Baby Ear Piercing: Is It Safe?

Medically reviewed by Karen Gill, MD, FAAP on October 15, 2015Written by Mekeisha Madden Toby on October 15, 2015
Baby Ear Piercing

It seems like only yesterday that supermodel Gisele Bundchen came under fire for piercing her 8-month-old daughter’s ears.

Some called it abuse while others said it was a decision based on culture. Whatever side of the debate you fall on, it must be noted that piercing a baby’s ears can be safe as long as certain steps are taken.

For starters, it’s better to have a doctor or a nurse perform the procedure, says Dr. Dyan Hes, a New York-based pediatrician. Doctors and nurses are trained professionals who are more likely to utilize sterile instruments and environments.

Avoiding Infection

Dr. Hes also recommends waiting until the baby is at least 2 months old before piercing their ears.

While it’s very rare for an earring hole to become infected, complications can occur if a baby younger than 2 months old has a bad skin infection or a fever. Under those circumstances, doctors would have to obtain a blood culture and a urine culture to rule out a systemic infection.

But in most cases it doesn’t come to that. After all, in other countries babies have their ears pierced as soon as they are born and they turn out just fine. Mommy blogger Christina Nicholson of Mascara Maven, for instance, blogged about having her ears pierced when she was a few hours old. Her grandfather, who was a doctor, pierced her ears, and because her mother is Puerto Rican, it’s not a big deal in that culture. Nicholson had her daughter’s ears pierced at 6 months and her pediatrician did the honors.

The Benefits of Silver and Gold

The experts also recommend that the doctor or nurse use gold, silver, platinum, or stainless steel studs instead of hoops when piercing babies’ ears.

Precious metals and stainless steel studs minimize the risk of infections and rashes. Contact dermatitis, an allergic-type reaction, can occur with certain metals, especially nickel, said Dr. Tsippora Shainhouse, a dermatological pediatrician based in Lancaster, California.

When piercing ears in young children, use small, tight earrings that have nothing dangling or sharp, including long posts. Small objects can be a choking hazard. They can also get stuck inside the external ear canal or nose, if they are played with or fall out.

Another possibility is that hoops or dangling earrings can get caught on clothing or can be pulled on by the baby or other children. If the ear lobe tears, a plastic surgeon has to fix it, said Dr. Danelle Fisher, vice chair of pediatrics at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California.

Plastic surgeons like Dr. Melissa A. Doft of New York warn mothers that babies will be less aware of the ramifications of pulling on earrings or pulling on their hair wrapped around earrings. Although usually nothing happens, Doft said she has had to repair more than a few torn earlobes. 

Care and Maintenance

Another rule of thumb to remember if your baby’s ears are pierced is care and prevention to avoid infection. Nicholson points out that she was able to care for her daughter’s ears in a way she wouldn’t have been able to if her daughter were older.

As for cleaning the earlobes and earring posts, Dr. Fisher recommends cleaning after the ears are pierced. Earlobes and earring posts should be cleaned front and back with rubbing alcohol and Q-tips and then a small dab of antibiotic ointment should be applied.

This process should occur morning and night for about a week. The earrings should be rotated in the ears a few times a day. The infant should wear them for four to six weeks before changing them for other earrings so that the piercing doesn’t close up, Fisher added. Small hoops that sit very close to the skin are probably best and safest once the original studs used to pierce the ears are removed.

In addition to twice-daily cleanings with antiseptics and rotations, iClinic pediatrician Dr. Sarvendra Chandrama Singh recommends avoiding swimming as the ear heals to prevent secondary infections and blood-borne infections.

If the earlobe area gets red, swollen, or has pus, go to the doctor for evaluation and possible antibiotics immediately.

Are There Benefits?

Believe it or not, there are some advantages to having pierced ears at an early age. In addition to being able to care for them as a parent in a more attentive manner than a small child would, for instance, the younger the child, the less chance there is for keloid scarring.

Keloids or thick scars can occur at the site of the ear piercing. They are more common in darker skin, and an article from the Journal of Pediatrics suggests that they occur more commonly when ears are pierced after the age of 11.

If keloid scars do form, they can be difficult to treat and often require injections and simple surgery to remove them.

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