This article was contributed by our fan-favorite, Elaine, Dalton.
Piercing baby’s ears is a controversial topic right now, with many parents stating that it is a personal decision. While this is true, there are other factors to consider before making an informed choice.
For some parents, having baby’s ears pierced before leaving the hospital is their cultural norm—they themselves may have had their ears pierced as an infant. For other parents, they will delay the piercing until baby has had a tetanus shot—although a tetanus infection from a pierced ear is very rare, and that vaccine is not just for tetanus.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that the parents wait till the child is old enough and mature enough to take care of the piercings herself. This can range in age from seven to ten years with exceptions falling on both ends of the spectrum. Why wait? We’re glad you asked.
Risk Of Infection
The risk of the new piercing becoming infected is the most common concern with a piercing in a child this young, as mentioned in Essential Baby. At this age, babies are in full development mode and will explore anything and everything new in their worlds—including the sore spot in their ears with the hard object.
They are not the most hygienic of people and their little hands will travel from floor to mouth to ear and back again multiple times during the day—increasing the risk of developing an infection with every touch. These infections can range from the minor, with increased swelling and discomfort for a few days to the major, requiring antibiotics and even the removal of the earring.
Older siblings or curious playmates are also likely to reach out and touch the earring with their own germy hands—further increasing the chances of an infection developing.
Other Sources Of Infection
When parents are considering piercing their baby’s ears, they are not thinking of taking her down to the local tattoo parlor to have the procedure done in a sanitary and surprisingly sterile medical environment. Instead, they are picturing the mall with its easily accessible piercing gun and booth stocked with pretty earrings.
The concern with the mall piercing gun is that they are made with plastic and steel in such a way as to make sterilizing the gun nearly impossible, as Heart mentions. The build-up of bodily fluids—however micro they may be—act as an open invitation to the spread of infection and diseases. Should the gun misfire and the removal of the earring be required, a pair of pliers is often involved. These pliers are then used on the next patient without the ability to properly sterilize them for safety.
Ear piercing guns, as stated by the National Environmental Health Association, are strictly intended for the use of piercing the ear lobes only but are frequently misused to pierce other body parts which include the upper ear cartilage, nose, eyebrows, naval and tongues. Some blood diseases, such as HIV, are also at an increased risk of exposure with a piercing gun.
Should an infection from the use of a piercing gun become rampant enough to warrant a trip to the doctor’s office, the use of antibiotics will be required. These antibiotics wipe out the gut bacteria of the patient and can leave her vulnerable to other illnesses taking hold as the removal of the beneficial bacteria leaves the body vulnerable and the immune system weakened.
In a tiny new baby, her gut bacteria are still developing. A study documented by JAMA Network Of Pediatrics and conducted in 2016 with breastfed infants stated that the use of antibiotics in babies wipes out the gut bacteria and leads to childhood obesity, fatty liver damage and an increase in future infections. Despite continued breastfeeding, baby’s gut never fully bounces back.
Metal allergies are the second main concern when piercing baby’s ears and when choosing the actual earrings she will be wearing. The Scottish Medical Journal states that there is a proven risk of a nickel allergy from pierced ears. Hannah, a young woman who had piercings as a baby, stated,
“My ears were pierced when I was a baby and we found out after they got infected numerous times that I am allergic to most metals including gold. So every time they would clear up and my grandmother would put another pair in, it was almost immediately infected again. This caused serious pain. I didn’t wear anything again until I was well into my 20s when I started gauging with plastic.”
Similarly, Charlotte adds,
“I had mine done as a young girl and regret it—maybe regret is the wrong word because that would imply it was a choice I made and obviously it wasn’t. Turns out I am allergic to most metals with anaphylactic reaction to a few of them. My ear holes never healed; I have pretty large knots inside both with cysts that develop regularly inside the scar tissue. The holes/scars aren’t even symmetrical in position now.”
While it can be argued that both these young women are extreme cases of metal allergies, neither was aware of a metal allergy at the time of the piercing as an infant and thus, suffered numerous painful reactions.
