Main image: Tattoo by @tarynmce_tattoo
Getting tattooed used to be my hobby. I’d travel around the country adding pieces to my collection from different artists.
My Instagram feed was filled with tattooers from around the world, the list of people I wanted to get tattooed by was ever growing and the empty space left on my body was shrinking. But that was before the pandemic and before I had my daughter.
Growing up with a mum who was a midwife I always knew I would breastfeed any future baby I might have.
Fast forward a few years and I’ve been breastfeeding my daughter for over 16 months, and neither of us appear to be slowing down or stopping. We’ve been really fortunate with our breastfeeding journey, from the first feed it clicked.
"Your body doesn't always feel like yours"
Saying that it hasn’t always been easy. While breastfeeding, your body doesn’t always feel like yours. You can be touched out and yearning for some space one minute and then the next on a cuddly oxytocin high.
But one thing I really miss from my old life is getting tattooed. I regularly feel the urge to get tattooed to claim ownership over my body once again. I also long to mark this transition into motherhood and the new love of my life with a tattoo or two.
But can I get a tattoo during breastfeeding? To find out I spoke to Fiona Lewitt, a tattooist at Black Market Tattoo Parlour and mum with two breastfeeding journeys, about her experience as a tattoo artist.
As well as Maria Myers, qualified antenatal teacher, doula, and international board certified lactation consultant (IBCLC) and founder of Milk-Making Mama, to attempt to unravel the mysteries around tattoos and breastfeeding.
Image: Fiona Lewitt of Black Market Tattoo Parlour breastfeeding
Can you get a tattoo when breastfeeding?
Yes absolutely! However, the logistics of getting tattooed while you’re breastfeeding may be trickier.
There’s finding a tattooer who’ll consent to tattooing a breastfeeding parent (more to come on that), then you need to make sure your baby will be able to feed while you’re apart, getting the cash together, having the means to travel etc.
Surely if you’ve had a baby getting a new tattoo will be easy? It may take more planning than it did before you were breastfeeding but getting a new tattoo isn’t impossible.
In fact Maria got a half sleeve done when she was feeding her five-month-old daughter and Fiona also got tattooed while she was pumping for her first child. So there’s hope for all of us!
Should I tell the tattoo artist that I’m breastfeeding?
Yes definitely. Fiona recommends that you do this before the appointment and that you "talk to the tattoo artist beforehand to make sure they understand you are breastfeeding and are happy to go ahead. If you don't disclose this beforehand it will usually be asked on a consent form and possibly result in the artist declining to tattoo you if they aren’t comfortable and weren’t expecting it."
Will a tattoo artist tattoo me while I'm breastfeeding?
Image: Fiona Lewitt of Black Market Tattoo Parlour
I’ve had a few tattoo artists refuse to tattoo me because of the risk of infection and if you react badly to your new tattoo, which is a totally valid reason as Fiona explains:
"The main issue with tattooing a breastfeeding person is that it's not just one person's welfare involved. For instance if you had a tattoo which got infected and required antibiotics (which is very rare in a clean reputable studio and correctly following aftercare advice) there are certain ones you can't take while breastfeeding and most will pass into the milk.
"If you passed out after your tattoo and hit your head and were hospitalised it's not just your wellbeing to consider, there would be a baby who needs to eat."
If someone doesn’t feel confident tattooing you while you’re nursing, then they’re not the tattoo artist for you at this time and you’ll need to do your research and find a tattooist who is.
Like Fiona, who through feeding her own children has gained the knowledge of breastfeeding and the science behind it. She’s “happy to tattoo breastfeeding people as long as they meet my criteria, and that we've had a good chat about the potential issues and they’re happy to go ahead.”
Is it safe to get a tattoo while breastfeeding?
It’s a yes from Maria! However there are some things you can do to make the experience even safer. Maria suggests that you do lots of research to make sure the tattoo studio "follows safety guidelines and takes necessary health and safety precautions" to make sure your breastfeeding tattoo is safe.
