June 17, 2014 at 1:37 PM ET
As if a baby with bling doesn’t attract enough attention, the 1-year-old daughter of Kim Kardashian and Kanye West is now sparking a lively discussion about whether it’s appropriate for parents to have their very young children’s ears pierced.
Pictures of little North West sporting what appear to be diamond studs in her ears began popping up in recent days, prompting a flurry of reaction in social media, with observers debating whether it was cute or cruel.
But many people point out piercing a baby's ears is a cultural tradition in some parts of the world, including India and Latin America.
So what's a parent to do?
Many experts advise against piercing the ears of babies, noting the main issue is the risk of the infant accidentally swallowing the stud.
“We generally don’t recommend it that young, primarily because babies will often pull at their ears and if the earring comes out, it can be a choking hazard,” said Dr. Mary E. Brown, a pediatrician at Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center.
Then, there’s the risk of infection. But if the procedure is done with very clean equipment and with clean technique, and if the parents are vigilant about keeping the area clean and reporting any signs of infection to the doctor, it can be done safely well before the child is 1, said Dr. Claire McCarthy, a pediatrician and medical communications editor at Boston Children’s Hospital.
“I have parents in my practice who pierce their daughters’ ears long before a year,” McCarthy said.
The other issue when it comes to piercing a child’s ears is consent, she noted. Obviously, an infant or young child can’t choose to have their ears pierced, can’t understand that it’s somewhat permanent and can’t decide if they want to wear earrings or not, McCarthy said.
“If parents want to truly give their daughter or son the choice, then they should wait at least until somewhere around middle school,” McCarthy advised.
Brown also recommended waiting until a child is mature enough to take care of newly-pierced ears on their own— at around 8 years old or so when they can rotate the earrings and apply any necessary ointments.
To minimize the risk of infection from ear piercing at any age, Brown recommended using 18 carat gold or stainless steel earring posts to reduce the chance of an allergic reaction, plus regularly applying rubbing alcohol or antibiotic ointment to the ear lobe and closely monitoring for any redness, pain or discharge.