Is it Safe to Get a Tattoo While Pregnant?

Medically Reviewed by Traci C. Johnson, MD on April 19, 2023
4 min read

Being pregnant is an important time in your life. You’re preparing to become a parent and are responsible for the life growing inside of you. Most women veer away from activities considered high-risk during pregnancy. But what’s considered high-risk isn’t always black and white. 

Tattoos are a grey area when it comes to pregnancy. There’s a lack of research on the topic, with there being no definite rule about its safety. 

There are some known risks of getting a tattoo, and some of those risks can cause major complications in pregnant women. You should be aware of these risks before deciding to get a tattoo while pregnant.

Infection. One of the main risks of being tattooed is the chance of an infection. If your tattoo artist uses contaminated or dirty needles, you could be at risk of getting bloodborne infections, such as hepatitis B. A mother with hepatitis B can easily pass on the infection to her baby at birth.  Babies with hepatitis B have a 90% chance of developing a lifelong infection, and one in four of them will die of health complications from the infection if it is left untreated {CDC: “Protect Your Baby for Life.”}.

Other bloodborne infections, like hepatitis C and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), can also be contracted from unsterile tattoo needles. There is a 6% chance of a mother with hepatitis C passing on the infection to her child. Without treatment, the chance of a mother with HIV passing on the infection to her child can range from 15% to 45%.  

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.

These ingredients can pose a threat to your developing baby, particularly in the first trimester when the main organs are developing. Exposure to heavy metals can affect your baby’s brain development. It can also increase your chances of having a miscarriage or stillbirth. 

Skin changes during pregnancy. When you are pregnant, your body is constantly growing and changing to accommodate the baby inside.  Depending on where you get a tattoo, your ink might not look the same after you’ve given birth and your body has healed. 

Your skin can change in other ways as well.  Melasma, or temporary darkening of the skin, and increased skin sensitivity is common in pregnancy and can affect how your tattoo looks or how you react to being tattooed. 

Inability to receive epidurals. You’ve probably heard the rumor that women with a lower back tattoo can’t get an epidural, but there is little evidence to support this claim. Complications of getting an epidural with a lower back tattoo are rare. 

In some cases, a lower back tattoo may cause problems. If your tattoo appears to have red, scaly skin or is infected, leaking fluid, or still healing, your doctor would likely not give you an epidural. 

Calm any anxiety you might have on this topic by talking to your doctor. They’re the best person to guide you through this process.

If you want to get a tattoo while pregnant, do your research and find a reputable shop before booking an appointment. Many artists won’t tattoo on pregnant women, so be sure to inform the shop and your artist ahead of time to avoid any last-minute issues. 

Here are some things to keep in mind or ask to ensure that you are getting tattooed safely:

  • Make sure the tattoo parlor you choose is clean and reputable. Read online reviews and talk to people who have gotten tattoos there. Ask them about their experiences and if they had any concerns. 
  • In the U.S., check for any state laws and tattoo parlor regulations and make sure the shop you choose is following those laws. 
  • Ask your artist if their ink contains any heavy metals. If it does, it’s best to wait it out until you give birth.  
  • Ask your artist what sterilization procedures they use and how often they’re done. Sterilization machines, called autoclaves, should be used in any tattoo parlor. Sterilized bags containing needles should be opened in front of clients. 
  • Inspect the general cleanliness of the shop when you arrive. Take note of any unsanitary conditions, like a dirty floor or an artist reusing latex gloves. Surfaces should be wiped down regularly.
  • Consider the placement of your tattoo. Avoid getting your tattoo on the stomach or hip area. The skin in those areas stretches a lot during pregnancy, which could distort your new ink later on. 
  • Take proper care of your tattoo afterward, and keep it clean to avoid infection and complications.  Contact a doctor if you see any signs of a rash or infection. 

Getting a tattoo is an important decision, and when you are pregnant, this decision can affect not only you but also your baby. Before you get a tattoo while pregnant, think about all the potential risks and find out ways you can get a tattoo safely. Also, talk to your doctor and get their opinion on the issue.