Pregnancy is one of life’s miracles- the process of growing a new life inside you, and creating a new living human. The way our bodies have evolved to allow for this process is incredible, and it’s a true testament to evolution and human ability. Pregnancy can be an exciting time for some and a stressful time for others. Our bodies are undergoing extreme changes and hormonal fluctuations, our organs are moving position inside of us! It’s intense! Add into the mix having piercings and body modifications, and this becomes a very very…interesting process. Becoming pregnant can absolutely affect your piercings, sometimes in ways you may have never expected. Today's blog will look at exactly how pregnancy can affect piercings, and how we can try to handle that.
CW: Discussions of miscarriage, abortion
Pregnancy happens in three trimesters, each broken down to about 13 weeks. Pregnancy begins when a fertilized egg attaches to the lining of your uterus, which usually starts about 6 days after fertilization and takes about 3-4 days to complete. During the next few weeks, the embryo begins to develop, and you may experience breast tenderness, exhaustion, frequent urination, heartburn, nausea, and vomiting. Your body will begin to produce extra blood, and your heart beats faster to transport this blood around your body. Your nipple and areola may grow and change in size and color, and acne outbreaks may occur. Your breasts may grow and change in shape and size. Side effects from the increased blood flow can include bleeding gums, nosebleeds, and nasal stuffiness. During all of this, you are gaining weight, and your body composition is changing. Hormones are playing a huge role in this, going wild as they instruct your body how to prepare for the baby. You may have that pregnancy glow and beautiful hair and skin- but you also may have hair loss, acne, and extreme body changes. Your very organs are shifting out of the way to create space for the baby.
Pregnancy is a full body process, and the changes that occur affect quite literally all of you, and that includes your piercings.
Hormonal Effects and Bodily Changes
Among the ways pregnancy affects our piercings, hormonal effects are truly first and foremost. Hormones affect almost everything in our body, and during pregnancy, they are the conductors telling your body what to do and how to change. Human chorionic gonadotropin, Oestrogen, and progesterone are responsible for most of the changes. Hormonal changes are also notorious for causing skin flare-ups of every kind, from acne to cysts, to even causing scars and tattoos to become raised, itchy, and irritated. And of course, causing piercings to get irritated as well. We’ve talked about this before on my blog discussing some of the unique issues and struggles for trans clients taking hormone replacement therapy and how it affects their piercings. Well, pregnancy hormones and changes make HRT look tame. I have seen pregnancy wreak havoc on even the oldest, most well-healed piercings folks have.
And it makes perfect sense! Your skin is changing as your body prepares it to stretch and contain new life. Your body composition is changing as you gain weight and nourish your baby. And all of these changes affect your piercings. Some find the effects can be positive- stretched piercings can loosen up and sometimes stretch faster during pregnancy, as the skin’s elasticity is better. Some folks find piercings that had been giving them issues calm down and are perfect, and their skin is just alight with that pregnancy glow.
That, however, is uncommon. What is more common is piercings suddenly becoming swollen, tender, itchy, irritated, experiencing bumps, increased secretions, dry exfoliating skin, and even migration and rejection. Sometimes the body just goes haywire, and looks at any foreign object, including piercings, as a threat to the pregnancy, and decides to do away with it. Any piercings that are newer or still healing usually get this the worst, but I’ve seen even clients’ first lobe piercings that they’ve had since they were a baby become swollen and tender and weeping.
Often times we can troubleshoot this issue by swapping to longer, simpler jewelry, and doing some extra care and cleaning for the piercings. If you do start experiencing issues with your piercings during your pregnancy please come in to see your piercer and let us help! We’ve usually encountered this before, and are prepared with new jewelry that has space for these changes and aftercare tips to help soothe things. Sometimes piercings do begin migrating and rejecting, or are just so irritated and having so many issues that removal becomes the best course of action. We are never happy about having to tell a client they should retire a piercing they had and love, but we also want to prioritize your pregnancy and the baby- and that may mean giving up a piercing that’s causing more problems than its worth.
Troubleshooting should be done on a case-by-case basis as everyone’s pregnancy is going to be different and may need different things to help soothe and care for them. Understand that this is a concern with pregnancy and be prepared to potentially have issues with your piercings and be ready to go see a piercer at the first sign of issues.
Nipple and Genital Piercings
Nipple and genital piercings are among the most affected by the changes of pregnancy. Breast and nipple changes happen early on as your body gets ready to produce milk for the baby. Breasts can double and even triple in cup size, and nipples and areolas can become raised, puffy, dark, and I have even had clients develop inverted nipples during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Many clients end up removing nipple piercings as they become quite tender due to the changes to the breasts. They may also become irritated, producing much more crust and secretions than before, dealing with irritation bumps, dry exfoliating skin, or discoloration around the entrance and exit of the piercing. Also, if you intend to breastfeed, you’ll need to remove jewelry anyway as it can become a choking hazard. You can learn more about that here. Some clients do manage to keep their piercings for the duration of pregnancy, but it's common to need to get jewelry lengthened to accommodate for the changes to that tissue.
There is no shame in choosing to retire these piercings during pregnancy. I know some clients can feel like they “failed” as a client, but please know that it's incredibly normal for these piercings to have issues and become tender or irritated, and it’s also normal to simply not want to deal with that discomfort. The good news is if the piercings were healthy when they were removed, they often don’t fully close but just shrink, and we can reopen them after delivery and breastfeeding. If they have closed, we are almost always able to re-pierce.
