Body Modifications and Breastfeeding: What You Need to Know

If you face any problems with breastfeeding be sure to contact your local LLL Leader or an IBCLC for help. See a qualified piercer for problems with your piercing.

Tattoos

Tattoos are a permanent form of artwork etched into the flesh and are not without risk. As with piercings, local and systemic infections are the most prevalent risks of tattooing. Already present tattoos, on the breast or elsewhere, do not affect breastfeeding. The possibility of the ink migrating into the mother's blood plasma and then into the milk-making cells of the breast, is next to impossible. It's possible to have allergic reactions to the tattoo inks. They aren't regulated by the FDA.

Many, if not most, professional tattoo artists won't knowingly tattoo a woman who is breastfeeding or will actively discourage a new mother from doing so. They feel that the body needs time to heal the tattoo and that's harder to do so when the body is producing milk. It also lessens the possibility of any infections from being passed on to the baby. A newborn baby is far more vulnerable to any possible changes in breastmilk than a nursing toddler.

Going to a professional tattoo shop following Universal Precautions also lessens the risk that an infection might be acquired. Anecdotal evidence from various discussion boards related to body modification show that the majority of mothers go ahead and get tattoos while breastfeeding with no ill effects on the baby or mother.

Removing a Tattoo

Is it safe to have a tattoo removed while breastfeeding? An estimated 20% of those who get tattoos later regret the decision and wish to have them removed. Tattoo removal is accomplished with the use of Q-switched lasers. The laser produces short pulses of intense light that pass through the skin to be absorbed by the tattoo pigment. The laser energy causes the tattoo pigment to fragment into smaller particles, which are picked up by the body's immune system and filtered out. The particles are considered too big to pass into breastmilk.

Universal Precautions

Whether you're contemplating a tattoo or getting your nipples pierced it's very important that your tattoo artist or piercer follow Universal Precautions. These precautions include sterilization of the tattoo machine and piercing implements using an autoclave, single-use inks, ink cups, gloves and needles, bagging of equipment to avoid cross contamination, thorough hand washing with disinfectant soap and the wearing gloves when performing the tattoo or piercing (Armstrong, et al., 2006). Any jewelry that is to be inserted should be kept sterile before insertions as well.

It's important to screen the tattooist and the shop carefully, checking with the local health department for local laws and regulations. Reputable body artists support regulations and legislation to keep their customers safe and to legitimize the profession.

Robyn Roche-Paull, BS, IBCLC, is the Author of Breastfeeding in Combat Boots and Founder of the companion website. In her practice she primarily helps military mothers balance returning to active duty while continuing to breastfeed. Robyn is not only an advocate for active duty military mothers who wish to combine breastfeeding with military service, she is also a US Navy Veteran who successfully breastfed her son for over a year while on active duty as an aircraft mechanic. She is the mother of three long-term breastfed children and wife to her husband, a Chief Petty Officer in the US Navy.

Copyright © Robyn Roche-Paull, BS, IBCLC. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org. Photo credit: Dreamstime.com Agency.