According to Charles and Colvard, nickel is the number one culprit in metal allergies internationally. Some alloys used in earrings are often mixtures of other metals. Steel can cause allergic reactions from the small amount of nickel included and rose gold includes copper which can discolor and irritate some people’s skin.
Plating is the term used when a base metal is coated in a different metal—a popular combination is steel coated in silver. This top coat can and will wear down, leaving the skin exposed to the base metal which can contain impurities and cause an allergic reaction.
Traumatic Tears And Re-injuries
Children are naturally curious creatures and will explore anything new. An earring is a new and exciting area ripe for exploration—to the point where unintentional injury can occur. Baby might grab hold of the earring and play with it till the surrounding area becomes red, irritated and tender to the touch, or she might tear the entire piece of jewelry out of the ear lobe. Babies don’t know their own strength.
When a tear like this occurs, stitches are required and the earring must be removed completely till the ear lobe has fully healed—often resulting in a larger scar than a tiny hole and the ear lobe can become disfigured.
Curious siblings and playmates might also enjoy the shiny earring and unintentionally rip it out—causing pain to the child as pointed out by The Alpha Parent. An open wound like this is more susceptible to infection.
Many parents will take extra precaution where the risk of a choking hazard is present. They will cut the grapes and hot dogs into tiny pieces, remove Barbie’s shoes and jewelry before allowing the child to play with the doll and will do a visual sweep of the floor for small hidden objects like raisins, buttons and peanuts before letting the baby crawl around to explore.
Therefore, it seems almost illogical to provide baby with a wearable choking hazard in the form of earrings. Many earrings come with a locking backing to prevent easy or accidental removal by baby but the risk is still present. The Alpha Parent states that even with the use of locking earring backs, there is still a choking hazard present in this age group.
The ear lobe is a soft, pliable area of tissue and can become very swollen after being pierced or when infected—causing the ear lobe to increase in size.
When an earring backing is applied too tightly to the post, there is not enough room to accommodate any swelling and the earring can become embedded in the ear lobe. Typically, the skin on the back of the ear grows over the earring backing, but more severe cases consist of the entire earring becoming engulfed by the ear lobe.
Another instance which can occur happens when the earring front falls off from inferior quality of construction, leaving the post embedded in the ear lobe and the back sticking out. In minor cases, some local analgesic is applied and the earring is removed with light pressure.
In more serious cases where considerable swelling and infection are present or the entire earring has been engulfed, the patient might be put under anesthesia to assist in the removal of the jewelry. An incision is made in the ear lobe and mosquito hemostats are used to gently remove the embedded item, as described by Pem Cincinnati.
Risk Of Developing Keloids
Keloids occur when an overabundance of scar tissue develops in response to physical trauma such as an ear piercing. Keloids typically appear genetically and families with a history of keloids should take this into consideration before piercing baby’s ears.
The growth of keloids is harmless but can become large and disfigure the ear—leading to embarrassment to the child as she grows. Keloids can be surgically removed with the risk of a reoccurrence due to further trauma caused by surgical removal according to the American Academy of Dermatology.
Additionally, once an earring has been removed and the ear has fully healed, it cannot be re-pierced in the same place because the scar tissue is too dense.
Deformation Of The Auricle
The auricle is the visible external portion of the ear and can be easily deformed in childhood by piercing and accidental injury from rough play. Most parents will not pierce the cartilage portion of the ear, but tearing can cause the ear lobe to become deformed as the child grows.
Furthermore, once an adult, the original earring holes can become crooked and uneven. Andrea, a young woman who had her ears pierced as a baby, writes, “Had mine done as a baby and I wish my mom didn’t! They’re so crooked and also, I just don’t appreciate the holes in my ears. I grew up to not even like jewelry, so it’s annoying.”
Tracy, another adult woman with pierced ears, says,
“Mine were done as a baby and they are uneven now that I’m an adult. I don’t like wearing earrings anyway but I don’t even want to because one hangs lower than the other!”
A Question Of Consent
Consent is very important right now and should be taken into consideration for any decision regarding a body—whether it is our body or someone else’s. A baby is a nonverbal person without the ability to articulate a response or to fully understand the parameters concerning piercing her ears.
