To pierce or not to pierce an infant’s ears? It's a question that parents have debated for decades. For some families, ear piercing is a cultural tradition. Others simply like the way it looks.
Kim Kardashian and Kanye West even sparked a lively discussion about whether it’s appropriate for parents to have their very young children’s ears pierced when they had their daughter North West's ears pierced as a baby.
Piercing baby ears
For years, piercing baby ears has been a hot parenting topic.
A 2015 letter signed “Leave Those Kids Alone” in the Pittsburg Post-Gazette’s advice column called infant ear piercing “borderline child abuse.”
“The child certainly has no input in the decision,” the letter argued. “Why not get the baby some really cool tattoos as well?”
The Post-Gazette’s Dear Mary Ann responded that while controversial in parts of the U.S., baby girls in many other countries often leave the hospital “with her little gold studs in place.” Mary Ann concludes there’s no right or wrong answer. To pierce or not to pierce a baby’s ears — like so many other aesthetic decisions — is firmly a parent’s prerogative.
In a reaction piece, a blogger at CafeMom penned “Parents Who Pierce Their Baby’s Ears Are Just Plain Cruel,” agreeing with the letter writer that piercing a baby's ears is "vain and unnecessary."
“Here you have this perfect little angel who is sugar and spice and everything nice — and you want to go pierce two tiny holes through her earlobes and cause her pain simply because you think she’ll look cute in a pair of heart-shaped studs?”
Baby ear piercing
Roxana Soto, co-founder of Spanglish Baby, a resource for parents raising bilingual children, stepped forward to defend baby ear piercing in a CafeMom rebuttal.
“For Latina moms, piercing their baby girls’ ears has nothing to do with vanity. It’s simply a cultural tradition,” wrote Soto, and co-author of the book "Bilingual is Better." “So much so that I freaked out when I learned my first child was a girl because I had no idea where I would take her to get her ears pierced.”
So which is it: a harmless cultural tradition and a matter of personal taste, or a painful, unnecessary ordeal inflicted by parents?
“I honestly don’t understand why some people care and why some moms have made such a big deal of piercing baby’s ears,” Soto told TODAY Parents.
Her advice for parents who disagree with the practice? Just don’t do it for your infant.
When her daughter was born, it was tough for Soto to find someone who would pierce her newborn’s ears in Denver. After four months of calling pediatricians’ office and “getting nowhere,” she brought her baby to a “kiddie salon” that specializes in child and tween ear piercing.
“I don’t care what others think,” Soto explained. “Because we’re talking about my daughter and about something completely harmless that is completely normal in my culture.”
Gina Crosley-Corcoran, a doula and mother of three, recalled how family and friends started asking her when she was going to get her baby Jolene’s ears pierced. Jolene’s father is Mexican, and Crosely-Corcoran had her own ears done before she was old enough to remember it.
But Crosley-Corcoran stuck to her guns, explaining that, among other things, she’s not a “huge fan of inflicting pain on (her) children with no medical benefit whatsoever.”
“Babies are still people,” Crosley-Corcoran told TODAY Parents. “Not our personal property.”
The way she sees it, there are certain decisions that people should make for themselves once they reach the age of consent. For her, ear piercing is an issue of bodily integrity, and not something parents should choose for their daughters before they can choose for themselves.
Getting babies' ears pierced
The American Academy of Pediatrics’ website says ear piercing is safe for cosmetic reasons at any age. When it comes to avoiding earlobe infection, though, the academy cautions parents as a general guideline to “postpone the piercing until your child is mature enough to take care of the pierced site herself.”
Dr. Tanya Altmann, a pediatrician in West Lake Village, California, and spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics, routinely pierces babies’ ears in her office, but she does prefer to wait until her patients are at least 4 months old so that they’ve had two rounds of vaccinations and have been given a clean bill of health.
“Anytime you pierce the skin, you have a risk of infection,” Altmann said. “And that risk is always higher if you’re piercing a baby’s ear outside of a doctor’s office environment.”
That said, she explains that she rarely sees infections in the babies she pierces, since moms are careful to apply rubbing alcohol or an antibiotic ointment to their ears twice a day during the healing process.
In fact, Altmann points out, older kids tend to touch their ears and play with their new little earrings much more so than infants, raising the likelihood of infection after ear piercing.