Baby Ear Piercing: Maybe It’s Just a Cultural Thing—Or A Mom’s Prerogative

I have no earthly idea how old I was when I first got my ears pierced. What I do remember, though, is that I got them done in a hole-in-the-wall shop in a Long Island strip mall, and I was sitting on a long metal table, and my mother was holding me down while some strange lady with a huge afro and a bigger needle lit the sharp end of the needle’s tip with a lighter and then rubbed my ear with ice. You know what came next. I want to scream right now, just thinking about it.

So traumatized by the experience was I that when one of my holes closed months later, I refused to get it pierced again. I ended up rocking one gold hoop in my right ear for what seemed like forever—looking like a little chocolate Mr. Clean with bangs and bows—until a friend of mine made me feel like a sucker for having only one hole and dragged me to the mall, where, this time around, I got popped in my ear with a piercing gun. Right. That mess hurt, too.

Still, practically the moment I found out the child in my belly was a girl, I turned to my baby books and BabyCenter.com for intel on when it would be safe to get my daughter’s ears pierced. The books said I could have them done after her first two rounds of vaccines; the pediatrician confirmed but said I should wait until she was at least four months old. On her four-month birthday, her godmother and I took her to a high-end jewelry store and, while I held her close and stroked her back, a technician pumped two gold balls into Mari’s lovely ears.

Three years later, when my Lila was six months old, our pediatrician numbed her little ears with some solution and pierced hers, too.

Despite my own trauma, I thought nothing of piercing my daughters’ ears because, well, that’s what we do: we have babies and if they’re girls, we braid their hair, dress them up really cute and get their ears pierced as soon as it’s safe to do so. There was none of this, “oh, it’s her body and she should decide if she wants it altered” talk—no “let’s hold off until some arbitrary birthday so we can get our mother/daughter bond on” discussions. It was what it was. The alternative—baby girls with naked ears—never was an option.

Frankly, it wasn’t for any of my friends with daughters. Specifically, black daughters.  I honestly cannot recall one single African American, Latino, Indian, Middle Eastern or other girl child of color that my daughters have been friends with who doesn’t have pierced ears.

But I certainly can recall the big deal that was made when a few of my white friends were taking their elementary school-aged daughters for their big ear-piercing days, which, now that I think about it, usually fell on special birthdays, like double digits or whatever. And there are quite a few of them that do not have their pierced ears, too. Apparently, our affinity for piercing our daughters’ ears isn’t necessarily widely held by white moms. Which might explain all this brouhaha sweeping across the mom blogosphere of late, with bloggers squaring off on whether ear piercing constitutes torture.

No, really—I’m dead ass.

It started with a letter in a Pittsburg Post-Gazette advice column, in which a concerned reader likened piercing babies’ ears to “borderline child abuse.”  That same day, a blogger at CaféMom’s The Stir co-signed, calling parents who pierce their babies ears “cruel.” And, well, yeah—shots fired. Our girl Roxana Soto of  Spanglish Baby broke down the cultural significance of ear piercing in the Latino culture and basically told folk they should just mind their own business. And Today Moms, the online parenting portal for the Today show, tied up the various arguments into this nice, neat little post, weighing all the opinions and doing polls about it and whatnot.

And over here at MyBrownBaby, I’m still trying to figure out what the hell the big deal is. It’s an ear piercing, for goodness sake. Not a tattoo. Not a female circumcision. Not anything that is harmful or, if you get the piercing done early enough and by a professional, even painful or memorable. I’m pretty positive that Mari and Lila cried more over vaccination shots than they did over their ear piercings (which were much more evolved than the iced-ear/needle method I suffered through as a pre-schooler). I checked in with Mari and Lila at dinner last night and both of them actually thanked me for hooking them up when they were infants, because they don’t remember any of it, which is way cool by them. So unaffected by it is Mari that she asked for a second piercing, and I happily obliged her, so long as she promised that she would clean and care for her new piercing on her own. She agreed. The second piercing is gorgeous—every bit as pretty as their first piercings from when they were babies.

