MUMS sharing videos of their baby daughters having their ears pierced have reignited the debate about whether piercing young children should be allowed.
One TikTok clip, which has been viewed almost seven million times, shows a mum called Kristy holding her baby who jumps with shock and starts crying after the piercer puts the gun to her ear.
The post divided opinion with some users saying it was ‘cruel’, while others thought it was ‘cute’.
Ultimately the choice of whether or not to pierce your child’s ears, and at what age, lies with the parents.
But there are some factors to consider to make an informed decision.
Dr Ravi Jayaram, Consultant Paediatrician at the Countess of Chester Hospital, says that any break in the skin carries a risk of infection and there are several reasons why babies are at higher risk.
The important thing is if you are going to get your child’s ears pierced, make sure you go to somewhere that’s reputable
Dr Ravi Jayaram
He explains: “Number one, because the ear lobes are smaller and it’s easier to get the piercing in the wrong place.
“Number two, babies vomit and dribble, so everything is a bit more moist.
“And number three, their immune systems aren’t necessarily as strong, so if there is an infection on board, it may spread more quickly and cause other symptoms.”
With babies, Dr Jayaram warns there’s not just a risk of local infection – which can cause redness, soreness, swelling and scarring – but of systemic infection as well.
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He says: “In the first month of life, what we call the neonatal period, you’re at higher risk of local infection getting into your system and becoming a systemic infection.
“There are germs like Staphylococcus that lives on your skin, which if it gets into your system can be really nasty.”
What parents who are deciding when to pierce their children’s ears will want to know next is how common this is.
Dr Jayaram says: “Around the world there are cultures that pierce their baby’s ears very young and most are fine.
“In my nearly 30 years in paediatrics, I’ve not seen a systemic infection in a baby caused by an ear piercing, but I have seen infected ear piercings in all ages that have come through.”
Very recently he treated a teenager who had developed a blood infection from an infected upper ear lobe piercing.
“The important thing is if you are going to get your child’s ears pierced, make sure you go to somewhere that’s reputable, with records, and that’s been checked out by the council public health people because there are places that are fairly dodgy,” says Dr Jayaram.
“If appropriate hygiene measures are observed – so they clean everything down aseptically, they use sterile equipment that is not re-used – the risk is much lower. But there is always a risk.”
I have seen infected ear piercings in all ages that have come through
Aftercare is also very important.
The high street’s best-known ear piercers, Claire’s Accessories, has a sizeable list of aftercare instructions to help new piercings heal well.
This includes washing your hands before touching it, cleaning the front and back of your ear three times a day, avoiding soap, perfume, hair and cosmetic products, and cleansing and drying your new piercing after swimming or exercise.
Besides infection, there are other risks to consider though, like allergic reactions.
With young children, it’s likely that it will be the first time they are exposed to the metals in the earring and there is no way of knowing how their body will react.
Dr Jayaram explains: “It’s said that gold is probably the least allergenic material. But a lot of the cheaper piercing parlours probably don’t use gold.
“We know that nickel can be quite allergenic and, depending on what’s used to pierce – a gun or a needle – that can have a bearing as well.”
The earring itself can also be a wearable choking hazard for youngsters.
It’s said that gold is probably the least allergenic material
Dr Jayaram says: “You could pull it off and it could easily get in your mouth, go down the wrong way and cause trouble.”
The use of locking earring backs does not totally eliminate this risk.
Some people are also susceptible to keloid scars.
“With keloid scars, you’re prone to getting quite bulky overgrowth of tissue that is not painful but looks quite unpleasant and often needs intervention and cutting out so that your ears look normal,” says Dr Jayaram.
Is it fair though that some parents have been accused of child abuse for having their little one’s ears pierced?
“We, as doctors, do some fairly unpleasant things to babies sometimes but we’re doing them for benefit and the harm is very low,” says Dr Jayaram.
“If I do a blood test on a three week old, is that baby traumatised forever? I think it’s very hard to say that they are.”
So is there a right age to have a child’s ears pierced?
In terms of the law, there is no age restriction.
Scotland is the only country in Great Britain where children under the age of 16 are legally required to have a parent’s permission to have their ears or other body parts pierced.
Certainly before three months, you’re really just asking for potential trouble
Wales was the first UK nation to ban the intimate piercing of under 18s in 2018, but currently there is no age restriction in place on ear piercings.
The same goes for England, although previous petitions to ban ear piercing for babies and toddlers have attracted tens of thousands of signatures.
Many salons impose their own age restrictions, however.
At Superdrug, the age limit is three and over, whereas high street jewellers F. Hinds and H. Samuel will only pierce children’s ears over the age of six and seven respectively.
At Claire’s Accessories, they only require that anyone under the age of 16 has a parent or legal guardian present.
From a medical perspective, Dr Jayaram says there isn’t one right age but advises against it for newborns.
He says: “For a baby, leave it as long as you can if you have to do it.
“I don’t think you have to do it, but ultimately as a parent, you have to be aware of the risks.
“You also have to be aware that you’re doing something to your baby that they have no consent over and it actually has very little discernible benefit for them.
“Below six months, from a medical point of view, you’ve got a higher risk of infection.
“Certainly before three months, you’re really just asking for potential trouble.”
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