Are you having a little girl and thinking about piercing her ears? When can your baby have her ears pierced? Is it even safe for babies to wear earrings?
When asking other moms, whether it’s safe to pierce a baby’s ears, you will likely get varied answers. Some may bring out the judgmental mom attitude and give you a scolding. Then others will tell you it’s perfectly fine.
In fact, around the world, there are many cultures in which the ears of newborn baby girls are pierced, some even before they’ve left the hospital.
So does that mean it’s safe? Well, we’re here to find out.
Why Do Some Parents Do It?
There are plenty of reasons why some parents choose to pierce their baby’s ears. For many, it’s a matter of personal preference or even a family or cultural tradition.
Maybe they think it looks cute. Or perhaps they use it as a gender identification method, so strangers won’t come up and tell them what a lovely baby boy they have.
Other parents see it as a way to honor cultural values. Let’s take Latin countries and India as two examples.
In both of these cultures, parents usually pierce the ears of a daughter before her second birthday. There are some ethnic cultures that have relatives do the piercings. Some prefer having a pediatrician do it soon after birth, sometimes even before leaving the hospital (1). Even if the parents decide to hold off and let the child decide when she is older, it’s such a deep-rooted tradition in these cultures; the girls will likely grow up and want their ears pierced anyway.
What do the Experts Say?
If you ask medical providers, the first response would generally be that this would be considered an elective procedure, meaning something that is not necessary for the health and well-being of your child, and you as a parent are “electing” to have it done.
As for every medical procedure, the next step is to review the risks versus benefits and understand them before making a final decision to proceed.
- The procedure fulfills the expectations of a family or cultural tradition.
- Many people believe that doing a piercing while still, an infant will be easier on them then when they are old enough to remember the pain.
- The parent can care for the ears afterward to make sure they are kept clean while the recommendations for ongoing care are followed.
- With earrings in, she will be more easily identified as a girl.
- The family feels that earrings are cosmetically pleasing.
Your pediatrician will likely bring up the following points for you to consider in terms of potential risks:
A range of types of infections should be considered from the mild and superficial to the formation of an abscess that would need to be drained. Several concerns within this topic should be discussed.
- Whenever a procedure is done in which the skin is pierced, any bacteria living on the surface can be pushed inside and begin to multiply, creating an infection.
- The earlobe in a baby is not a very clean place. Babies spend a lot of time in a reclining position, where drool and spit-up tend to drip down toward the ears and earlobes, creating a favorable environment for bacterial growth.
- Babies tend to reach and grab the ears very often after their fingers have been in their mouths, which serves to introduce mouth bacteria into the area.
- Babies’ immune systems are not yet fully developed, which makes it easier for an infection to start, and more difficult to fight.
- Vaccinations are a work in progress during the first year of life, and in particular, tetanus is a possibility, though rare. Many doctors will recommend waiting until completion of the tetanus series before taking that risk.
- According to a recent article in Peds in Review, there have been reports of Hepatitis B and C having spread through ear piercings, possibly due to unclean needles or piercing equipment.
- There are risks related to underlying medical conditions, such as congenital heart disease and immunodeficiencies. In these cases, an infection could cause much more harm to your baby than usual. With an immune deficiency, the chance of a blood-borne infection is much greater, making it more likely to infect other parts of the body. And with congenital heart disease, there is the concern that a bloodborne bacteria could set up shop on a heart valve, creating a serious condition called endocarditis. The earlier the piercing is done, the less likely these medical conditions will have been discovered in a baby.
Accidental pulling on the earlobe by baby is common; also a blanket or clothes can catch on the earring and rip the delicate earlobe tissue.
3. Embedded earring
Sometimes the back of the earring can become embedded into the earlobe. This can occur due to laying on the ear while sleeping, if a spring-loaded gun was used for the piercing, or if the earlobe is very thick and the earring is a bit tight, a little swelling of the area will serve to make it worse. This can cause inflammation and lead to pain, tissue damage, and infection.
Besides infection, aspiration is probably one of the more serious risks related to ear piercings. As babies grow, they grab anything they can get their hands on and put it into their mouths.
There are moments when you are not directly observing your baby for one reason or another, such as while you are driving, while she is (and you are) sleeping at night, or even if you are occupied with something while she is in the room with you. This can happen in just a few seconds.
All it takes is a little loosening of the earring and baby will be able to grab it and run the risk of choking on it, coughing, then breathing it in, and having it land in her airway. This is called aspiration and is not all that rare in babies and toddlers.
5. Allergic reactions
Allergic reactions to material in the earring, such as low quality steel or nickel, which is the most common trigger, is widespread. Even high-quality gold or steel earrings can have studs made from nickel, and this can cause contact dermatitis in the area but also on other parts of the body that have become sensitized. Chronic inflammation of the areas, besides the itching and discomfort, also increase the risk of infection.
A keloid is a type of repair reaction of the skin that causes a heaped-up appearing scar that will remain indefinitely. No one knows who will make keloid scars, but some people just have more of a tendency to heal in that way than others. It is challenging to deal with keloid scars, in general, because any further break in the skin, even by a corrective procedure, just runs the risk of causing another keloid to form.
There is a brief period of pain with the procedure, as you can imagine, and the areas will be sore for a day or so afterward, especially if touched. In addition, cleaning the earlobes with alcohol will sting initially, but that will improve as the skin heals.
