Body modification is becoming a popular form of self-expression, with a variety of piercings, tattoos, and scarification being seen by healthcare providers in the birthing population. The reputations of tattoo parlors and piercing salons vary widely, which requires that those wanting to participate in body modification do their research for safe and sterile practices and the rationale for obtaining the particular form of modification they are seeking. Regulations for these parlors and salons vary from state to state, country to country.
Beal (2018) reports on being able to distinguish between body modification and a mental health disorder called Non-suicidal Self-injury Syndrome (NSSI). Because we as lactation providers see many ages and stages of women in the birthing and breastfeeding population, it is important for us to assess for types of modification and their impact on lactation.
In general, tattoos or scarification on the breast does not impact lactation capability, unless there is an infection present. On the other hand, piercing of the nipple has been shown to cause internal scarring that can impede milk flow and present the possibility for mastitis or galactoceles from milk stasis in the lobes of the breast not draining effectively. Other negative outcomes are reported by Martin as, "...HIV, hepatitis, infection, scar tissue, keloids, plugged ducts, mastitis, and hyperprolactinemia”, (p 319). Think about, also, when the piercing occurred, since it may take up to 18 months for a pierced nipple to heal. Roche-Paul (2009) says, "If [the mother-to-be] should consider planning the piercing at least 12-18 months before getting pregnant...this allows the piercing time to heal and create a fistula or channel before the bodily and hormonal changes that accompany pregnancy occur...and the removal of the jewelry during breastfeeding without the worry of the channel closing up”, (p 5). Nipples can experience hyper- or hypo-sensitivity following a piercing, making the achievement of an effective latch more challenging.
Roch-Paul (2009) addresses tattooing of the breast, saying "Tattoos are a permanent form of artwork etched into the flesh and are not without risk. As with piercings, local and systemic infection are the most prevalent risks of tattooing. Local infections can occur when the recommended aftercare regimen is not followed...Systemic infections occur when universal precautions are not followed by the tattoo artist and can include such diseases as hepatitis B and C and other infectious diseases,” (p 6). She also reports information from a conversation with Frank Nice, RPh that "the possibility of the ink migrating into the mother's blood plasma and then into the milk-making cells of the breast is negligible.” It is, however, possible to have allergic reactions to the tattoo inks...there is always a chance that the tattoo could have an adverse effect on the mother's immune system and that that would be transmitted to the baby”, (p 6).
As in all things lactation, the impact of any type of body modification on breastfeeding must be assessed on an individual basis.
Kathy Parkes, MSN-Ed, RN, IBCLC, FILCA
Professional Development Educator
American Academy of Pediatrics. (2017). AAP announces its 1st recommendations on tattoos, piercings, and body modifications in youth. Retrieved from https://wwwoaap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/Pages/AAP-Announces-Recommendations-on-Tattoos-Piercings-and-Body-Modifications.aspx.
Beal, J.A. (2018). Tattoos and Piercings: Increasingly Accepted but Still Risky. MCN: The American Journal of Maternal/Child Nursing; 43 (2): 112.
Martin, J. (2004). Is nipple piercing compatible with breastfeeding? J Hum Lactation; 20(3): 319,
Roche-Paul, R. (2009). Body modification and breastfeeding: What you need to know. New Beginnings; 29(4): 4.
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