She will not understand why her ears hurt and will be unable to say if they hurt more or less than they did yesterday. She also will not be able to tell whether or not she even wants her ears pierced.
Some parents will say, “My baby my choice.” While she is, essentially, your baby, she is also her own person with a separate body.
Parents are caregivers with the right to make informed decisions benefiting their children on the child’s behalf; they do not own the child as the above statement would suggest. By piercing her ears, we are telling her that she has no right to decide what happens to her own body and that her body was not good enough the way it was before.
According to Infinite Body, in 2017, 89% of piercing procedures were women and 11% were men. Statistically at least, girl babies are more likely to have their ears pierced than boy babies and are sent the message at an young age that they have no say in what happens to their bodies.
On this topic, Nicole said,
“I had mine done when I was itty. I actually like the look of it and loved that I had earrings before my friends. That being said, I am not doing my children’s ears until they are around 7-8. When I feel like they can take care of them, they can make the choice about altering their bodies (non-permanently) and as sort of a little ritual for their change from toddlers to kids. Basically I don’t want to do it till they can consent. If they even want them.”
“I won’t do it when they are babies. It should be something they decide if they want or not when they are older. Not to mention most don’t take their kids to a professional; they take them to Claire’s or Wal-Mart that use those guns that can’t be probably cleaned and sanitized and a lot of the time end up giving children infections or don’t position the gun properly, tearing through the skin and causing permanent damage to their ear lobes.”
Webster defines abuse as, “corrupt practice or custom, improper or excessive use or treatment, physical maltreatment, put to wrong or improper use, and to use or treat so as to injure or damage.” The majority of parents do not set out to intentionally abuse their children.
However, deciding something as important as permanent ear piercings can be viewed as an abuse of power over the child—especially when taken into consideration the nonverbal age of the child.
When a baby has to be held down by the parent or another adult to have a procedure administered amid her frantic terrified screams, then it is not surprising to have such a situation labeled as abusive. To the child, her infinite and complete trust in her parent has been severely damaged.
Her parent, who is supposed to take care of her and keep pain away, subjected her against her cries and otherwise obvious signs of distress to pain which she doesn’t understand and altered her body without her consent.
This type of situation could cause psychological trauma to the child. Some children can get their ears pierced and barely bat an eyelash while other children come out of the experience traumatized and could even display signs of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder for a time. The beauty of children is that they will forget the experience and bury it deep in their memories.
Friendship Circle says the symptoms of PTSD in children include hyper-vigilance, separation anxiety or clinginess, emotional distress at being reminded of the initial trauma (through visual sights, smells, sounds or textural sensations), fear of or avoidances of places that remind the child of trauma, nightmares or trouble sleeping and repetitive play. Future trips to the mall might be met with cries, screams and tantrums until the memory of the piercing fades.
Use Of Painkillers
While it is not a common practice to numb the ear lobe before piercing it, the use of painkillers after the fact is common. According to NHS, babies two months and older can take paracetamol/acetaminophen and those three months and older can take ibuprofen, but aspirin is off limits.
And Gizmodo says that the recent scientific findings state that babies not only can feel pain but that they feel it more intensely than adults do. Help For Trauma confirms this. So after baby has her ears pierced, she is in intense pain without the relief brought to her by ibuprofen or acetaminophen if she is younger than the recommended age.
She is also unable to communicate this pain except for crying, clinging to her primary caregiver and reaching for the ear to instinctively remove the object causing her all this pain.
When all of this has been researched, studied and taken into consideration, it is the parent’s decision to proceed with the piercing or not. But if babies could talk, she would be almost certain to state firmly that no, she does not want her ears pierced right now. She would rather eat or sleep or play, thank you very much.
Sources: The Alpha Parent, Essential Baby, Heart, Help For Trauma, Friendship Circle, Scottish Medical Journal, NEHA Policy, American Academy of Dermatology, JAMA Network Breastfeeding Antibiotic Study, Charles and Colvard, Pem Cincinnati, Infinite Body, Webster, NHS, Gizmodo