Here’s a thought: how about, if you don’t think it’s cool to pierce a baby’s ears, when you have a baby girl, don’t get her ears pierced. If you want to save it for her 10th birthday, then do that then. But really, passing judgment on us moms who pierce our babies’ ears? Yeah, not fresh.

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Denene Millner

Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.

34 Comments

  1. This is an issue? Smh… I noticed the white girl/black girl earring thing back in elementary school and again when I and my coworkers/friends started having kids. I always assumed it was a cultural difference. No big deal. Do you and ill do me. But to call it torture? Come on man.

  2. I actually think it’s more challenging to wait until 10, or whatever the “right” age is. I remember stuff that happened at 10.
    In my family, it’s rare to let a girl child go past two weeks without earrings. I got mine done at about 6 days, according to my mama. My niece was the oldest one, and she got hers done (by the same woman that did mine) at 10 days. It was so fast that I went to warm a bottle, and when I returned maybe 3 minutes later, my niece was happily gurgling with little red threads in her ears. It doesn’t occur to us to not put earrings in as soon as possible.

  3. My girls don’t have their ears pierced. I thought it would be a cool thing to do as a female version of a “rite of passage” to buy her (and their mother) a spa package and they could spend the day getting all beautified, and top it off with getting their ears pierced.

    I was thinking when they turn 13…but we’ll see if they can hold out that long, lol!

    That’s the vision I have in MY heard for my girls. Hopefully, they will pass on the tradition to their girls…hence, a family tradition has been born.

    Now, do I pass judgement on to other parents who get their babies pierced. Not in the least. With all do respect, As a father of two girls, I have more important things to worry about, like keeping boys off my property AFTER they get their ears pierced.

    I think there’s an app for that.

    • LOLOL, an app for that…that’s funny!

    • This is exactly my thought. My daughter is 1 and doesn’t have her ears pierced and all of my black friends look at me like I’m crazy. It’s not that I have anything against piercing a baby’s ears, it just never seemed that important (and yes, my ears were pierced when I was 3 months old like mostly everyone else). I look forward to taking my big girl to get her ears pierced when she’s older and asks :)

    • Denene@MyBrownBaby

      I feel you on keeping the boys out the yard, BrothaTech! We’re right there with you, bro!

    • This comment reminds me of my dad. My younger sister and I didn’t get our ears pierced until we were seven and ten. Dad set that age limit. However, I will be taking my twin girls as soon as they turn four months!

  4. WHY WHY WHY??? I feel like every week, there is something new: telling your child about Santa = lying to them and now piercing their ears is borderline child abuse??? C’mon son! Do you and mind your business when I do mine. The end.

  5. Sometimes I think people need new stuff to criticize other parents for doing. There are bigger fish to fry folks. I am all for pierced ears.

  6. I swear Denene, your posts are always so timely. Been really excited about getting my soon to be 18 month old’s ears pierced. After two boys, everything girly is so exciting for me right now. My pediatrician doesn’t do the piercings and when I went to my mommy listservs for advice — there was lots of shade thrown. So sad. Anyway…thanks for always pulling my thoughts out my head and blogging about it. YOU ROCK!

  7. Definitely a cultural thing. I’m white, my husband is Mexican. We have two boys, so we never had to get into this, but each time I knew I was going to hear about it if we had a girl and I didn’t get her ears pierced. I didn’t think it was abuse so much as more work for mom. I got mine done when I was seven and figured I’d do it when I thought my daughter could take care of them with very little oversight from me. I don’t have strong feelings either way, and now that I have 2 boys, I guess that is one debate I’ll never have to deal with (I got the circumcision issue instead).

