Breastfeeding’s Benefits vs. Fear of Infection Risks from a Mother’s New Tattoo

By Betsy Todd, MPH, RN, CIC, AJN clinical editor

scalesPeople, it seems, still have strong feelings about tattoos—and about breastfeeding, too. This month, a judge in Sydney, Australia, ordered the newly tattooed mother of an 11-month-old baby to stop breastfeeding. The judge maintained that the mother’s tattooing the previous month presented “an unacceptable risk of harm” to the baby because the mother could have contracted HIV or hepatitis B (HBV) during the procedure.

The woman had tested negative for both HIV and hepatitis B since she received the tattoos. But poor aseptic technique during tattooing can result in the transmission of bloodborne infections, and people infected with HIV or HBV may not immediately test positive for either virus.

However, while HIV can be transmitted in breast milk, studies indicate that breastfeeding by hepatitis B surface antigen-positive women does not pose a significant risk of infection to their infants.

The theoretical risks put forth by the judge in this case were no match for the well-documented benefits of breastfeeding, and the injunction has already been overturned on appeal.

Still, the case raises interesting questions about how risks to a breastfeeding baby are determined. What if the father had been the person with new tattoos, and he still had a sexual relationship with the baby’s mother? It’s unscientific (and discriminatory) to focus on the breastfeeding mom as the sole potential source of bloodborne pathogen risk.

(Tangentially related: Speaking of attitudes toward people with tattoos, it seems that a 2012 article we ran about patients’ attitudes toward care providers, including nurses, who have visible tattoos or piercings is currently one of our most-viewed articles.)

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2016-11-21T13:02:21+00:00 June 24th, 2015|nursing perspective|0 Comments

About the Author:

Clinical editor, American Journal of Nursing (AJN), and epidemiologist

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