What do you think when you see a newborn with tiny earlobes decorated with even tinier studs, or a young girl waiting in a chair at the jewelry store while the technician loads earrings into the piercing gun? Are you looking forward to or dreading the day your daughter begs you for pierced ears, or have you already had it done for her and think it’s no big deal? Maybe you don’t have pierced ears or you had a bad piercing experience as a child and have already decided your daughter will never get her ears pierced.
When I had my young daughter’s ears pierced, it wasn’t a premeditated act—it was a spur of the moment trip to the mall with a friend and her daughter where I had made the flip comment, “Wouldn’t it be cute if we got their ears pierced?” But I had yet to grasp what the consequences would be for a four-year-old to care for her ears. I hadn’t considered how much time it would involve, just begging, threatening, and even bribing my child to “just let me look at one lobe to make sure it isn’t infected; I promise I won’t even touch it.”
While my daughter has had her ears pierced now for more than a year, we’ve had many talks and tears over keeping them clean and healthy. And while I am thrilled to see how proud she is of her earrings, I still wonder if I may have acted on an impulse that should have been squashed immediately.
Allowing or denying your child to get her ears pierced, or making the decision to pierce your baby’s ears before she can tell you what she wants, is a parent’s prerogative. When contemplating piercing, there are a few things to consider before you and your daughter rush to the mall for that cute pair of starter studs.
Reasons to Pierce …
Veronica Mullen of Tampa, Florida, had always assumed she would have her infant daughter’s ears pierced, just as she had her own pierced when she was an infant. “My heritage is Cuban, and the Hispanic tradition seems to be that most parents pierce their daughters’ ears as small babies,” says Mullen. While pregnant with her oldest daughter, Mullen casually mentioned her plan to her Irish mother-in-law. She couldn’t understand her mother-in-law’s negative reaction. “I had no idea it was such a sensitive topic. Not realizing the cultural differences at the time, I was at first insulted that she should take such a strong stand against something I considered to be natural, and a decision I had planned on making for my own daughter,” Mullen says.
When Mullen’s pediatrician explained they don’t pierce infants’ ears until after their four-month shots, Mullen began talking about piercing with other moms. One mom admitted to Mullen that while she was happy with the decision to pierce her daughter’s ears, sometimes it bothered her to see her sweet baby with jewelry in her ears while she was being bathed and changed.
Mullen’s daughters are now five and almost two, and while she has decided her daughters can have their ears pierced, her oldest is afraid to have it done. “Cultural preferences will probably end up dictating the decision one makes,” says Mullen.
For some mothers, ear piercing can be considered a rite of passage or a way to instill self-esteem, as described by Karen Marcum, of Corpus Christi, Texas, who let her daughter, Amanda, get her ears pierced at age 10. When Amanda was younger, she wore her hair short because of the Texas heat and was sometimes mistaken for a boy. “I thought it would make her feel special and look pretty with her short hair,” says Marcum. “Her self-esteem boomed, and I’m glad I did it. I don’t think we harmed her by letting her have her ears pierced at that age.”
Erin Brown Conroy’s oldest daughter was bald until she was almost two, and many people assumed she was a boy. “Piercing her ears saved me, and others, from embarrassment of mistaken gender. It was really worth getting rid of the negative energy spent on the issue,” says Conroy.
Conroy, of Schoolcraft, Michigan, who is an author, life coach, and mother to 13 children (six of them daughters), thinks it’s appropriate to have ears pierced at any age as long as the care needed is implemented. “If a child is younger, the care often falls to the mom; if we understand and expect that care in our daily routine, then we don’t get bent out of shape from what can be viewed at bothersome,” she says.
And Not to Pierce …
And then there’s the other side of the coin—the moms who absolutely do not want their young girls’ ears to be pierced. Hillary Slent, a mother of four girls takes a firm stance on the subject. “If any of my daughters want to get their ears pierced or any other part of their bodies pierced, they will not be allowed to until they are 18 years old,” she says. “I do hate it when people get their babies’ ears pierced. They are taking the choice away from them.”
Peggy Winter, a Naperville, Illinois, mom of three children (two are girls), rationalizes that if her daughters had their ears pierced at too young of an age, what would they be wanting next? “There are some things a daughter should have to wait for,” she says.
Piercing and Caring for Little Ears
Nancy Polizzi, RN, at ABC Pediatrics in Naperville, Illinois, says the pediatric practice sees about one to two patients a month who come in to have their ears pierced, most of them infants. The office will not pierce a child’s ears until she has had at least three rounds of shots, which is equivalent to the age of about six months. “This allows the child to receive her series of tetanus vaccines before the procedure,” says Polizzi.
Talk to your pediatrician about aftercare or ask if the piercing can be done in his or her office—a much more sterile environment. Not all ear piercing places have sanitary equipment or staff that is trained to pierce a very young child’s ears.
After the ears are pierced, it is important to turn the posts and cleanse the front and back of the lobes at least twice daily with alcohol or an antiseptic product. Earrings should not be removed until they’ve been in place for at least six weeks so the ears can heal. After the first six weeks, earrings may be changed, but it’s recommended that gold posts be worn for the first year to prevent infections.
The Risks of Pierced Ears
“When ears are first pierced, the body is sensing it has been wounded and tries to heal itself, knowing something foreign has been introduced,” says Polizzi. This is why some may have reactions such as inflammation, redness, or swelling right after being pierced.
Infection: Parents need to watch their child’s ears for signs of infection, which include redness and/or swelling of the earlobes, a crusty substance coating the earring, scabs, or in some instances, even fever. Polizzi warns that in some cases she has seen swelling so severe that the earring actually gets pulled back through the earlobe, and the doctor has to pull the earring apart to remove it. This situation, while rare, usually requires a round of antibiotics to heal the infection.
Additionally, if an infection is severe it may be recommended that the piercing heal and close up, which can lead to keloid formation. “Typically, the ear cannot be pierced again in the same spot because the tissue in the lobe scars and becomes dense when it heals,” Polizzi says.
Allergic Reaction: “If there is a hypersensitivity to certain metals, the ears will also become infected,” notes Polizzi, who says nickel is the most common culprit for causing allergic reactions, and not too many children have a reaction to gold, which is why gold posts are recommended the first year. If you think your daughter may have an allergic reaction to nickel, choose nickel-free earrings, 14 karat gold, surgical steel, or earrings labeled for sensitive ears.
Aspiration: If you’re having a baby’s ears pierced, be sure you select earrings that will not easily fall out. You don’t want your daughter to “lose” an earring only to find and swallow it later.
- Is your child old enough and responsible enough to care for her ears by herself, or are you prepared to handle daily cleaning of the ears?
- Is she too young to understand the importance of keeping the ears clean to prevent infections?
- Is she old enough to be bothered by the sensation and young enough where she might play with her ears or pull out the earrings while they are healing?
There are varying points of view on whether children should have their ears pierced and, if so, at what age it is acceptable. While some may think a child under a certain age is just too young to be wearing earrings, to others the image of a little toddler with tiny gold posts in her ears is darling. If your daughter does have her little lobes pierced, be certain you take the care and health of her ears seriously.