Body Modifications and Breastfeeding

Body Modifications are a group of practices that include branding, scarification, tattooing, piercing, and other body art.  Body modifications have been around nearly as long as breastfeeding. Archaeologists, historians and body art practitioners note that tattooing and body piercing have been performed, in one form or another, worldwide for over 5000 years. However, within the last 20-30 years body modifications have experienced an explosion in popularity, with people both young and old getting body mods of various types.  More than 20 million Americans, half of whom are women, have one or more tattoos and up to 30% have piercings, and many have both (DeBoer, Seaver, Angel, & Armstrong, 2008).  This surge in body modifications shows no signs of slowing down in the near future.

Many women today get tattoos and piercings as a form of self-expression or to commemorate a special occasion or life event (Caliendo, Armstrong, & Roberts, 2005).  For whatever reason, women today have or are getting body modifications in greater numbers at the same time that many are also becoming mothers.  Along with the rise in body modifications, breastfeeding has seen resurgence in popularity as well.  With breastfeeding rates climbing worldwide it is not surprising that many new mothers, who either have body modifications or who may be contemplating them in the future, might have questions as to the safety of breastfeeding. So what’s a hip, tattooed or pierced and breastfeeding (or soon-to-be) mom to do then?  Is there breastfeeding during or after tattooing and nipple piercings?

Nipple piercings, while a favorite among body mod fans, require patience and are not without risk.  Nipple piercings can take up to a full year to heal completely, with infections and rejections the most common problems. If you are contemplating getting your nipples pierced and also want to have a baby, it is best if you plan the piercing at least 12-18 months before you plan to get pregnant. This allows the piercing time to heal and create a fistula, or channel, before the bodily and hormonal changes that accompany pregnancy occur.  It also will allow for removal of the jewelry during breastfeeding without the worry of the channel closing up. The nipple(s) must have time to heal and cannot have any saliva enter the open wound and the jewelry must stay in place during the healing period, something that is next to impossible to achieve with a young baby to feed frequently.

Many women who already have nipple piercings are concerned about their ability to breastfeed in the future. Breastfeeding is not generally affected by established nipple piercings.  Human nipples have between 8-12 nipple pores therefore it is unlikely that a well-healed piercing will block all of the pores.  However, there has been some recent research pointing to a few reported cases of abnormal milk production in women with nipple piercings due to possible duct obstruction (Garbin, Deacon, Rowan, Hartmann, & Geddes, 2009).  Often women find that when they do remove their jewelry for a feeding that milk leaks out the piercing, this can be problematic if the flow is too fast for your infant.  Be proactive about preventing or reducing any engorgement and be on the lookout for blocked ducts or mastitis, all of which may be exacerbated by nipple piercings (Armstrong, Caliendo, & Roberts, 2006).  It is best to remove your jewelry for each feeding, to reduce the risk of your baby aspirating or choking, although some women do nurse with flexible PTFE barbells in place (Angel, 2009).  Removing your jewelry also reduces the risk of latching-on problems, damage to the inside of your baby’s mouth or the passing of bacteria from the jewelry to your baby.  If you chose to keep your jewelry out permanently until your baby is weaned, be aware that even a fully healed piercing may close and some women have noticed nipple pain in a previously pierced nipple while nursing (Wilson-Clay & Hoover, 2005).  You can keep the piercing open by inserting an insertion taper on a regular basis.  If the channel closes completely wait at least three months post-weaning before re-piercing  (Armstrong, Caliendo, & Roberts, 2006).  If you face any problems with breastfeeding be sure to contact your local LLL Leader or an IBCLC for help.  For problems with your piercing you should be seen by a qualified piercer.

Tattoos are a permanent form of artwork etched into the flesh and are not without risk as well.  As with piercings, local and systemic infections are the most prevalent risks of tattooing. Already present tattoos, on the breast or elsewhere, do not impact breastfeeding. The possibility of the ink migrating into the mother’s blood plasma and then into the milk-making cells of the breast, is next to impossible. It is however, possible to have allergic reactions to the tattoo inks, which are not regulated by the FDA (FDA, 2008).  Many, if not most, professional tattoo artists will not knowingly tattoo a woman who is currently breastfeeding or will actively discourage a new mother from doing so. It is felt that the body needs time to heal the tattoo and that is harder to do so when the body is producing milk, it also lessens the possibility of any infections from being passed on to the baby (Hudson, 2009).  A newborn baby is far more vulnerable to any possible changes in breastmilk than a nursing toddler.  Going to a professional tattoo shop following Universal Precautions also lessens the risk of any infection that might be acquired.

Tattoo Removal It is estimated that 20% of those who get tattoos later regret the decision and wish to have them removed (Armstrong, et al., 2008). Tattoo removal is now accomplished with the use of Q-switched lasers. The laser works by producing short pulses of intense light that passes through the skin to be absorbed by the tattoo pigment. The laser energy causes the tattoo pigment to fragment into smaller particles, which are picked up by the body’s immune system and filtered out. The particles are considered to big to pass into breastmilk.

Whether you are contemplating a tattoo or getting your nipples pierced it is very important that your tattoo artist or piercer follow Universal Precautions. Professional tattooists and piercers will follow all universal precautions such as sterilization of the tattoo machine and piercing implements using an autoclave, single-use inks, ink cups, gloves and needles, bagging of equipment to avoid cross contamination, thorough hand washing with disinfectant soap and the wearing of gloves when performing the tattoo or piercing (Armstrong, et al., 2006).  Any jewelry that is to be inserted should be kept sterile before insertions as well.  It is important to screen the tattooist and the shop carefully, checking with the local health department for local laws and regulations. Reputable body artists support regulations and legislation to keep their customers safe and to legitimize the profession.  The Association of Professional Piercers and the Association of Professional Tattooists both have a wealth of information on safe body modifications and what to look for in a practitioner.

