Piercing your baby's ears: Should you? At what age? We shed light

Should parents be allowed to pierce their babies' ears?
Should parents be allowed to pierce their babies' ears?

When Kylie Jenner uploaded an adorable snap of her kissing baby Stormi online last week, instead of wilfully awwing as one would when spotting a doting mother out in the wild, users somehow managed to find something to complain about.

But are we really all that surprised? The new mom has been shamed for her parenting since she gave birth to her “little life” in February. This time though, it wasn’t for going to Coachella or leaving her baby at home while she becomes a billionaire, but piercing her 5-month-old’s ears.

After we published the story last week, many of our readers also had a thing or two to say, mostly coming to Kylie’s defence. 

But others felt that, while Kylie’s parenting really has nothing to do with us, one can’t help but wonder about the possibility of infections. And is making this decision on your baby’s half, that they might have to live with forever, really okay?

The rest of Andreas' comment reads: "... to a child or baby that has no means to make an informed decision about their own body, and communicate it, is assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm. The constitution is clear on it, and applies to us all from birth to death. There are no age limitations."

So when is it acceptable to get your baby’s ears pierced? Is there a right age? And are there any specific laws prohibiting parents from getting their baby’s ears pierced? Or is it an each-to-his/her-own situation?

What is the right age to get my baby’s ears pierced? The law and SA guidelines

There is no SA law which specifically prohibits you from piercing your child’s ears, apart from section 12 in our South African Bill of Rights, which states:

“Everyone has the right to bodily and psychological integrity, which includes the right –

(a) to make decisions concerning reproduction;
(b) to security in and control over their body; and
(c) not to be subjected to medical or scientific experiments without their informed consent.”

The South African Council for Piercing and Tattoo Professionals, with the Department of Health, issued a proposed Guidelines for the Prevention and Control of Infection in which they confirmed there is no minimum age, but proposed the following guidelines:

  • “There is no legally defined minimum age at which body piercing can be carried out but it is a recommendation of these guidelines that body piercing is not offered or administered to any person under the age of 16 years.”
  • “Piercers should adopt a reasonable age restriction to avoid parental conflict and legal complications, whilst enhancing their reputation. The client should be provided with sufficient information to allow them to proceed in an informed way and without pressure.”
  • “Exceptions to the ‘16 year old’ guidance may be made in the case of facial or cosmetic piercing (e.g. nose, lip, eyebrow, navel) provided that such piercing is only offered or administered to people under 16 years of age when accompanied by their consenting parent or guardian. It is the responsibility of the piercer to ensure the child is consenting as well as the adult."

So if there are no laws prohibiting parents from specifically getting their baby’s ears pierced, why all the fuss?

Besides it being painful at first, your baby is still growing, which means the hole can either distort or look lopsided later on, while they also run the risk of infection and allergic reactions.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has a reasonable policy that we feel is worth considering though. While they believe waiting until your child is old enough to care for the piercing themselves, they also say that if you’d like to go ahead and pierce your baby’s ears, you should try and wait until your baby is older than 2 months.

By this time your baby's immune system would be somewhat stronger to fight potential infection and she’ll also have had her first round of vaccination shots.

Local professionals who offer ear piercing, such as Claire’s, have even stricter policies. Under their “How old do you have to be?” section on their site they make it clear: “Piercings will not be conducted on infants under the age of 6 months. Infants will need to have a current DTaP shot, which typically takes place at 8 weeks old.”

How to care for your child’s ears after they’ve been pierced

Many babies get their ears pierced and run into no problem whatsoever, while others could experience swelling or infection. I still remember, when I was growing up, the little crusty bit that formed around the piercing on the back of my earlobe. But with surgical spirit applied to a cotton ball and rubbed around the piercing, it got better in a matter of days.

There are ways to make sure of your baby’s newly pierced ears, as well as treat them if they are infected. Here are a few tips that seems to cover most parents:

  • When choosing earrings, be sure to pick smaller studs with a rounded, secure backing that will not cut into the back of your baby’s neck. Do not pick dangling or hooped earrings that your baby might grab onto and pull.
  • Make sure the person piercing your baby’s ears is a professional and that their equipment is sterilised and clean to avoid infection.
  • After getting the ears pierced, do not remove the earrings for at least 6 weeks, or for however long the professional tells you to.
  • Make sure you wipe around the piercing during this time and twist the earring right around regularly.
  • If the piercing seems to be infected, with a discharge or little crusty area, remove the earring and rub it and the ear with surgical spirit. If the infection appears to be more serious and is inflamed, red and bleeding, go see your doctor who might recommend an antibiotic.
  • The infection might also be the result of an allergic reaction, specifically, to a particular metal. This could be from the tools used to pierce the ear or the earrings worn. We recommend surgical steel or at least 14-karat gold. 

That being said, the decision, whether it’s the earrings you choose or the age at which you decide is best to pierce your baby’s ears, is completely up to you. While there are no specific laws or regulations that prohibits you and Kylie Jenner from piercing your baby's ears and living your best life, maybe just do so after that first tetanus shot, and be sure to always keep the surgical spirits at hand.

What are your thoughts on piercing babies' ears? At what age do you think it can or should be done? Should parents be allowed to pierce their babies' ears? Tell us by emailing chatback@parent24.com and we may publish your comments. Do let us know if you'd like to remain anonymous.

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