Ear piercings for babies

Parenting • Jul 31, 2018

Ear Piercings for Babies | A Cultural Controversy

Recently a celebrity posted a picture of her baby with pierced earlobes, eliciting an online controversy. My mind went back to a time almost 10 years ago when I welcomed my firstborn daughter into the world. In Latin cultures, infant female ear piercing is routine. Some Latin countries even perform piercings in the hospital before discharge. Shortly after her birth, my daughter already had a collection of gold earrings gifted to her by family. I could not wait to get it done.

We had difficulty finding a place in our area that would do it but finally did. While I waited, I received a few judgmental looks and comments that challenged our decision. We went through with the piercing and she barely cried. I think she cried more during her vaccines. I was so happy and proud that I took tons of pictures and sent them to all my family and close friends. We were all celebrating! What I did not expect was the backlash I received multiple times from random non-Latin people questioning or criticizing my decision.

When and Why Do We Pierce Our Children’s Ears?

Eventually, I made peace with it and moved on, but I wanted to understand where the negative thoughts regarding ear piercing stemmed from. I asked friends and random people from different cultural backgrounds and ethnicities: when and why did you pierce your daughter’s ears? Answers on when to pierce ears were varied and essentially boiled down to familiar and/or cultural traditions. Some examples of the answers on the question of timing: “at birth,” “shortly after birth,” “after her vaccines,” “when she asked for it,” “when she reached a certain age/school grade/maturity.”

When I asked “why did you pierce your daughter’s ears?” the most common answers included: “it’s what my family does,” “it’s my culture,” “it’s sort of a rite of passage,” “I feel she should want it,” “I feel she should be ready for it,” and “I felt she was responsible enough to take care of it.” The conversations opened my eyes to different beliefs systems I had never thought of before. I felt all the arguments were valid, reasonable and came from a good place in their heart.

Are Ear Piercings Harmful for Babies?

I then reviewed the scientific evidence around earlobe piercing. There is no evidence to support one argument versus the other. Complications of earlobe piercing include bleeding, contact allergies, post-traumatic tearing, imbedded backings and infection. These can occur at any age. Aside from tetanus, vaccines don’t cover the most common organisms associated with earlobe piercing related infections, and tetanus infections are not very common. With good local care of the pierced earlobe site, complications can be avoided. I was very diligent in taking care of both my daughters’ piercings and they had no complications.

What’s the Right Decision for My Family?

So, where does that leave us?  For me, I am happy with my choice. My daughters love their earrings and love to change them to match their outfits. I’ve asked them if they would have liked to have waited until they were older or if they are mad I took the choice away from them. They both look at me like I am crazy and say no. So, that’s good enough for me. Is it the right way? It’s what was right for me and my cultural beliefs. Therefore, my advice is to do what feels right for you. There is no data to support one particular practice. Talk to your pediatrician about your concerns and make informed decisions. Most importantly, this exercise taught me to listen to other parents and respect their choices, whether they agree with mine or not.

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