No matter how far in advance you schedule a tattoo appointment, you can’t control what happens in life. If you find yourself pregnant with an appointment coming up or simply the spontaneous desire to get inked, you may be wondering whether or not you’re allowed to get a tattoo in terms of safety.
Unlike dyeing your hair or eating sushi (which have strict warnings for expectant mothers) there’s technically no solid rule against being tattooed while pregnant. However, getting inked when you're with child does present some risks to the mother and baby. Many experts, like dermatologist Shari Sperling, say that your best bet is to wait until after you’ve given birth.
Meet the Expert
Shari Sperling is a board-certified dermatologist and the founder of Sperling Dermatology. She specializes in medical, cosmetic, laser, and surgical dermatology for adults and children.
Can You Get a Tattoo While Pregnant?
Regardless of how badly you want some fresh ink, doing so while pregnant isn't advised. "Some risks include infection and allergic reactions," says Sperling. "Additionally, when you’re pregnant, your hormones change which can affect the way your skin heals."
Michaelle Fiore of Beaver Tattoo in Woodhaven, Queens agrees, noting that aside from the physical harms, getting tattooed while pregnant can also cause emotional distress. She notes that stress reduction is essential during pregnancy, but getting tattooed could actually force your body into a more severe state of pressure. To boot, getting tattooed while pregnant is even illegal in certain states due to the extreme safety concerns.
Meet the Expert
Michaelle Fiore is a tattoo artist at Beaver Tattoo in Queens, NY. She also provides services as an illustrator, graphic designer, live painter, and mural and concept artist. Her body of work has a heavy emphasis on surrealism, the sublime, and the psyche, attempting to connect the dreamworld to waking life with vivid colors and patterns.
“Getting tattooed compromises the immune system by creating an open wound, inflicting pain, and—depending on the session itself—[forcing you to] sit in uncomfortable positions for extended periods of time,” says Fiore.
Tattoos could also potentially mess with your ability to get an epidural—especially designs on the spine or back—due to the risk of irritation and infection. However, by consulting with your medical professionals and disclosing any tattoos you have (as well as any worries), you can help to reduce any stress or potential risks.
If you do decide to move forward with getting a tattoo while pregnant, there are a few steps you should take to be sure you’re reducing the risk as much as possible. The first step is to consult your OBGYN and come to a decision together. If your doctor does say it's safe for you (which is extremely uncommon), you'll need to find an experienced and professional tattoo artist to ink you during your pregnancy—though that’s not as easy as it may sound. In fact, Fiore says that it’s extremely uncommon to see tattoo artists working on pregnant clients. If you’re able to find an artist who is willing to tattoo you while pregnant, make sure to schedule a consultation to discuss what dyes they plan to use, how long the session will be, and any other accommodations you may require or questions you have. You may also want to talk through any additional concerns to see if they’re able to put your mind at ease. However, remember that no matter how sterile the tattoo shop or how experienced the tattoo artist, getting tattooed while pregnant will always pose a greater risk (even to a small degree) than getting inked after giving birth.
You should also, above all, consider is the cleanliness and sterility of the shop. One potential source of harm is the needles the artist uses; if the tattoo shop isn’t clean, you face the risk of hepatitis B, hepatitis C, HIV, or other blood-borne infections. It’s also common for your body to spike a fever after getting tattooed, as white blood cells rush to the open wound to ensure no bacteria tries to attack the body. The biggest problem is that no one really knows exactly how getting a tattoo while pregnant will affect the mother or child, and there’s very little scientific evidence to back up any potential risks (or non-risks).
Are There Any Issues With Having a Tattoo Before Pregnancy?
If you decided to skip getting tatted while pregnant, your concern may be more with the ink you have prior to becoming pregnant. Luckily, existing tattoos will not have any adverse effects on a pregnancy—as long as it’s taken care of properly. Sperling says the most important thing is to ensure that your ink is fully healed down.
“You need to give the tattoo the proper amount of time to heal,” she urges. “Otherwise, you could experience additional discomfort while giving birth.”
In terms of maintaining the integrity of your ink, pregnancy likely won't affect how an existing tattoo looks. A hip or thigh tattoo may warp slightly, but not to the extent that it will ruin the design. People who get tattooed before their pregnancy may also see some cosmetic alterations, such as pigmentation on or around your designs. Stretch marks or excess skin during and after your pregnancy are also common, but Fiore promises that those natural parts of your body changing won’t mess with your ink. Though, she adds that every body is different, and there’s no way to gauge exactly how getting pregnant will alter a tattoo.
“The human body is a miraculous thing, and we have the ability to snap back after giving birth,” says Fiore.
While you may have an urgent desire to get inked while pregnant, medical experts and tattoo artists alike agree the best thing to do for you and your unborn baby is to wait until after you’ve given birth. Tattoos are supposed to be a fun way to express yourself, but getting tattooed while pregnant ultimately has the potential to do major harm—and that’s not fun at all.
“Tattoos are an optional cosmetic treatment with potential risks that are better to avoid, especially when pregnant,” reinforces Sperling.
Fiore echoes these sentiments and urges expectant mothers to simply wait until after their pregnancy ends to ensure their immune system is operating at 100 percent and the risk of harm is significantly reduced or even erased.
“You’re compromising your immune system, putting your body through physical and environmental stress, and—as with any tattoo—[you] run the risk of infection if aftercare isn’t practiced properly,” notes Fiore. “Just wait. The tattoo will be there forever, [but] you have one shot at delivering a healthy, happy child!”