She suggests that you ask your artist and studio questions about their:
- Completed courses in cross contaminations and health and safety
- Sanitising stations including sinks, antibacterial washes and gels
- Set up and clean down process
- Use of fresh needles, gloves, individual ink pots and other tattooing equipment
- Wrapping and cleaning of their tattoo machine
Any reputable tattoo shop and tattoo artist will follow a strict set of guidelines to minimise cross contamination and infection. If you’re undecided on a shop or artist it’s always best to talk to them about any fears or worries you may have.
What is the main risk with tattooing and breastfeeding?
As Fiona has explained, the main risk when getting a new tattoo when you’re breastfeeding is infection. This also applies to getting a tattoo in general. There are tattoo artists who choose not to tattoo breastfeeding people as they don’t want to take the risk when another person’s welfare and their baby’s could potentially be at risk.
Maria agrees. "Many parlours will have their own regulations which may include that they don’t want to tattoo breastfeeding people" she says. "This is their own way of protecting themselves in case you go home and have an infection and now two people (baby and yourself) are impacted in managing this complication.
"So again the parlour choosing not to tattoo you is their right, and this would be based on precautions towards aftercare and the rare chance of a complication NOT because the tattooing process or the ink are not safe for breastfeeding people."
Can tattoo ink get into my breastmilk?
Breastfeeding charity La Leche League International explains that the tattoo ink molecules are too large to pass into your breastmilk as you’re getting tattooed.
While you’re being tattooed the tattoo ink is trapped in the top layer of the dermis. Maria agrees with the science and that tattoo ink molecules won’t cause any "harm to your child."
However, it’s unknown whether the ink will pass into your breastmilk in the following months and years as your body slowly breaks down the ink. So it’s completely up to you if you want to get tattooed while you’re nursing or wait until your journey has ended.
Should you wait until your baby is a certain age before getting a tattoo?
Maria suggests that you don’t have to wait until your baby is a specific age to get a tattoo. However you might not be able to take your baby with you when you get tattooed as many tattoo studios don’t allow children.
Also if your baby has a frequent feeding routine, as many do when they’re young, they may not give you the chance to have time away to get tattooed.
Fiona, although happy to tattoo someone who is breastfeeding, does have a few conditions, especially when it comes to the age of the baby. Talking from her own experience she recommends that:
- Parent and baby are both well
- Breastfeeding is established
- Baby can be away for parent for a few hours and can drink from a cup or bottle without struggling to get back on the breast or chest
- Baby is a minimum of 6 months old
Fiona explains that these guidelines are mainly "so the body is suitably healed after giving birth, as it takes a lot longer to heal from giving birth (particularly a C-section) than just when you feel okay or are signed off from the doctor/midwife."
What age your baby is when you get a tattoo is your choice, however your chosen tattoo artist may have guidelines like Fiona to help keep you both safe.
Will the pain affect my milk supply?
On top of worrying if you can handle the pain or if your choice of placement may be really spicy, when you’re nursing your little one you may also worry about your milk supply.
Maria reassures us that the pain associated with tattoos "should not impact supply", but the stress of getting a tattoo and "putting the body under stress can sometimes impact the flow of milk".
Maria further explains that the amount of milk you produce or your supply shouldn’t be impacted however you may experience a slower flow than normal. She recommends warm compresses and massage to help speed up your flow after you’ve been tattooed.
Although pain is experienced differently by everyone, you may find that your pain tolerance has improved since you gave birth, like Fiona. She "found that after experiencing childbirth tattoos didn’t seem quite as painful anymore!"
So a tattoo artist has agreed to tattoo you, now what?
Think about the size and placement
Go big or go home right? Maybe not when it comes to your first tattoo post-birth. Fiona doesn’t recommend getting a huge tattoo while you’re breastfeeding. Mainly because "pregnancy and birth are such a change and trauma on the body it's natural for it to react to things differently than before.
