She’s more than just a lactation consultant and an expert on breastfeeding and military moms. As if that weren't enough, Robyn Roche-Paull has also done a comprehensive study of the safety of body modifications -- specifically piercings and tattoos -- when you’re sharing your body via pregnancy or breastfeeding.
I’m so glad I spoke to her about this, because I’ve been planning my first tattoo (I figure I’ve finally, in my 40s, become mature enough to handle it), and I’m still breastfeeding. Duh, I should wait.
How come? Read on.
Amy Keyishian: So if a woman wants a nipple piercing, should she worry that eventually she’ll want to breastfeed, and this’ll screw things up?
Robyn Roche-Paull: No. Chances are, she’ll be fine. Repeated piercings sometimes create scar tissue that can block milk ducts, but in general, a clean piercing by a reputable, professional piercer shouldn’t cause issues. Anecdotally, I have found that breastfeeding is not affected by established nipple piercings. However, some moms do find that they leak, copiously, due to the extra holes in the nipples ... and some babies can find the extra flow difficult to manage. But nothing that isn't manageable by breast pads and some positioning changes.
Will a nursing mother have to take the piercing out when she breastfeeds?
I would recommend that, yes. A baby could choke on a piece of jewelry if it comes apart. It can also cause mouth sores in the baby and harbor bacteria. The mom can take it out for each feeding, or just take it out for the duration of her breastfeeding. She can also use flexible Teflon jewelry while she’s breastfeeding.
Yikes! Won’t the hole close up?
Well, if it healed properly, then it created a fistula, or a channel, that should allow for removal and replacement for each nursing session. But nipple piercings notoriously close up quickly, sometimes within a matter of hours, especially if they are only a few years old. And all the removal and reinsertion can cause irritation and also up the risk for infection, even if you’re very cautious about hand-washing.
What if you haven’t got one yet?
If you’re planning to get pregnant in the next 12 to 18 months, you should put off that piercing. It needs to be healed enough to comfortably remove before the hormonal changes that come with pregnancy. And if you’re pregnant, forget it. No reputable piercer will knowingly pierce a pregnant woman.
How about tattoos? If you’ve already got them, does that have any effect on breastfeeding?
Absolutely not. No matter where your tattoo is, as long as you didn’t contract a disease during the application of that tattoo, it won’t affect your pregnancy or breastfeeding.
The ink doesn’t go into your body?
No. It is deposited into the dermal layer of the skin, where it is trapped. It would have to migrate into the mom’s blood plasma, and then somehow into the milk-making cells of the breast. If that happened, no one would have any tattoos left after a couple of years as the ink would vanish, male or female! Honestly, the risk is negligible. Keep in mind, though, that the inks are not regulated by the FDA and some mothers have experienced allergic reactions to the ink -- not something you might want to deal with while breastfeeding!
What about getting a tattoo when pregnant?
Again, I’d wait. When you’re pregnant, your body’s too busy making a baby. Why would you ask it to work overtime healing a tattoo? Plus, some moms are more sensitive while pregnant, so it might hurt more. And again, a reputable tattoo artist will not tattoo a pregnant woman, period.
Like getting waxed hurts more when you’re pregnant. Ask me how I know.
Right. And then, of course, there’s the risk of infection or an allergic reaction to the ink. Of course, you’re going to pick the most responsible and reputable artist possible, but there’s always an element of risk, and this isn’t the time to take that risk.
So women should wait 'til after the baby’s born.
It’s your call, of course, but that same risk is in play when you’re breastfeeding. If you get an infection, it can be passed to the baby. And once again, most reputable tattoo artists will not, knowingly, tattoo a breastfeeding mother either.
And in general, anyone getting a piercing or tattoo should follow basic safety guidelines.
Yes. You want to be careful about who does this work whether you’re pregnant or breastfeeding or not. If they don't follow universal precautions, I'd run the other direction!
You can read more about the research Roche-Paull has done here.
What’s your experience with tattoos, piercings, and motherhood? Did you get attitude from your doctors? Did you have difficulty breastfeeding? Tell us in the comments!
Image via Aimee.Knight/Flickr