So go ahead and make a statement with your piercings and tattoos, just follow the rules and make sure your piercer or tattoo artist does too.  Body art and breastfeeding are not mutually exclusive, and both are beautiful.


Article courtesy
Written by: Robyn Roche-Paull, BS, IBCLC, LLLL


Young Parent Outreach is a dynamic resource program providing services and support to young pregnant women, young moms and dads, and their children in the Greater Victoria area.

These services – provided by The Cridge Centre for the Family – are designed to give young pregnant women and young moms and dads the help and support network they need to have healthy babies and to be effective, successful parents. Whether it’s housing, income assistance, food back or dealing with child custody or substance abuse, The Cridge Young Parent Outreach program can help.

Facts about BC Youth and Pregnancy

Teenage pregnancy is associated with health challenges and health risk behaviours. However, promoting protective factors in the lives of young people who are involved in a pregnancy may help foster healthy development. This is the conclusion from the recently released fact sheet from the McCreary Center Society about youth and pregnancy involvement.

The fact sheet used data from over 29,000 youth who completed the 2008 BC Adolescent Health Survey and focuses on sexually active youth. (Sexually active refers to youth who answered on the survey that they had ever had sexual intercourse). The fact sheet contrasts those who had a history of pregnancy involvement with their peers who did not report pregnancy involve­ment.

In total 22% of BC youth reported that they were sexually active. Among sexually active youth, 7% had been involved in at least one pregnancy. Males were more likely than females to be involved in multiple pregnancies and to be unsure if they had been involved in a pregnancy (4% vs. 1%).

Some youth appeared to be more likely to be involved in a pregnancy including lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB) youth, youth who had been in government care (foster care, group home, or on a youth agreement), youth who had been physically or sexually abused, youth who had run away or moved frequently, youth who went to bed hungry because there was not enough food at home, and youth with a family member or friend who had committed suicide.

The fact sheet establishes the relationship between pregnancy involvement and risky sexual behaviours, substance use, school involvement, mental health and support networks. Youth with a history of pregnancy were more likely than non-preg­nancy involved youth to have reported binge drinking (31% vs. 15%), skipped 11 or more full days of school in the past month (21% vs. 4%), view themselves less positively, for example, they were less likely to say they felt good about themselves (72% vs. 84%) and more likely to say that their lives were not very useful (30% vs. 17%). For youth who were involved in a pregnancy the presence of protective factors, such as supportive adults and peers was helpful in reducing some of the risky behaviours linked to poorer health and greater health compromising behaviours.

Sexually active youth who were less likely to be involved in a pregnancy reported having protective factors in their lives such as positive family, school and peer relationships, were engaged in meaningful activities and felt they were good at something (such as sports, school, art, comput­ers, life skills).

Interested in learning more about protective factors? The BC Council for Families’ My Tween and Me program combines information, discussion and interaction, parents become aware of the risks tweens face, and they also learn to identify the protective factors that are unique to their family: factors that will help prevent risk-taking behaviours later in their tween’s life. If you are interested in becoming a trained My tween and Me Leader the Langley Middle Childhood Matters Committee is hosting a training on April 12 – 13, 2012. Contact Hattie Hogeterp – Langley Middle Childhood Matters Coordinator for more details.



Article courtesy: by Pilar Onatra

Mothers’ Depression Changes Babies Language Learning

According to new research released from UBC, babies born to depressed mothers acquire language skills at a slightly different rate than do babies of non-depressed women. Not only that, but the children of women treating their depression with serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SRIs (a common antidepressant) also show unique differences in language acquisition. What does this mean for parents, and for kids? The researchers caution against reading too much into the findings, emphasizing that they are preliminary.

“Poor mental health during pregnancy is a major public health issue for mothers and their families” says study co-author Dr. Tim Oberlander, a professor of developmental pediatrics at UBC. “Non-treatment is never an option. While some infants might be at risk, others may benefit from mother’s treatment with an SRI during their pregnancy. We are just not sure at this stage why some but not all infants are affected in the same way. It is really important that pregnant women discuss all treatment options with their physicians or midwives.”

UBC’s Janet Werker, a professor of psychology and researcher with the UBC Early Years Development Research Group, has been studying children’s language acquisition for years. Her research has shown that during the first months of life, babies rapidly tune in to the language sounds they hear around them and the sights they see (movements in the face that accompany talking), and start to tune out language sounds in languages that they don’t commonly hear spoken. Her most recent research has pointed to intriguing differences in the length of time that babies take in this developmental stage when their mothers are depressed, and if they are taking antidepressants. Her team’s preliminary findings suggest that SRI treatment may accelerate babies’ ability to attune to the sounds and sights of the native language, while maternal depression untreated by SRIs may prolong the period of tuning.

But does a speeded up or prolonged period of language recognition affect how well babies ultimately do at acquiring language?  It’s too early to tell, according to Werker: “At this point, we do not know if accelerating or delaying the achievement of these milestones of early infancy has any consequences on later language acquisition,” she says, noting that she aims to address such questions in future studies. “However, these preliminary findings highlight the importance of environmental factors on infant development and put us in a better position to support not only optimal language development in children but also maternal well-being.”


Article courtesy:

by Pilar Onatra
Program Coordinator