"Not to mention the changes in hormones, and the lack of sleep/energy that's being used elsewhere (ie to make milk!) that all affects your body's ability to heal a tattoo and your experience having it done."
You’ll also want to think about the placement of your tattoo and your baby's developmental stage. Are they likely to scratch, rub or hit your new tattoo? When you breastfeed will you be able to do your regular positions comfortably?. If you get your arm tattooed will you be able to carry your baby or wash them?
Pregnancy and birth causes your body to change in all kinds of ways. If you’re thinking of getting your tattoo near or even over stretch marks then read our guide for more advice.
Preparing for your tattoo appointment
When it comes to the days leading up to your appointment and the day itself you’ll want to make sure you’re in the best shape you can be for your tattoo session.
“Try to get a good night's sleep and allow for rest around having it done (as much sleep as you can with a child!). Rest is very important to your body's healing," Fiona says. "Eat before your tattoo and maybe take a drink and a snack with you in case you need it!"
Do I need to pump before getting tattooed?
"You don’t need to pump or dump," Maria says "as the particles don’t go into the milk". If you’re having a long tattoo session Maria advises that you do pump to "avoid complications with your milk supply."
Image: Fiona using a breast pump
Healing your new tattoo
Before you get tattooed while breastfeeding you might also be wondering about how your new tattoo will heal. Whether it’ll take longer to heal than normal or what aftercare you should use.
Tattoo artist Fiona’s experience of healing a tattoo while breastfeeding was "that it took a little longer to heal than my tattoos usually do, but not everyone's the same." You might find that healing for you is exactly how it was before or completely different. Either way Fiona suggests that you:
"Follow the artist’s aftercare instructions as closely as you can (make sure to carve out time for this in your daily life with a baby. As difficult as self care is postpartum, it's paramount to the healing of your tattoo that you keep it clean to avoid infection) and then try your best to keep the fresh tattoo away from grabby little baby hands!"
Advice for tattoo artists
If you’re a tattooist who’s not sure whether to tattoo someone who is breastfeeding, Fiona advises that you "do some research and make sure you feel comfortable, but if you don't that's fine!"
Fiona also adds an extra clause in her consent form so that "the client understands the potential risk and is happy to proceed, and that they’ll carefully follow the aftercare instructions given."
She also encourages artists to not "be scared, nothing is different in the skin texture in my experience."
Can you get a tattoo when breastfeeding?
Watch Maria’s video as she explains a little more about getting a tattoo while breastfeeding.
If you’re still unsure, Maria offers online consultations which give you the chance to talk about safe practices when breastfeeding.
Frequently asked questions
Can I get a piercing while breastfeeding?
Yes, you can get a piercing while breastfeeding. Just make sure to choose a piercer and studio that have a high standard of health and safety, as well as following any aftercare advice they give you. You could ask to see their licence, evidence of training as well as sanitation proceedings.
Can I get laser tattoo removal while breastfeeding?
There’s very little research into having laser tattoo removal while breastfeeding and the increased amounts of ink released into the body during the process. Which is why breastfeeding charity La Leche League International
recommends waiting "until weaning is completed before having any laser removal of tattoos done." If you do decide to have a tattoo removed while breastfeeding you’ll need to take the same precautions with aftercare and choosing a studio as you would with a tattoo.
Can I get permanent makeup while breastfeeding?
Permanent make up is a form of tattooing, so yes you can get permanent makeup while breastfeeding. Whether you're getting your eyebrows tattooed or freckle tattoos make sure to check that the shop and cosmetic artist have high levels of hygiene and follow cross contamination guidelines.
Tattoo artist Fiona had permanent makeup on her eyebrows while she was breastfeeding, although she skipped the numbing cream as she wasn’t sure if it was safe to use during breastfeeding. Which you might want to think about if you use numbing cream when getting tattooed. "It truly wasn’t bad enough to need it anyway", like Fiona you might be able to go without it.