Cute or cruel? Parents debate whether it’s OK to pierce babies’ ears

To pierce or not to pierce an infant’s ears? That’s the question kicking up dust in the parenting blogosphere, with moms on either side debating what, for some, is a cultural tradition while others simply like how it looks. 

Last week a 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 argues. “Why not get the baby some really cool tattoos as well?”

Roxana Soto's daughter gets her ears pierced at four months old.
Roxana Soto’s daughter gets her ears pierced at four months old: While Vanessa’s cried, she was fine 30 seconds later, Soto says.Today

The Post-Gazette’s Dear Mary Ann responds that while controversial in parts of the U.S., babies 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.

That same day, over at online community CafeMom, one of their “Stir Bloggers” posted a swift reaction to the Post-Gazette, agreeing with the reader that  “Parents Who Pierce Their Baby’s Ears Are Just Plain Cruel”:

“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?”

Roxana Soto, co-founder of Spanglish Baby and co-author of “Bilingual is Better,” stepped forward to defend baby ear-piercing:

“For Latina moms, piercing their baby girls’ ears has nothing to do with vanity. It’s simply a cultural tradition. 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 mean parents? (Tell us what you think: Vote in our poll.)

 “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 tells TODAY Moms. She tells parents who disagree with the practice: just don’t do it for your infant.

When her daughter was born six years ago, 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.

Roxana Soto's daughter, now 6 years old. Soto says piercing babies' ears is a matter of parental preference.
Roxana Soto’s daughter, now 6 years old. Soto says piercing babies’ ears is a matter of parental preference.Today

“I don’t care what others think,” Soto explains. “Because we’re talking about my daughter and about something completely harmless that is completely normal in my culture.”    

Gina Crosley-Corcoran, feminist blogger, doula, and mother of three, recounts 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 tells TODAY Moms. “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 a parent should choose for her daughter before she can choose for herself.

She writes on her blog:

“Not my body, not my choice. If Jolene wants to poke holes in her ears when she’s old enough to consent, then I’d happily take her to a real piercing studio when the time is right. It will likely be a lovely mother-daughter bonding moment, and I’ll look forward to that day.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics’ website says ear piercing is safe for cosmetic reasons at any age. Though, when it comes to avoiding earlobe infection, they caution 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, Calif., 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 four months old, so 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,” says Altmann. “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 baby’s 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.