Can You Get a Tattoo While Pregnant?

Updated: October 20, 2020
Mitchell Kramer, M.D., Chair of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Huntington Hospital weighs in on the safety of getting a tattoo while pregnant.
Can you get a tattoo while pregnant?

The words “pregnancy” and “tattoo” are not ones that are often placed together, yet many women wonder if it is possible to get a tattoo while pregnant. Pregnancy is a time of hope and change, and pregnant women may be tempted to mark this miraculous time in their lives with a permanent symbol on their bodies. Questions about getting a tattoo during pregnancy can also arise for women in other scenarios too. It can take some time before women realize that they are pregnant, so it is possible to find out that you got a tattoo while pregnant after the fact.

More: 15 Meaningful Tattoo Ideas for Parents to Honor Kids

Can you get a tattoo while pregnant? You absolutely can, but there is not a black and white answer as to whether you should. Below, you will find everything you need to know if you are considering this question.

Is It Safe to Get a Tattoo While Pregnant?

If you are pregnant, your OBGYN may share things to avoid for safety purposes such as sushi, deli meats, alcohol, and smoking, yet you may not have received any advice about whether or not to get a tattoo. We asked Mitchell Kramer, M.D., Chair of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Huntington Hospital, to share his perspective on this issue:

“I would strongly advise a pregnant patient not to have a tattoo done during pregnancy.  The main concern would be infection. Despite tattoo parlors trying to be as clean and sanitary as possible (assuming it is a licensed and reliable facility), the immune system is somewhat suppressed in pregnancy making the patient more susceptible to infection.  This would not only be bacterial but also viral such as Hepatitis B&C.The skin is also more sensitive in pregnancy and more likely to have an allergic reaction such as contact dermatitis.”

 It is important to realize that there is always a health risk associated with getting a tattoo whether you are pregnant or not. This is because ink is being injected into your body. Ink can contain chemicals that are metal based like lead, mercury, and arsenic. This would be particularly risky during the first trimester of pregnancy because this is the period of time when the fetus is growing and developing at an extremely rapid pace.

Another risk involves the use of a tattoo needle itself. Both hepatitis B and HIV are transferable via needle, and due to the adverse effects and health challenges of both of these infectious diseases, it is best not to increase your risk for contracting either, especially during pregnancy. Overall, getting a tattoo is a stress on your immune system, and it puts your body through a degree of stress anytime. These added worries may be something you decide to avoid in pregnancy.

If I Do Decide to Get a Tattoo While Pregnant, What Should I Do to Make it as Safe as Possible?

If you do decide to get a tattoo while pregnant, the first thing you need to do is inform yourself about all of the risks, as well as the safety precautions you can take. When you are ready to move forward, you will want to spend some time picking the tattoo artist that you trust the most. One important question to ask the tattoo artists you are considering is whether their ink contains any heavy metals; don’t be afraid to let them know that you are pregnant and to ask them to show you proof of their ink ingredients.

Another way to prepare is to make sure that the tattoo parlor is licensed and has good reviews. Consider asking for referrals from customers. You will want to make sure that the tattoo parlor is extremely careful about sanitizing and cleanliness. Tattoo artists should wear gloves and use disposable or sanitized equipment. It is also important to make sure the tattoo artist is using a brand new and sterile cup of ink before s/he begins the process of tattooing.

Does Having a Tattoo Before Pregnancy Affect Pregnancy or Birth?

Generally, back tattoos or tattoos that cross or run along the spine are of the most concern. It is worth recognizing though that according to the American Pregnancy Association, “Very few studies have been done on the risks that could exist for women who have back tattoos and receive an epidural. So far none of these studies have conclusively found any data that indicates there are risks, so most anesthesiologists have no problem giving an epidural to a woman with a back tattoo.” In general, if you are not experiencing an infection or reaction to a past tattoo, then there should not be any problems related to pregnancy and birth.

If you received a tattoo very close to the start of your pregnancy, just remember that it can take some time to heal which may cause some additional discomfort. Another thing that some women report is that the look of tattoos can become slightly warped as the body grows and changes throughout pregnancy. The good news is that tattoos usually return to normal in appearance some time after pregnancy ends.

What is a Safe Alternative to Getting a Tattoo While Pregnant?

If you have spent time informing yourself about the risks of getting a tattoo while pregnant and have decided not to move forward with a traditional ink tattoo, there are still other ways to decorate your body and celebrate this special time in your life. Henna is a beautiful option to consider for tattooing your body in a temporary way. Henna tattoos can generally last anywhere from one to four weeks. Decorating the belly can be an especially poignant way to mark the third trimester. The one safety precaution to take with a henna tattoo during pregnancy is to make sure the artist is not using black henna. The natural form of henna should be used which typically comes in a color range of orange, red, and brown. Women from Indian and Egyptian culture share that receiving henna tattoos when pregnant can even bring you good luck in childbirth according to legend.