Yes or no?

When you’re pregnant, people have lots of advice about what you should or shouldn’t do. Stuff like skipping the sushi, avoiding water slides, and exercising safely — the list goes on. You may have asked, “Can I get a tattoo while pregnant?” And while the research in this area is lacking, doctors generally don’t recommend it.

Here’s more about why you may want to make your ink appointment for after delivery.

It may lead to infection

One of the biggest concerns doctors have with getting inked during pregnancy is infection. Not all parlors are created equal when it comes to hygiene. This means that some tattoo shops don’t meet minimum safety standards when it comes to keeping needles and other equipment clean. Dirty needles can spread infections like hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and HIV.

Contracting these diseases is particularly dangerous for women who are pregnant because they can be passed on to babies at birth. Symptoms include anything from tiredness to fever to joint pain.

It’s possible to become infected and not know that anything is wrong. If symptoms do develop, it may take years before they’re noticeable. Even then, the first sign may be abnormal results on a liver function test.

Tattoos may also get infected as they heal. If you do get inked, you should follow all of the studio’s recommended aftercare instructions. See your doctor immediately if you develop signs of infection, including:

  • fever
  • chills
  • pus or red lesions on the tattoo
  • foul smelling discharge from the area of the tattoo
  • areas of hard, raised tissue
  • new dark lines developing in or radiating around the area

While most infections may be easy to treat, you may not want to risk getting more serious ones, like a staph infection, while you’re pregnant.

It may affect your chance of having an epidural

The lower back is one of the more popular spots to get a tattoo. This also happens to be where an epidural is administered during labor. An epidural is a local anesthetic. If your birth plan includes an epidural, you may want to wait to get your tattoo until after delivery.

If you already have a tattoo on your lower back, you’re probably fine. The only time when it would be a concern is if it’s just healing or infected. Tattoos generally take between two weeks and a month to fully heal. If it becomes infected, your skin may become red or swollen, or ooze fluid.

In the end, you can’t predict if it’ll get infected, how long an infection might take to heal, or if you may go into labor earlier than expected. On existing ink, the needle site may even develop scar tissue that could impact the look of your tattoo.

It may look different after your pregnancy

Hormones during pregnancy can cause changes in the skin. Your body and skin also expand to make room for baby. Tattoos on the abdomen and hips, for example, could be affected by striae gravidarum. This condition is more commonly known as stretch marks.

You can even develop different skin conditions during pregnancy that may make getting a tattoo painful or difficult.

Some of these conditions include:

  • PUPPP: This acronym stands for pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy. It causes anything from a red rash to swelling to patches of pimple-like bumps, usually on the stomach, trunk, and arms and legs.
  • Prurigo of pregnancy: This itchy rash is made up of small bumps called papules. Around 1 in 130 to 300 pregnant women experience it, and it may last for several months after delivery.
  • Impetigo herpetiformis: This rare condition typically starts in the second half of pregnancy. It’s a form of psoriasis. Along with skin issues, it can cause nausea, vomiting, fever, and chills.

Hormone changes can also cause something called hyperpigmentation. The skin may darken in certain areas of your body, from your nipples to your face. Melasma, known as the “mask of pregnancy,” is experienced by up to 70 percent of women who are pregnant.

Sun exposure can make darkening worse. Many women find their hyperpigmented areas go back to normal or close to normal after having their baby. Because women who are pregnant are a little more vulnerable when it comes to health, tattoos should generally be avoided.

How to safely get a tattoo

If you do choose to get a tattoo during pregnancy, there are some things you can do to make your experience safer. You may want to tour several different shops to compare their cleaning practices:

  • Look for studios that are clean and have separate areas for piercing and tattooing.
  • Ask if the studio has an autoclave. This is a machine used to sterilize needles and other equipment.
  • Observe if your needles are being opened from individual packages. No needles should be used more than once.
  • Make sure your artist is wearing new latex gloves while doing your ink.
  • Take note of the ink too. Ink should be in single-use cups that are thrown away after your session. It should never be taken directly from a bottle.
  • If something concerns you, ask about it. A good studio should be able to quickly answer your questions and give you details. You may even want to ask to watch the preparation process as an artist inks another person.

If it isn’t obvious, you may also want to mention that you are pregnant to your tattoo artist. They may be more than happy to walk you through the sterilization process and show you what the studio is doing to keep things safe for you and baby.

If at any time you feel unsure or uncomfortable, leave. After all, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Consider getting a henna tattoo instead

There are various alternatives to permanent tattoos these days. Temporary tattoos have gotten a big upgrade in recent years. You can find a good selection of them at lots of stores, and many are beautiful.

For something that lasts even longer — around two weeks — you may want to consider henna, or mehndi, for something elegant and safe.

In a traditional henna celebration, the mother-to-be would often be rubbed with spices and oils and then decorated with henna on her hands and feet. This practice was credited with warding off the evil eye or bad spirits.

Henna is applied in intricate designs using a pipette. It’s then left to dry for around a half hour. Once dry, you simply remove it or wash it away with water.

This ancient form of body art has been used for centuries in areas of South Asia, North Africa, and the Middle East. The paste itself is generally made from safe ingredients, like henna powder, water, and sugar. Sometimes essential oils are included, but use caution, as some are best avoided during pregnancy.

You may try to apply the designs yourself, using instructions on popular websites like Instructables. Alternatively, you can search around for a professional henna artist in your area.

The bottom line

Can you get a tattoo during pregnancy? The answer is both yes and no.

Going to a studio with a good reputation may be safe, but you can never predict if your ink may get infected during the healing process. Make sure you know what the signs of infection look like, and talk with your doctor about your individual risks.

With the potential to contract diseases like HIV and hepatitis B, it may not be worth the risk. There is risk of infection with a tattoo, and women who are pregnant might best protect their health by waiting until the baby is born.

In the end, you should speak with your doctor before making your tattoo appointment. As well, consider temporary alternatives, like henna.