Today, tattoos are trendy at any age. In Canada, this started during the 1990s, and today almost three out of five people have a tattoo, even if it is not always visible. The main reasons for getting a tattoo are to remember a specific time of life (beautiful or painful), and as such the reason and location of the tattoo have meaning. If in the past it was to show belonging to a group, today tattoos are about originality, seduction, beautification or provocation.
By definition, a tattoo is a symbolic, religious, decorative or esthetic drawing made by introducing ink into the skin using a tattoo machine or a device made up of tiny sharp needles attached to an electric handle. When the process is started, the needles move up and down quickly, piercing the skin superficially (1-4 mm), which allows for the injection of colourants between the epidermis and dermis. The insertion depth is likely to lead to infection or the transmission of bacterial or viral infections (ex.: hepatitis B, C and HIV). When choosing a tattoo artist, it is essential to consider health standards, the quality of natural products used and how rigorous they are in executing the procedure.
You can feel slight discomfort all the way to acute pain.
You can feel slight discomfort all the way to acute pain depending on how sensitive each person is and the location tattooed. Surprisingly, there is little bleeding during the procedure. Sometimes tiny drops of blood may appear during or after – something like a scratch – but most of the time nothing.
Without a doubt, it is better to use black coloured ink that is 100% natural due to the composition, as industrial pigments, still used by some tattoo artists, can contain metals that are harmful to health. These chemical products, such as aluminium, barium, iron, mercury, lead, copper, arsenic, cobalt, nickel and selenium, which will be gradually absorbed by the body, can cause some cancers, illnesses and skin problems, including eczema, urticaria and allergies. Even temporary tattoos can contain these components! It’s better to ask probing questions before getting tattooed because more often than not, the tattoo is permanent and only a laser can remove it. This technique is done using specialised equipment by experienced professionals and is very expensive.
What about during pregnancy and breastfeeding?
In light of my research and meetings with experienced tattoo artists, it’s clear that getting a tattoo during pregnancy is not advised. Many questions remain regarding tattoos during pregnancy, so why take the risk?
Here are some reasons to avoid tattoos during pregnancy:
- The woman can have vertigo and fainting spells associated with lower blood pressure
- Pregnancy hormones change the skin’s texture, and it may react differently to specific products and predispose it to allergies
- A pregnant woman’s skin is more fragile, and the insertion of needles can lead to infections (entry point for different microbes)
- A pregnant woman’s immune system is weaker at certain times during pregnancy, which increases the risk of infection and affecting the baby
- Getting a tattoo is a stress for the body and pain which can provoke contractions and premature labour
- Even if the impact of the chemical colourants is not well known, we suspect that there are negative impacts for the future mother – and baby – when the body absorbs the metals
- A pregnant woman gains weight over nine months, which can cause the appearance of stretch marks and naturally stretch the skin. This can distort or modify the appearance of tattoos already present. Progesterone, a pregnancy hormone, helps maintain the elasticity of the skin, and tattoos around the belly button, on the calves, buttocks and thighs will stretch as the pregnancy progresses
- No information leads us to believe that there is a risk when a pregnant or breastfeeding woman gets tattooed with 100% natural products. But you need to be aware of the lack of data, and you should wait until you have weaned your baby before getting one. There is always a risk of infection, and it takes time for a woman to regain her pre-pregnancy weight (distended skin)
- There are no controls for inks that are used and sold, and there are no standards as these products are not considered a medication. So we don’t really know what they contain. So always be careful and avoid taking risks.
- You should not have a tattoo removed during pregnancy and while breastfeeding.
- Women who already have tattoos on their stomach before pregnancy should hydrate their skin frequently using hydrating or anti-stretch mark creams or oils
- Don’t panic if your tattoo becomes distorted, for example around the belly button, because most of the time it will return to normal but perhaps with a lighter colour
Epidurals and Tattoos
Many pregnant women who have a tattoo on their lower back worry or have questions about their ability to have an epidural during labour and childbirth. Given that many aspects remain unknown, some anesthetists are hesitant about doing the procedure if the tattoo is large and it covers the normal insertion sites (there are several insertion spots). However, usually a tattoo will not inhibit an epidural; the anesthetist will avoid pigmented zones (healthy ink-free skin) or modify their angle of approach (safe zones) because there is a potential risk that the product (tiny pigment particle) enters via the perforation made by the specialist and enters the spinal fluid, which can lead to severe infections and back pain. Dr. Mior, an anesthetist, told me that we don’t have data about the innocuousness of inks used in tattoos and, in addition to infection risks, there may be possible toxicity and potential inflammatory reactions. In very rare cases, the anesthetist may prefer to remove a small piece of skin at the puncture site to remove the ink before performing the epidural procedure.
In the case of a caesarean section, doctors will perform the surgery even if there is a tattoo present on the site due to avoid possible post-op complications (choosing the lesser evil).
Piercings and Pregnancy
Piercings fall under the same category as tattoos and should be avoided during pregnancy. If you already have a pierced belly button, nipple or vulva, you should remove them by the second trimester to prevent discomfort, pain, redness, itchiness or allergies due to skin changes as the pregnancy progresses.
I hope this article has helped answer your questions about tattoos and piercings, and I strongly encourage you to choose a tattoo artist that careful, experienced and uses 100% natural products if you want to get tattooed safely in the future.
The Baby Expert
This post is also available in: Français