The topic of ear piercing and babies is like cilantro: You either love it or you hate it.
Parents who aren’t fans of the practice say it’s cruel to pierce an infant’s ears, especially when he or she can’t give consent. Others feel it’s unnecessary to make an already adorable baby wear jewelry. On the flip side, some pierce because it’s part of a family’s cultural tradition—a popular practice in Latin America and Spain—or because they believe that earrings are cute or make it more obvious that their child is a girl.
Almost 40 percent of parents have daughters with pierced ears, and nearly 50 percent pierced their child’s ears when they were under the age of two, according to a recent BabyCenter survey. Only seven percent said they don’t plan to pierce their child’s ears.
Infections from ear piercings are fairly common, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). Although infections can happen at any age, they’re typically caused by earrings or equipment that’s unsterile, and frequently touching the earlobes with unclean hands.
In addition, the metal in earrings can literally rub kids the wrong way. A 2010 study found that 20 percent of children had an allergic reaction to nickel (other problematic metals include white gold and cobalt.) Reactions can easily be avoided by using earrings made of surgical steel, titanium, or 14- or 18-karat gold, says the AAD.
Other research shows there may be a benefit to piercing a child’s ears before the age of 11. One study published in the journal Pediatrics found that keloids, scar-like growths that are difficult to treat, are more likely to develop when ears are pierced after this age.
What the Experts Say
“Any time you puncture the skin, you open up the opportunity for infection, and because infants still have developing immune systems, I encourage parents to wait until their child is at least six months old to get her ears pierced,” Wendy Sue Swanson, M.D., a pediatrician at Seattle Children’s Hospital tells Parents magazine.
Janie Doan, a pediatrician at Cy Fair Pediatrics in Houston, agrees, telling the Cypress Creek Mirror: “The recommended age, personally for me, is after the age of six months because at that point in time, the babies are completely vaccinated, so that protects them.”
Others feel that parents should hold off for longer. “Infants are too young to make any decisions about piercing, and parents should wait till their child is old enough,” Diana Macgregor, who works in the accident and emergency department of the Royal Aberdeen Children’s Hospital in Scotland, tells the Daily Mail. “Infections occur because the children are too young to clean or care for the pierced sites.”
Although the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends waiting to pierce a child’s ears until she’s mature enough to clean the ears herself, the organization also notes that if ear piercing is performed safely and carefully — by someone with experience and who is using sterile equipment — and the piercing is cared for, there is little risk of infection, regardless of a child’s age.
What Parents Say
“We got all three of our girls’ ears pierced around five months old. Our pediatrician recommended that we wait until four months, after they had their first vaccines. It’s a cultural thing for my side of the family. Back in Colombia, people pierced their daughters’ ears within the first few days or weeks [of being born] and did it at home—that’s how it was for my sister and I. We’re passing on one small piece of our culture to the girls, and on top of that, they look really cute!” —Karen W.
“I’m not a fan of kids wearing earrings. My daughter was eight when she first got her ears pierced. My husband and I waited until then because we wanted her, and not us, to be in charge of the maintenance. Subsequently, she ended up with drooping holes, went without earrings for a year, and then had her ears re-pierced when she was 10. Moral of the story: Don’t rush it.” —Lysa Puma.
“Piercing a girl’s ears is a rite of passage and a nod to what’s ahead: make-up, hair dye, shaving. I do plan to pierce my daughter’s ears, but I can’t imagine piercing them before she’s seven. Any real jewelry my daughter has is kept in a drawer to be worn when she can appreciate something that is special and valuable.” —Jocelyn J.
The Bottom Line
If you choose to pierce your child’s ears, get the okay from your pediatrician first and have an experienced staffer at the office perform the piercing. Also, be prepared to regularly clean the earring, as well as the front and back of the earlobe, to prevent infection and rotate the earring to keep the hole open as it heals. And only use earrings made from surgical stainless steel, titanium, or 14K or 18K gold to avoid an allergic reaction.