So, you got that lower back tattoo in your early adulthood… you know, your party days. You were free, young, and looking to rock some sexy ink.
But those days are over and now you’re pregnant. While you welcome the change, thinking you’ve left your party days behind you for the joys of motherhood, someone mentions something to you that sends a shiver up your spine:
You can’t get an epidural during childbirth if you have a lower back tattoo.
We’ve all heard it. It’s one of those wicked old wives tales that seem to circulate frequently during pregnancy. You’re bound to hear the lecture—your former transgressions will haunt you into parenthood …but is this a rumor that holds some truth?
I’m sorry to say that in this case, the truth is a little hazier. There’s no clear-cut answer on this one, I’m afraid. There just hasn’t been enough concise research on the matter. But, in my own personal research, I would have to say that it leans toward the positive aspect—a lower back tattoo doesn’t automatically rule out the possibility of an epidural during childbirth. There’s hope yet!
According to the Mayo Clinic, the only reasons you would automatically be disqualified from receiving an epidural due to a lower back tattoo would be if one of the following symptoms were present:
-If the tattoo is raised and scaly
-If the tattoo is red, swollen, or oozing fluid
-If the tattoo is recent and still in the healing phase
The main theoretical concern (notice the use of the term theoretical) regarding epidurals and lower back tattoos is the possible development of skin cancer in the affected area. Of course, these concerns are controversial within the medical field itself, as there is such little empirical data to back up any of these assumptions. In fact, actual reported cases of problems arising from lower back tattoos and epidurals are exceedingly rare.
Despite the lack of proof on these concerns, most anesthesiologists will take several precautions if you decide to go ahead with the epidural. Their first and foremost attempt will be to try to insert the needle in a blank space—a gap in the ink of the tattoo in the selected area. If there is no clean skin, they may try to readjust the placement of the needle, choosing a location slightly above or below the tattoo. If this is not possible, the next step is to knick the skin before entering the needle. What this small cut does is reduce the risk of trapping any tattoo ink pigment inside the needle, which would then deposit it within the deeper tissues of the spinal column.
Truth be told, the biggest risk you face if you decide to undergo an epidural procedure is actually to the appearance of the tattoo itself. Regardless of how the anesthesiologist decides to place the epidural—whether they opt to go through the tattoo itself, knick the skin previously, or go slightly above or below your ink—you will have to be aware that insertion of a needle, especially at the size of the epidural needles, will leave behind a scar. This scar could ultimately affect the appearance of your tattoo, removing pigment, raising the skin, or simply slurring the lines. Depending on your attachment to your tattoo, you may want to forgo getting the epidural and make your way through labor the natural way—using breathing and relaxation techniques to conquer the pain. After all, you managed to get a lower back tattoo, so clearly you’re tolerant of pain!
As for the medical risks associated with having an epidural with the presence of a back tattoo, speak to your doctor. They’ll be able to discuss the risks and benefits of the whole epidural procedure, as well as any perceived risks of doing so with your lower back ink.