Piercing baby's ears: Is it safe?

As a first time parent I want to know what to do about my wife wanting to pierce the baby's ears. We have a beautiful baby girl who is seven months old and I just don't know if we should have this done at such an early age. Do you have any suggestions?

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Robert Steele

Robert W. Steele, MD, is a board certified pediatrician at St. John's Regional Health Center in Springfield, MO. He graduated from medical... Read more

There are many reasons parents decide to have their daughter's ears pierced. There are cultural reasons, family traditions, personal preference, or sometimes it is simply used to identify the baby as a girl. There are some medical concerns to keep in mind when deciding whether to pierce your baby's ears:

INFECTION: This is probably the most common problem encountered. Infections may set-up in the ear lobe if the equipment used to pierce the ears is not sterile, if the earrings have dirty posts, or if the earrings are clasped too tightly to the lobe. Many of these infections may be avoided by keeping the initial ear posts in for about six weeks, cleaning the ear with rubbing alcohol daily, and making sure the clasp is not too tight. If the ear becomes red, pus forms around the site, or a fever without an obvious cause occurs, you should contact your doctor.

KELOID FORMATION: When the skin is injured, a small scar forms after the scab that is usually small enough that you don't notice or fades away with time. However, some children, particularly African-American children, may be prone to having the skin "go overboard" in this scar formation causing a large scar as compared to the original injury. These are called keloids. Those prone to forming keloids after injury may develop large bumps at the piercing site of the ear. If keloids tend to form on the child or there is a family history of keloid formation, it is probably best to hold off on piercing.

ALLERGIC REACTIONS: Contact dermatitis (allergy to something that comes in contact with the skin) may occur on the earlobes of those with metal allergy. Using 14 karat gold or hypo-allergenic stainless steel posts may eliminate this problem.

INJURY TO THE EAR LOBE: Younger children may tend to play with the earrings while in place. If the earring is of the hoop or dangling variety, they may catch these and tear the lobe. Therefore, if you decide to pierce the ears, I highly suggest only using stud earrings or those which lie flush with the skin.

ASPIRATION OF THE EARRING: This is probably the most concerning danger. As most parents know, toys are approved for certain ages due to their choking hazard risk. Many toys are not recommended for those under three years because children under this age tend to put a lot of things in their mouths. Earring are certainly not permanent fixtures, and the risk of them accidentally falling out is not small. They are generally of a size which is easily swallowed. Therefore, there is a risk of inhaling an earring or its clasp should it become dislodged.

Congratulations on your new addition to the family. The safety issues as well as the infection risk are small.. However, I think it is important that you understand the risks involved in having a baby with pierced ears, but ultimately it is a decision you and your wife must make together. As a pediatrician, I tend to err on the side of safety. Therefore, my personal preference would be to hold out on piercing your daughter's ears until at least age four. And even then, it may be preferable for you to hold out until she is at an age in which she can decide for herself whether she wants to have them pierced. Parents have told me how much fun they had watching their daughter save up the money and go through this decision process on her own. Sharing this "developmental milestone" with your daughter later on down the road might be even more enjoyable for you than having them pierced now.

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