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Infant ear piercing in Latino cultures and the United States
Although piercing a newborn's tiny ears is controversial in the United States, in Spain and Latin America it's customary to do so moments or days after a baby girl is born. In these cultures, it's believed that it's more painful for the child if you wait until she's older.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says there's little risk at any age if the piercing is performed carefully and cared for conscientiously. But the AAP does recommend waiting until a child is old enough to take care of the piercing herself.
In Latino cultures, however, it's assumed that a girl will want to wear this traditional symbol of femininity beginning at a young age. Ear piercing is such a deep-rooted tradition in Spain and Latin America that it's very common to give a new mom gold ear studs for her newborn, and for the baby to leave the hospital wearing them.
Piercing your baby's ears at birth
Although it may seem routine, let your baby's doctor know ahead of time that you're planning to pierce your baby's ears, and ask what type of complications might arise.
In the United States, it's not the usual practice to pierce a newborn's ears in the hospital. If you can't have the piercing done while you're there, your baby's doctor may be able to do it after you've gone home (in some areas, many pediatricians are equipped to pierce babies' ears) – or recommend another reputable healthcare professional to do the job.
Even though the piercing is over in a matter of seconds, it's painful because it's done without anesthesia. If you want to spare your newborn that pain, ask the doctor whether a little bit of topical anesthesia can be applied to the lobe before the piercing. Healthcare providers who pierce babies' ears often use sterilized piercing earrings made of hypoallergenic surgical steel and especially designed for this purpose – so you may not be able to use your own earrings right away.
How to prevent complications after piercing
After the piercing, don't remove the earrings for six weeks.
During that time, wipe some alcohol around the ear lobe twice a day, and twist the earrings at least once a day. Don't press on your baby's ear when doing so, as that can be painful. After each bath, dry the area around each piercing so it doesn't stay damp.
Keep an eye out for any signs of infection. These can include pain, discharge, inflammation, and bleeding. If you see any of these signs, take the earring off, clean it with alcohol, and ask your baby's doctor whether you should apply any medication.
Your doctor may recommend that you apply an antibiotic ointment or cream to the earlobe as well as to the earring itself before putting it back on. Ask your doctor if you can buy the cream over the counter or if you'll need a prescription.
Call the doctor if your baby runs a fever or the earlobe gets very red and swollen.
After six weeks, the ear lobes should have healed and you can put different earrings on. Make sure all new earrings are made of surgical steel or of gold that's at least 14 karat. Earrings made of other materials, including gold-plated earrings, can trigger an allergic reaction.
Choose baby earrings that are very small, round, and as flat as possible in front. The fastener should cover the entire back of the earring, and the post should be rounded with a little point at the end.
Never use dangling earrings because your baby could tug on them and even pull them out. If they get into your baby's mouth, they pose a serious choking hazard. If you wear jewelry, such as a necklace, it could catch and tug on the baby's dangling earrings.
Is it more complicated to pierce a baby's ears later?
No, it's no more complicated if you have your baby's ears pierced when she's a bit older instead of shortly after birth.
When you're ready to have it done, ask for a referral. It's not unusual for pediatricians to do ear piercing, but if your baby's doctor doesn't, ask him or her to recommend someone.
Never take your baby to a jewelry store or shopping center to get her ears pierced. These places usually use piercing guns (rather than needles), which can't be sterilized. Workers are often inexperienced and receive little training or supervision.