8. Poor cosmetic result
Yes, ear piercing is considered cosmetic, which means it is a medical procedure done to enhance the outward appearance of your baby. It is important to remember that there are some reasons why the outcome may not be as you expected. For example, babies’ earlobes are small compared to those of older children, making it a little more likely to misplace the piercing and create an unbecoming effect. Another thing that increases risk is that babies move and cry, especially when being held down, and this may affect the desired result.
If You Decide to Go Ahead with the Piercing
You have reviewed all of the risks and benefits, have spent some time thinking it over, and have decided that you would like to go ahead with piercing your baby’s ears. Let’s go through the things to consider in the preparation and planning of the procedure.
Who Should Pierce My Child’s Ears?
Usually, when we want to get our ears pierced, we will go to a vendor, or sometimes a jeweler. But when piercing a baby’s ears, it’s best to seek help from a pediatrician.
One of the main reasons for this is that not all facilities offering piercings have the proper equipment or staff for these tiny customers.
Consider the ear piercing gun — it’s not always possible for the staff to sterilize it properly. In the worst case scenario, your baby could contract hepatitis or another disease that spreads through blood (2).
Therefore, you should either ask the pediatrician to perform the procedure or to recommend someone who can do it in the safest conditions.
If the pediatrician does it, they will typically use a sterile needle. They begin by cleaning the area. Then they will likely make a small dot with a marker to know where to insert the needle.
Then the doctor will puncture the skin and insert a pair of sterilized earrings. These are typically made from hypoallergenic surgical steel, titanium, platinum, or 24-carat gold which will minimize the chance of any adverse reactions. Also important to consider is the use of safety-backed earrings, to keep your baby from accidentally pulling them out, creating an opportunity for choking.
Will the Procedure Hurt My Baby?
Babies feel pain in the same way we do, and if you’ve ever gotten a piercing, you know they tend to hurt.
For ear piercings, the pain is not excessive, which is also why doctors don’t give a shot of anesthesia. The injection of anesthesia would likely hurt more than the piercing!
Many moms say their babies cried more when they got their vaccines than the piercing.
What You Can Do
It also helps when a professional is doing the job. They know where to insert the needle, can anticipate how and when the baby is likely to move and can do it fast.
If your baby is older and eating solids, it’s a good idea to bring a favorite snack. This would be an excellent distraction or a tasty reward afterward. Just make sure there is nothing in her mouth when beginning the procedure.
You can help everything go smoothly by simply holding your little one tight, so they won’t move. At the same time, just talk to them gently, sing a song, or read a book with them. Remember to stay calm — if you freak out, they will, too.
Caring for the Area After Piercing
Following the procedure, it’s important to take good care of and observe the areas. Ask your pediatrician what they recommend. They will usually tell you to let the earrings sit in the ears for at least six weeks, so they can heal (4).
During this time you should:
- Wipe around the earlobes with alcohol: Ask your doctor, but they normally recommend wiping the area twice a day with rubbing alcohol or another antibacterial preparation.
- Twist or rotate the earrings: At least once a day, gently twist or rotate the earrings in the ear. This will prevent them from becoming stuck.
- Dry the area after each bath: It’s essential the piercings don’t stay damp. After each bath, grab a clean towel and gently pat the area dry.
- Make sure the clasps are not too tight: The earrings should have some give from front to back in the openings, and the backing should not be pressed up too tightly against the earlobe. This can cause pressure on the tissues and affect their blood supply, which interferes with healing and also increases the chance of infection.
Keep a close eye: Watch the areas on a daily basis, and don’t forget to take a look behind the earlobe regularly. Be aware of the signs of infection, which would be if there is more redness and tenderness developing each day, instead of the expected improvement.
- Don’t press on the ear: Avoid applying any pressure while cleaning or rotating, since this could be painful.
When Can I Switch Earrings?
After the six weeks are up, your little one’s earlobes should be healed. Now you can remove the first earrings and place your own.
You should still be mindful of the material of the earrings, especially if your baby is young. Many parents opt for metal earrings.
If you choose to use metal, gold or silver earrings are the safest option. Doctors generally recommend gold earrings that are at least 14 karats. Be certain the stud and the backing are not made of low-quality steel or nickel. Gold, platinum, titanium and surgical grade steel are less likely to cause dermatitis or contribute to the development of an infection.
Here’s what else to look for:
- Shape: Choose earrings that are small, flat, and round, with no sharp edges.
- Fastener: The fastener of the earrings should cover as much as possible of the back side. It is safer to use earrings that have locking or screw backs, to reduce the risk of them coming off. Keep in mind; your baby could swallow the earring if it comes off and makes its way into the mouth.
- Avoid hanging or dangling earrings: At some point, all babies begin to tug at their ears. In this case, imagine the potential risk and damage if your little one gets hold of a dangling earring.
At the End of the Day
Piercing a baby’s ears is not at all unusual. Various cultures around the world see it as a sign of femininity and will pierce the ears of baby girls before their second birthday. Some may even do it while they’re still in the hospital following the baby’s birth.
Piercing a baby’s ears is, according to many medical professionals, generally considered to be safe, but carries risks. Like most elective procedures, usually, there is no problem at all, when everything goes according to plan. But there are those times that, even when you have done everything correctly, something goes wrong that could have been prevented. Those are the instances that are hard on parents. It is important to remember that it is an elective procedure, something that can wait to be done when the child is older if she elects to do so.
After considering the risks and benefits, if you elect to go ahead with the procedure, make sure to take the recommended precautions such as enlisting a professional, and confirming that they use sterile tools and hypoallergenic earrings. Always follow any aftercare advice. Look out for adverse reactions and contact your doctor if something changes.