TSL: Three reasons not to get a lower back tattoo.

The top three reasons not to get a lower back tattoo are as follows:

Fifties Model Receives Tattoo

3.  How many combinations of accentuating swirls are there? I am by no means against a little ink, but it’s been done.

2. You can have a portrait of Queen Elizabeth pinky-out back there, but no matter how tasteful the tat, the word “tramp” will always rhyme with the word “stamp.”

  1. In many hospitals, pregnant women with a lower back tattoo are denied an epidural.

If you aren’t familiar with babymaking terminology, the epidural is that thing that puts the lalala in labor. It can be tricky to time and not all women choose to get an epidural, but even those of us who intend to have a natural birth sometimes resort to this option when the rubber hits the road.

So what kind of cruel medical professional would deny a woman her God-given right to twenty-first century painkillers in her time of need, just because she got a little tat-tat-tatted up? Well, apparently it’s not that simple.

The epidural needle is hollow, and even though the thing has been around in some form or another for around seventy years, it wasn’t until about ten years ago that doctors became concerned with what could happen if some of the ink from a tattoo got in the hollow part of the needle and made its way to the spine. They’re not exactly sure what would happen, but typically you don’t want things in your spine that aren’t your spine.

It all goes back to 2002, when a couple of anesthesiologists from Vancouver, headed up by Dr. Joanne Douglas (former president of the very important sounding Society for Obstetetric Anesthesia and Perinatology), did a study on three pregnant women, all with lower back tattoos. The tattoos were pierced with the epidural needle and…nothing happened.

But the study raised the question, and it just won’t die. Since anesthesiologists are a cautious (and apparently gossipy) bunch, word got out that scientists were looking into this. You may think that we should just leave the science to the scientists, but you may want to confess to your tattoos with your hospital in advance. Even though there is no definitive evidence, if asked to perform an epidural on a tattoo, a lot of hospitals will either elect to find a piece of undecorated skin or, according to Heidi Murkoff, author of (literally) the world’s best-selling pregnancy book What to Expect When You’re Expecting, even use a scalpel to remove a piece of tattooed skin that is in the way.


While I was hitting up the experts, I also checked in with the Mayo Clinic, since they’re a generally reputable bunch. In short, their head obstetrician and medical editor-in-chief Roger W. Harms, M.D. (who got picked on a lot in Med school) puts it this way: “A lower back tattoo won’t necessarily prevent you from having an epidural during labor.” And like I said, he notes that there are a lot of the theoretical concerns that no one has been able to prove or disprove. If you’ve been wondering, these concerns range anywhere from damage to the tattoo to skin cancer to full-blown paralysis. But hey, since they’re unproven, I suppose these concerns also range to chicken pox and giving birth to babies with superpowers.

In the meantime, it seems like pregnant women aren’t up for donating their spinal health for the sake of tattoo science. And I think I can live with that.


Readers, what is the unexpected when we’re expecting?



4 thoughts on “TSL: Three reasons not to get a lower back tattoo.

  1. Great information for all young women out there!

    Posted by llyne84 | September 10, 2012, 5:44 pm
  2. Tessa,

    Another interesting post. Even though I was aware of the stigma that goes along with epidurals and lower-back tattoos, your post brought to light a lot of the history and research behind it, which kept me interested in a subject I thought I already knew about.

    Your writing is personal, informative and thoroughly entertaining. Awesome job!

    Posted by Joey Strawn | September 23, 2012, 10:05 pm

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