Can you get a tattoo while pregnant?

Pregnancy is a special time in the life of a woman. It involves several body changes which all culminate in having a healthy baby and healthy mother. The period of pregnancy is there a delicate one. This is because many organs in the developing embryo begin to develop even before the menstrual period is missed and some of these processes maybe affected by environment and practices of the pregnant woman. One of these is the tattoo craze.

A tattoo is a permanent mark or design made on the skin with pigments inserted through pricks into the skin’s top layer. Tattooing has been around for at least 5000 years and as early as the oldest human remains have been said to have tattoos on them. Tattoos mean different things in different cultures, from early rituals in different indigenous tribes, tattooing criminals and prisoners in early Japan, to using tattoos to “put numbers on bodies for bureaucratic record-keeping” by the Nazis during the second world war. With time, tattoos feel out of fashion, however, there has been a recent surge in interest in tattoos again, especially in the western culture.

The rapidly increasing popularity of tattoos within Western culture may be related to celebrities and sport icons with tattoos appearing on television shows and in magazines. Even though some people still stereotype tattooed individuals as immoral, and unstable, with associated stigma, there has been a gradual shift and acceptance of tattoos as normal.

To get a tattoo, a tattooing machine is used. The tattooing machine moves a solid needle up and down the body part to puncture the dermis of the skin between 50 and 3,000 times per minute. It continues this till the particular inscription or graphic desired is produced on the skin.

Women and tattoo 

Women are not exempt from the tattoo craze as well. A study among tattoo women reported that women considered several factors before getting a tattoo and the perceptions of the tattoos were not generally classified as good or bad but individual to the women, their culture, and experiences. Another study tended to associate women with tattoos with low self-esteem and a negative body image. Even though this may not be generalized, women with tattoos are generally perceived in a more negative light than men with tattoos.

What are the health risks of tattooing?

According to the Mayo clinic, there are some health risks associated with tattoos. These are:

Infections. Tattoos breach the skin, which means that skin infections and other complications are possible. According to a German study, 0.5% and 6% of the people with a tattoo experienced infectious complications after being tattoo. These include impetigo, cellulitis and systemic infections which may lead, in very rare cases, to life-threatening complications due to endocarditis, septic shock, and multi-organ failure.

Allergic reactions. Tattoo dyes, especially red, green, yellow and blue dyes can cause allergic skin reactions, such as an itchy rash at the tattoo site. This can occur even years after getting the tattoo.

Other skin problems. Sometimes an area of inflammation called a granuloma can form around tattoo ink. Tattooing also can lead to keloids, which are raised areas caused by an overgrowth of scar tissue.

Blood borne diseases. If the equipment used to create the tattoo is contaminated with infected blood, one can contract various blood borne diseases including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), hepatitis B and hepatitis C. A small research among people with tattoos showed 6.3% of them were positive for Hepatitis B, 11% tested positive for hepatitis C, and 7.9% tested positive for HIV. This is worse with unregistered tattoo parlors.

MRI complications. Rarely, tattoos or permanent makeup might cause swelling or burning in the affected areas during magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) exams. In some cases, tattoo pigments can interfere with the quality of the image.

 Can you get a tattoo while pregnant?

While getting a tattoo while pregnant is not a bad idea and may be very fashionable, it is often not advisable and gynecologists would most likely advise a person to wait to give birth before getting a tattoo. Although there are no clear cut studies that show it is dangerous for a growing baby, there are some potential risks associated with tattooing that may be harmful in pregnancy.

The first is the general risk of infections associated with tattoo is increased in pregnancy. This is because pregnancy on its own reduces the immunity of a female, so adding another wound with its potential for infection may not be a good idea.

Secondly, contacting the associated blood borne diseases during pregnancy like hepatitis B, C and HIV also poses a threat of transmission to the developing fetus.

The third risk is that posed by toxic tattoo inks. Even though the average tattoo needle is only poked ⅛ of an inch into the skin, some tattoo ink contains heavy metals like mercury, arsenic, and lead that are potentially toxic.  Some evidence exists to show that tattoo pigments travel around the body and can be harmful, and at worst carcinogenic (cancer causing). These heavy metals can also cause deformities in the growing fetal brain, especially in the first 12 weeks. This can increase the chances of a miscarriage or still birth.

Fourthly the skin changes that occur during pregnancy including the increased deposition of melanin in the skin may make it darker during pregnancy. These changes can reverse after pregnancy and thus the skin and subsequent tattoo may look different after pregnancy when the skin has healed.

Getting a tattoo may also involve sitting in funny or uncomfortable positions while pregnant and putting the body under stress, this can be harmful to the growing baby.

Lastly, even though there is no evidence to support the claim that women with back tattoos cannot get an epidural during labor, if there are issues in the skin over the tattoo or it appears to have red, scaly skin or is infected, leaking fluid, or still healing, an epidural will likely be forfeited.

So if you want a tattoo while pregnant, it is advisable to wait after delivery before this is done. Or if you must get it done while pregnant, see your obstetrician who will assess you and take you through the potential risks individual to you. Also make sure you go to a licensed tattoo artist who uses clean, sterilized instruments to avoid getting both skin and blood borne infections.