Body piercing is one of the oldest and most practiced forms of body modification known. This practice has expanded to many different areas of the body, including the bellybutton. The bellybutton can take longer to heal. Knowing what to expect and how to care for the piercing can help you avoid complications.

When you get a piercing, you’re at risk of catching a blood-borne disease. The degree of risk depends on where you go to get the piercing and the standards of the person performing the piercing. This is why choosing your piercer is so important.

It’s common practice to ask around for recommendations when looking for a piercer. Word of mouth is often the best way to find a reliable and reputable shop. Make sure you visit the shop ahead of time so that you can get a feel for the place. It should be clean, well-lit, and fully licensed.

While you’re there, it‘s important to ask about the piercing process and what sterilization methods they use. Generally, artists use an autoclave to kill any possible bacteria or other pathogens on the equipment. They typically use an autoclave to sterilize tools that are reusable, such as opening and closing pliers for body jewelry.

All piercing needles should come in sealed, sterile packages. This means that they haven’t been used on anyone else. You shouldn’t share needles because it increases your risk of blood-borne disease. Your piercer should also wear disposable gloves at all times.

If the shop uses piercing guns, you should cancel any appointment that you may have made. Reusable piercing guns can transmit bodily fluids across customers, and they can also cause local tissue damage in the ear during the process of piercing.

Don’t rely on friends or do-it-yourself videos when it comes to body piercing. When a piercing is performed outside of a specialized, sterile environment, your risk of getting an infectious disease increases.

After meeting with your piercer, they’ll ask you to have a seat in a hydraulic chair. Generally, they’ll recline your chair until you’re lying in a relaxed position. The piercer will disinfect the area around your navel. If you have body hair around your navel, they may remove this with a disposable razor.

Next, they’ll mark the spot on your navel that they wish to pierce. You’ll have the opportunity to confirm the placement or discuss the possibility of piercing a different area. For a traditional bellybutton piercing, they’ll mark the true center above your navel.

After the placement is confirmed, the piercer will use a hollow needle to create a hole in the designated location. Once the hole has been made, they may use forceps to hold the area of skin taught while they insert the jewelry. You may experience a little bit of bleeding. The piercer will clean up your navel and give you instructions for aftercare.

If you experience any discomfort or tightness, it’s recommended that you remove the jewelry that’s currently in place. You can replace this jewelry with a piece of safe, inert plastic to keep the piercing tract open. You can also leave the piercing empty. This may cause the piercing to close. ]

It can take up to a year for a bellybutton piercing to fully heal. This is because of the constant movement associated with the location. Keeping the area as bacteria-free as possible is essential to healing.

It’s normal to see an off-white fluid coming out of the area in the first few days after your piercing. This fluid may form a crusty material. Think of this as your body coming to terms with the new object in your navel. After washing your hands with soap and water, you can clean this up using warm water. Don’t pick at the area because it can cause further irritation or bleeding.

Any initial itchiness, tightness, and localized tenderness is normal.

Your piercer may recommend that you do the following during cleaning:

  • Apply a small amount of soap on the new piercing and the area for about 30 seconds, and thoroughly rinse afterward.
  • Use a sterile saline solution to soak the area for five to 10 minutes daily.
  • Use disposable soft paper products to pat dry.

You should do the following during the healing process:

  • Avoid hot tubs, pools, and lakes, as your wound can come into contact with bacteria in the water.
  • Opt for clean, loose-fitting clothing because tight garments can irritate the area and trap bacteria.
  • Use a protective bandage if you have to exercise, and clean up the area afterward to avoid irritation or infection.
  • Keep the area out of the sun to avoid sunburns.

If you develop an infection or other irritation, you should speak with your piercer before applying any ointment or other topical treatment to the area. Your doctor can also advise you on your treatment.

It’s normal for the area to feel sore for a few days after the piercing. If you’re experiencing symptoms that are unusual or that occur after the first few days, you should reach out to the piercer or your doctor.

The symptoms of an infection can include:

  • a rash
  • redness
  • swelling
  • an unusual or foul-smelling discharge

Learn more: What to do with an infected bellybutton piercing »

Choosing to get a piercing is a big decision that requires a lot of aftercare. It can be done safely as long as you make sure to keep the area clean and free of bacteria. Taking care of your general health can help you heal faster and reduce your risk of developing complications.