Are tattoos safe during nursing?
© 2013 Roy Benaroch, MD
“I’ve just recently gotten a tattoo and I’m still breastfeeding my daughter. Is it safe?”
There are two potential issues with getting a tattoo while nursing, though neither one is a huge risk.
One is that tattoo needles can theoretically transmit diseases like hepatitis C or HIV. However, legitimate tattoo artists use sterile or single-use needles along with other steps to ensure tattooing is safe. The risk of transmission if reasonable precautions are taken is very close to zero. So a back-alley tattoo is a bad idea, but a tattoo from a legit business that takes infection control seriously is unlikely to lead to unexpected diseases.
The other potential issue is from the tattoo ink itself. Tattoo inks are not regulated medically– that is, they’re not safety-tested to make sure they’re safe for injection. However, I know of no actual cases of babies being sickened from the chemicals in tattoo inks. In practice, tattoo inks have been used for many, many years and are probably safe. But there’s no medical authority watching over tattoo inks, and no one can guarantee that they’re safe for you or your breast milk.
I will say that it would be a bad idea to have a tattoo removed while nursing. Tattoo removal involves using a laser to break the ink pigment into little bits that can then be carried away and excreted by the body. That means that the tattoo ink bits will be in your blood, traveling around, and we really know even less about the safety of these little particles than we do about the safety of the intact ink. If you have a tattoo and you’re nursing, it is much better to leave it alone than try to have it laser-removed.
So: no one can guarantee that tattooing is safe while nursing, but with reasonable precautions it probably is, and if there is any risk it’s probably very, very small. The definite good health benefits of nursing both for you and your baby in my judgment mean that you ought to keep nursing, and don’t worry about it.