Belly button piercings are a form of self-expression. Although body piercings are safe when done in a sterile environment, they have their risks. So if you’re pregnant or thinking about getting pregnant, you might have a few questions.

Is it safe to keep a belly piercing while pregnant? Does a piercing cause pain or discomfort as a bump increases in size? Can you get a piercing while pregnant?

If you’re getting your belly button pierced — or already have a piercing — here’s what to expect during pregnancy.

If you’ve recently learned of a pregnancy, your first thought might be to remove your belly button piercing. But you don’t need to react so quickly.

The short answer is yes, it is safe to keep a fully healed belly button piercing while pregnant. But although it’s generally safe, it makes sense to remove the piercing in some situations.

Everyone’s body is different. So as your baby bump grows, your experience with a belly button piercing might differ from another person’s experience.

Concerns as you grow

If you keep your belly button piercing during pregnancy, know that you could experience some discomfort as your abdomen stretches to make room for your baby. As your baby bump grows and your skin becomes taut, the piercing might pull on your skin.

This can lead to soreness, redness, and small tears around your navel. If you have tearing or injury to the belly button, there’s the risk of developing an infection, if bacteria gets into the wound.

As your belly bump grows, the belly piercing might also rub against your clothing, which might cause some discomfort, too.

Concerns during delivery

Some people choose not to remove a piercing and keep the belly button ring throughout their entire pregnancy — even delivering with the piercing. This is possible. If you have a vaginal delivery, a belly button piercing doesn’t get in the way.

It might, however, get in the way if you have a cesarean section.

Of course, even if you plan for a vaginal delivery, circumstances can rapidly change. In which case, you might need an unexpected C-section. To prepare for this possibility, some expecting mothers remove their belly button piercing before heading to the hospital, just in case.

Keep it clean

If you choose to keep a belly button piercing during pregnancy, take steps to keep the surrounding skin as clean as possible. You should also take steps to minimize discomfort or pain from friction.

To be clear, though, if your belly button piercing has completely healed, there’s no special care required during pregnancy. Typically, it takes about nine months to one year for a belly button piercing to fully heal.

Watch for infection

If you have minor tearing or injury to your belly button due to stretching of your skin, washing the area with warm water and antibacterial soap can help prevent an infection. You can also apply a topical antibacterial ointment to the skin.

Signs of an infection can include redness, skin that’s warm to the touch, and drainage from the navel. See a doctor if you have signs of an infection.

To avoid infection, you should daily cleanse the navel area in the shower or bath. Completely remove the belly button piercing at least once a week to thoroughly cleanse this area with warm soap and water. Allow the area to air dry before re-inserting the belly button ring.

Consider changing your jewelry

For comfort, you can remove your current belly button jewelry and replace it with a maternity or pregnancy belly button ring.

These rings are made out of polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), a flexible, nickel-free wire. It’s designed to expand as your body changes and as your belly grows. These rings help prevent skin stretching and skin injury.

Dress for comfort

If you keep a belly button piercing, it also helps to wear loose-fitting clothes. This includes loose-fitting shirts that don’t rub or tug at the belly button ring, as well as maternity pants with a lower band to avoid irritating the navel area.

Remove piercings that haven’t healed

If you become pregnant before your navel piercing completely heals, the recommendation is to remove the body piercing until after you have the baby.

Your body will go through several changes over the next few weeks and months — changes that can interfere with the healing process. If you keep the piercing, the unhealed hole in your skin can become bigger as your baby bump increases in size. A larger hole combined with a slower healing time puts you at risk of an infection.

If you remove a belly button piercing before it fully heals, keep your navel area and surrounding skin clean to prevent infection. Again, gently wash the area each day with warm water and antibacterial soap, and see your doctor if you have signs of an infection.

Re-insert periodically to keep the hole

If your piercing has fully healed, yet you choose to remove the belly button ring, the hole might close. To prevent this, you can re-insert the piercing and move it around a couple of times a week. This helps keep the hole open.

If this doesn’t work, you may have to re-pierce your belly button after having the baby.

Don’t pierce when pregnant

Not only should you remove a recent belly button piercing after getting pregnant, you should hold off on getting any type of piercings during pregnancy.

Pregnancy can weaken your immune system, putting you at risk of infection. So avoid puncturing any part of your body at this time. Unsterile piercing equipment has been linked to hepatitis B and C. Plus, there’s the risk of a reaction due to contact sensitivity to gold or nickel.

Navel or belly button piercings are a form of self-expression. And fortunately, it is safe to keep a piercing throughout a pregnancy, if it’s fully healed.

However, you should remove a piercing that causes discomfort or pain, and your doctor might recommend removing the piercing before going to the hospital for delivery — in case you need a C-section.

Keep in mind that these temporary precautions are for the health and well-being of you and your baby.