When I was just a few months pregnant with my son, a well-meaning friend informed me that the tattoo of a strawberry above my right breast might look more like an apple by the time I delivered. I freaked out: It had never occurred to me that pregnancy could affect my body art. Lucky for me, the changes wound up being fairly minimal—but that’s not the case for every inked or pierced mom. Experts tackle five common conundrums.
Any time skin stretches, artwork can become blurry, faded, or misshapen, says Cameron Rokhsar, M.D., associate clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital, in New York City. Tattoos on your stomach, breasts, or hips are most likely to change since those areas expand the most. You may also find that your tattoo maintains its size and shape, but stretch marks develop within it and cause it to fade. “How much of a lasting effect pregnancy has on your body art depends mostly on genetics,” says Dr. Rokhsar. Lotions and creams won’t prevent distortion, but if your skin happens to bounce back, your tattoo may look the same way it once did after your baby arrives. Otherwise, a tattoo artist should be able to touch up the art—or see a dermatologist who can use lasers to remove it.
During pregnancy, earrings and nose rings can stay, and you don’t necessarily have to ditch piercings in your nipples or belly button either. “Some women find that they become uncomfortable as their skin stretches,” says Iffath A. Hoskins, M.D., clinical associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at NYU Langone Medical Center. If you’re in pain, changing up the size or the style of your jewelry may help, as will removing it entirely, of course. Just keep in mind that labor is a different story. A nose or tongue ring can get in the way if you end up needing general anesthesia, and a genital piercing increases your risk of tearing, says Shannon M. Clark, M.D., associate professor of maternalfetal medicine at The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. For a C-section, even plain old earrings must be removed.
It’s better to wait until a few months after your baby arrives. Anytime you get stuck with a needle, whether it’s for a tattoo or a piercing, you run the risk of infection. “When you’re pregnant, there’s also a higher chance that you’ll have a bad reaction to some or all of the ingredients in the ink,” says Dr. Hoskins. Plus, if you get a tattoo or a piercing while your skin is stretched, you may find it looks or feels different once you’re back in pre-pregnancy shape.
A 2010 review in the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists Journal questioned the safety of placing an epidural through tattooed skin, saying the needle could pick up the dye, spread it to the spinal canal, and potentially cause problems. Although such dye transfer is indeed possible, patients have yet to report health complications stemming from it. If your anesthesiologist is able to place your epidural in an area of skin without ink, she will. However, even if that’s not possible, you should still be a candidate for this form of pain relief—as long as your tattoo is completely healed and you’re free of redness, scabbing, and other signs of infection.
“A piercing in the nipple or the areola has zero effect on your ability to produce breast milk, but a nipple ring is a potential choking hazard, so it’s best to leave it out until you’re no longer breastfeeding,” Dr. Hoskins says. You may be surprised to find that milk is expressed from your nipple and also through the hole of the piercing!