What you need to know about piercing small ears, from the decision to take the plunge to caring for them afterward.
It may be early, it may be later, but at some point your child will likely get her (or his) ears pierced. If it’s been a while since you’ve had the procedure done — or you never got your own ears pierced — it may help to brush up on some of what it entails.
What age is right?
As in everything in child development, that depends. In some cultures, it’s traditional that a baby girl gets her ears pierced almost immediately. It’s widely accepted in Latino and African-American communities and the practice is becoming more popular in others.
If you skip piercing your baby’s ears, it’s probably best to wait until he or she is old enough and responsible enough to take care of the piercings as they heal. In North America, the clamor for ear piercing usually starts when they’re around 9 or 10 and only intensifies as one more child from class or soccer has cool new pierced ears. You’ll know if your child is ready.
Depending on where you go, it may be an air gun “shooting” the earring through the lobe. You can also find places that do it with a needle. Wherever you go, make sure everything is sanitized and the practitioner is wearing surgical gloves. In some areas, pediatricians and their nurses will now pierce ears. Consult your doctor before piercing your child’s ears.
For babies, most health experts advise waiting until the baby has her or his first tetanus shot. And the first pair of earrings should be 18K or 14K yellow gold, surgical steel or platinum posts with screw-on backs rather than the more common push-on backs. It’s too easy for a push-on back to loosen in the crib, and then both it and the earring itself become choking hazards. The posts should also be shorter than those on adults’ earrings — there’s just not as much room between their tiny lobes and heads. Older children should also have 18K or 14K yellow gold, surgical-grade steel or platinum posts — choose a metal that’s free of nickel or only has trace amounts. Nickel allergies are on the rise, and avoiding nickel can help keep the ear clear of infection.
For anyone of any age who’s gotten a piercing, the earring must stay in the ear for four to six weeks to allow the hole to heal. During that time, the piercing should be cleaned a couple times a day with a disinfectant and a fresh cotton ball or cotton swab. A swab around the earring and the back will help fight the chance of infection. If your baby’s ears are pierced, clean around the earrings before every time you change a diaper to complete two chores at once. Older kids should clean the piercing area two to three times a day. You should supervise and issue reminders until you’re sure your child can handle it on their own. The earrings should also get rotated a couple of times a day to prevent scar tissue from attaching. Check for signs of infection and call your pediatrician if you see redness, swelling or fluid from the hole.
The six weeks are up, there’s been no infection and now it’s time to start the earring collection! All ages should keep wearing earrings even after the initial healing period for about six months — it’s pretty easy for the holes to close up. For the first six months to a year, still steer clear of metals containing nickel (like white gold). There may be trace amounts of nickel in sterling silver, but it’s generally considered safe.
With babies, you get to choose the earrings, but keep in mind they should still be one of the safer metals in terms of nickel, and posts should be short. Even tiny hoops or drops could get tangled in small fingers, clothing, bedding or hair, so they should only be worn when you can supervise.
With your tween, schedule a special earring shopping trip after the healing period is up (remember, a month or six weeks can feel like forever at that age), just the two of you. Some popular motifs to look for:
- Nature: Bees, butterflies and flowers in colorful enamels on 14K yellow gold.
- Hearts: Solid, outlines, with gemstones or without.
- Personal: Birthstones, crosses or interests.
This is also a great opportunity for your child to start building a jewelry wardrobe. Studs in metal or with cultured pearls will get a lifetime of use, as will small-diameter hoops — these kind of basics know no age!
Already have a child with pierced ears or plan to pierce them soon? Get a head start and surprise them with a special pair of baby and kid-friendly earrings from Kay Jewelers or Jared The Galleria Of Jewelry.