Answer: There is no evidence to show that tattooing has any adverse effects on breastfeeding.
Tattoos are created with a tool that uses a needle to inject colored dye into the top layer of skin. The ink does not transfer into the milk because the molecules are too big to get into the blood stream.
Since tattooing is a procedure that involves breaking the skin, there is always the risk of bacteria entering the tattoo site and causing infection.
Some people have an allergic reaction to the tattoo, which can cause temporary inflammation and itchiness. If the site becomes infected, it is usually just a matter of keeping the area clean and dry and applying a topical ointment until it heals. Neither the bacteria causing the infection or the ointment will transfer into your breast milk.
The biggest risk of getting a tattoo is the possibility of getting a blood borne disease like hepatitis C or HIV from unclean needles.
This sounds scary, but to put it into perspective: It’s estimated that about one out of three adults in the US has at least one tattoo. They’re now more popular than ever, especially among women of childbearing age (18-35).
Overall, tattooing is a very safe procedure. There has never been a case of HIV infection caused by tattooing, and the last documented case of a hepatitis C infection caused by a tattoo was in 1950. Studies have shown that the risk of getting hepatitis C from a dentist procedure is greater than the risk of contracting it from a tattoo.
I wouldn’t recommend having a tattoo on your breast while you are nursing because it will be tender until it heals, and those little hands and feet bumping around against it can be painful.
Anytime you get a tattoo, or any other kind of body modification, make sure you screen the shop carefully to make sure that all safety precautions are being followed, and follow all post-procedure instructions regarding care and cleaning in order to minimize the risk of infection.
If the tattoo artist uses universal precautions (which all reputable artists do), the risk is minimal to you and basically non-existent to your nursing baby.
Anne Smith, IBCLC
Updated April 2017
FAQ on Tattoos and Breastfeeding from La Leche League International
Body Modification and Breastfeeding: What You Need to Know: Roche-Paull, from New Beginnings, Vol. 29 No. 4, 2009, p. 4-8.
Statistics Show Lower Hepatitis Risk in Tattoo Shops than in Dentists’ offices: http://www.tattooartist.com/health.html
HIV Transmission: CDC (Center of Disease Control and Prevention)