Here's Why You Should Remove Your Belly Button Piercing When You're Pregnant2020-12-05
Navel piercings have long been a ubiquitous symbol of sex appeal and youth, especially during MTV's TRL era of the early aughts; belly button rings were everywhere, and the accompanying shimmering hardware was displayed proudly. Fast forward almost 20 years, and many of those teens with belly button piercings have become parents.
"Navel piercings in the millennial-plus demographic was a very, very, very common thing to do," says Chicago-based board-certified plastic surgeon Julius Few. "I think piercings on the body are still quite common, and corrective procedures are something that comes up in my practice quite often."
While there is no medical reason to remove a completely healed navel piercing during pregnancy, according to the American Pregnancy Association, a piercing is stretched both up and down, as well as side to side, says Beverly Hills board-certified plastic surgeon Sheila Nazarian. "That movement, in combination with the natural expansion of the skin with pregnancy, causes a stretched-out look, and the only way to remove this appearance is to cut it out."
Santa Monica-based board-certified plastic surgeon and president of the California Society of Plastic Surgeons, Steven Teitelbaum, has been performing "mommy makeovers," including belly button piercing procedures, for nearly 25 years, well before it was an established practice with an ill-advised moniker.
But just as no two pregnancies are alike, the degree of postpartum scarring depends on a multitude of factors, and there are steps those expecting who have navel piercings can take to reduce scarring.
"The piercing has to come out the minute you knows you're going to be pregnant," says Few. "When you've pierced that area, you've changed the local anatomy, and you've more or less predisposed that area to sagging."
Proactively removing the piercing allows the body to start working to close the piercing track before the area has begun to stretch, thereby avoiding some of the more serious scarring, he says.
"It's a little hard for pregnant women to take out their own jewelry once their stomach has started to grow. It's a matter of dexterity and being able to see what you're doing," explains Adrian Castillo, an artist at 108 Studios, with 11 years of body piercing experience and who estimates he has 'several thousands' of navel piercings in the books. "It depends on what kind of jewelry you have, too."
Castillo recommends seeing a licenced piercer to remove navel jewelry, even if the hole is already healed, not only because the angles can be tricky, but also to ensure no bacteria buildup has occurred.
As for when to have your navel piercing removed, it varies from person to person, according to Castillo. "It really, really just depends on how fast your body's changing, because your belly button is going to keep stretching, so it just depends on the person. But I always tell people to keep an eye on their belly button and always keep in touch with their doctor. Don't be afraid to ask, 'Is this starting to look bad?' and then taking action from there."
Although it's not medically unsafe to keep a navel piercing throughout the pregnancy, all body jewelry is not created equal, especially when it comes to pregnancy outies. Soon-to-be-parents who choose to keep their piercing intact for nine months may find their pre-pregnancy jewelry uncomfortable, especially if their belly button pops.
"There's definitely jewelry that I'd recommend pregnant women staying away from," says Castillo. "You'd want to avoid most metal-based jewelry for sure, like steel, titanium, and gold, even. There's no flexibility with metals."
As bellies begin to expand, jewelry with no give may rub against or get caught on clothing, which can be painful. If this happens, Castillo recommends replacing a metal piercing with a bendy bar made of silicon, plastic or PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene, which, despite the intimidating name, is just another form of Teflon used on non-stick pans, but produced without the dangerous chemical PFOA).
"That kind of bioplastic jewelry or retainer bends with your body and from what I hear, is just more comfortable for women," says Castillo. "I always tell people, one, listen to your doctor, most importantly, and two, there's a higher chance of it staying open if you just take it out altogether early on in your pregnancy and putting it back in right after."
Worst case scenario, says Castillo, even if the piercing does close a bit, you can still "get in there post-pregnancy with a really small taper, which is something we use to stretch holes."
Although bodies react to stressors differently, the scar tissue created by a piercing is not going to stretch uniformly, or even the same way your regular skin stretches, says New York City board-certified plastic surgeon Melissa Doft, which means that the belly button area is going to look visibly incongruent compared to the body's natural skin texture.
"It often has a webby appearance because you get localized stretch marks around that area," says Few. "The skin itself has become distorted; it's a combination of ab scarring mixed with the skin stretching in an abnormal way."
Once the piercing track has hardened to form thick scar tissue, noninvasive cosmetic procedures will have no effect. To get rid of the webbing effect, a doctor "basically has to cut it out," says Few, but there are a few options to consider, depending on the severity of the distortion.
"I don't think you can ever fully go back to a completely normal appearance, but you can make it much better by doing what’s called an umbilicoplasty to try to create more of an innie effect," says Few. "For a relatively small area, it makes for a complicated treatment.”
For women who have low to moderate skin tissue scarring, stretching, or sagging, Doft recommends a smaller in-office procedure, performed under local anesthesia to remove the skin and the tunnel of the piercing.
"I just did one exactly like this before Christmas," she says. "I made a small incision just to [pull] everything up, so the belly button would be a nice crescent instead of that extra overhang."
A third option, a tummy tuck, essentially removes all stretch marks and other skin irregularities. According to Teitelbaum, it's a good option for those looking to tweak their postpartum navel piercing. "I've never seen someone successfully fix it with just a very localized scar," he explains.
Regardless of which procedure you opt for, the popularity of the so-called "mommy makeovers" continues to soar (Teitelbaum says that the post-pregnancy patient is his "most common patient"), meaning that the skill and technology involving procedures for the stomach and belly button are safer and more effective to patients' desired results than ever before.
There is a world of difference between a newly pierced belly button and one that has fully healed. If you got your navel pierced within a month of pregnancy, it is still considered to be in healing mode, so be on the lookout for unusual or noticeable redness and puffiness, but even better, take the piercing out altogether to minimize the risk of infection.
And as for getting your belly button pierced during pregnancy, it's best to just wait until you’re postpartum, as changes within the body, including puncturing the skin (anywhere, for that matter), puts mamas and babies both at a higher risk for complications by introducing unnecessary stressors to the body.
If you got your belly button pierced six weeks or more before learning you're expecting, you're considered healed, but it'd be wise to monitor any changes regardless.
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