protectwhenpregnant.pdf Jan 2020.

    World Health Organization: Mother-to-Child Transmission of HIV. https://www.who.int/hiv/topics/mtct/en/