Now some folks do experience migration and rejection due to pregnancy, and this can be a bit more severe. Sometimes your body just decides it’s over having these piercings, or the nipples grow more rapidly than the piercings can accommodate for, and the piercings end up beginning to push out. If you are seeing signs of migration or rejection, I would head to your piercer ASAP to have them check what is going on. It’s usually best to remove piercings showing these signs as early as possible- if left in and allows to migrate or fully reject the scarring left behind is often not able to be repierced. For this reason, removal is the best option.
For genital piercings, similar changes to the tissue can occur especially in the later stages of pregnancy. The area may become swollen, tender, and sore, and piercings may deal with irritation bumps, additional secretions, discoloration, swelling, and even migration or rejection. It’s important to have a trusted friend, loved one, or piercer check in on your piercings as once your stomach is large enough, you may be unable to check them on your own. We mostly want to watch for signs of migration and rejection, which can occur due to pregnancy.
Also please consider covering your piercings in your delivery plan. Some doctors and facilities are okay with allowing you to leave some piercings in, others do not allow any at all, and some piercings may risk damage depending on how the birth goes. Depending on your delivery and pregnancy, and any all piercings may need to come out. In general, Inner Labia Piercings, Fourchettes, and Princess Albertinas must be removed. Anatomy and delivery depending, Outer labia, Triangle, Glans, and VCH piercings may also require removal. Having a plan for what you are doing with piercings for your birth, having someone who can advocate for you, and having someone around with the proper knowledge and tools to remove jewelry as needed.
Bellybutton piercings are widely popular and many clients sport one. But what happens to this piercing once you are pregnant? Well, your stomach is going to expand quite a lot to create space for your uterus to expand upward for the baby. This often has interesting effects on our navels, from just stretching to stretch marks developing around it, to your entire navel popping out into an outie. As you might imagine, if you have your navel pierced this can cause some interesting side effects for your piercing as well.
The primary concern with navel piercings during pregnancy is migration. That skin is stretching so much and so taught that it can often cause existing piercings to migrate and grow toward the surface of the skin. One way to avoid this is to remove any jewelry. The pressure from the barbell remaining in and the skin stretching tightly over it, coupled with movement, rubbing from clothing, etc is much more likely to cause migration. So removing the jewelry once you begin to show, and keeping the area moisturized and hydrated is the best thing you can do.
And yes, I do mean removing all jewelry. You’ll see advertisements for “pregnancy belly rings” online which are long plastic navel curves, and they are awful. To start, anything worn in your piercing will allow for the tissue to stretch over it and possibly cause migration, plastic, metal, it doesn’t matter. But plastic is very low quality, and many people find they are sensitive to it. Even if you usually aren’t, the changes in your skin from pregnancy may make you more reactive to these materials than usual. So the plastic can cause irritation of its own, further encouraging that migration we want to avoid.
The good news is it’s very uncommon for navel piercings to close as a result of removal during pregnancy. They usually just shrink a bit, and after your delivery, once your navel has recovered (usually 3 months post-birth) we can use special tools to gently reopen the piercing and get your usual jewelry back in.
A commonly asked question is if folks can get new piercings while they are pregnant. And the answer is, unfortunately, a resounding no. Your body is so busy doing so many things to build that new life growing inside of you. The last thing we need to do is ask your body and immune system to also try to heal a piercing- that is going to take 6-9 months to fully heal- that piercing will still be healing by the time the baby is born! Beyond that, as we’ve discussed the hormones and bodily changes that occur during pregnancy are hell for even well-healed and healthy piercings to go through. To get a new piercing while your body is undergoing those changes is just asking for a lumpy, bumpy, and potentially permanently damaging healing process if it even heals at all. You should allow your body to focus on getting through the pregnancy.
About 3-6 months after delivery it will be safe for you to get new piercings again. We suggest waiting this time to allow your body to recover from pregnancy and birth, following medical guidelines on recovery times. Once your body is in the clear and healthy enough after that, we are happy to pierce you again.
Sadly about 10-20% of known pregnancies end in miscarriage. This is the spontaneous loss of pregnancy before the 20th week. This is the most common type of pregnancy loss and affects hundreds of thousands of families every year. Miscarriage can still come with a large amount of physical and hormonal side effects, and the stress and grief following a miscarriage can also cause irritations and issues for our piercings. Most of the issues are the same as mentioned above- swelling, tenderness, irritation bumps, secretions, and migration or rejection. Dealing with these irritations and issues after dealing with the loss of a pregnancy can seem to be an impossible task. Please remember to be kind to yourself during this time. Don’t hesitate to ask for help from friends or family, or ask your piercer if you can come in just for a cleaning and checkup. We can often adjust care routines to be more manageable during difficult times or suggest different approaches to care that feel more possible for you. Focus on taking care of yourself, nourishing your body, and giving yourself time to recover. As you get healthier, your piercings will follow suit.
For a variety of reasons, people may choose to terminate a pregnancy once they find out they are pregnant. This process is an abortion, and this can also cause some flare-ups for piercings. Because these usually happen early on in pregnancy, there usually aren’t as many side effects as there can be from carrying a pregnancy to term. But the hormonal changes are already starting before the abortion happens, meaning some flareups, tenderness, irritation, and swelling are all possible. There is also a time period where your body must adjust to no longer being pregnant, and your piercing may continue to flare up through this. Consider seeing a piercer for personalized troubleshooting advice, or reaching out to someone to help you with tour piercings.
However your pregnancy is going, understand that it is very common for you to have some irritation and issues throughout this process, and go into it prepared for your piercings to potentially have issues. Make a plan for following up with your piercer, and have a trusted friend or family member who can assist you with your piercings should you need some help. Happy healing!