  8. Borderline child abuse? Okay, where are the victims pressing charges?

    My ears were pierced the old-fashioned way, with a needle, string, potato and ice by my grandmother when I was an infant, and I have never regretted my mother’s decision. When I was 13, I got a second hole with one of those gun contraptions.

    When my girls were infants I had their ears pierced by their pediatrician. There were few tears, and the doctor checked for infection and to see if they were too tight at every well baby visit.

    I’ve had parents ask me when and where my daughters ears were pierced. When I tell them the pediatrician’s office, some tell me they wished they had done that because their daughters want earrings but are afraid of the pain.

    Honeysmoke

  9. I’ve have my ears pierced probably since I was 2 weeks old (since some of my youngest baby photos show me with not only ear bling, but a few bangles on my arm as well! Funny now, those could be my hoop earrings these days! I’m 35 and have had the same piercings ever since.

    I definitely think it’s cultural, I would think nothing of taking my daughter to get her ears pierced, but I debated for months about whether or not to vaccinate my son, and what schedule! I have white friends with daughters who make a huge deal out of piercings at a certain age, but I have the memory of my mom buying me a very special pair of *big girl* earrings for Kindergarten (double gold heart studs) – up until then, I only wore gold ball studs.

  10. I’m a white mom who’s waiting until my daughter is old enough to ask for pierced ears and take care of the hygiene part of it herself (8 or so, I’m guessing based on when my mom took me to get mine pierced). But I really don’t see why I should care one way or the other if another mom makes a different decision on this. And I certainly don’t think it’s torture or abuse if you do get your child’s ears pierced at an earlier age.

  11. I am not sure if this is a culture thing. I got my ears pierced at 5 when my mother thought I could comprehend getting my ears pierced. She asked me and I said yes. I was somewhat aware that I would be wearing jewelry and I was asked if I wanted it. If I had children I would do the same.

  12. I didn’t get my daughter’s ears pierced cause I didn’t think it was necessary to cause her unnecessary pain, when she was beautiful “as is”. Also, I was a bit chicken–her dad had to take her to get all her vaccination shots, as I would want to cry more than her. I had planned on taking her to get them pierced when she was 8, so you can imagine my horror when she came home with them pierced after a day of hanging with my ex-husband’s new girlfriend. Aaaaargh!!

    • Denene@MyBrownBaby

      WHOA! Say what now, BlueFacedAngel?! Some other woman made that decision for your daughter? *makes sign of the cross* Lawd…

  13. I don’t see the big deal either. There’s definitely a cultural aspect to it. As a white child, I’m sure my mom didn’t even consider it and I didn’t get to pierce my ears until I was 13 or so. I have a little girl and haven’t even thought about piercing her ears yet. Of course, her daddy will probably say she has to wait till she’s 35 which is when he says she can date.lol. I just don’t get why we can’t appreciate that other people have different customs without getting all judgy. Why does someone doing something different than mean have to mean 1 of us is right and 1 of us is wrong? I think little babies with pierced ears are cute even if I haven’t taken that step.

  14. Piercings is torture, well what do you call circumcision…?! I’m just saying… Is that not a thing that is done right away before the child has a chance to voice his opinion on the matter of his stuff getting cut up. Ok sorry, LOL!

    I had my ears pierced at a young age, but hated them so because I was allergic to the metal the earrings were made from. I could only get the “good” stuff and of course we couldn’t afford it so barely wore them.

    Seeing as I wanted a house full of boys, when I was blessed with 2 girls 14 months apart from each other, I had to deal with the shock of that more so than getting their ears pierced… Granted my firstborn is a boy :-) My older daughter didn’t get her ears pierced until she was older and we quickly learned that she had the same issues with earrings as I did, so she only wears them occasionally as well. But that’s more so because she isn’t too enamored with the earrings business either (guess she learned that from me). And well our youngest wears behind the ears hearing aids, and though people have asked if she will get her ears pierced… that is a bridge we will cross when SHE asks, because as of right now she hates anyone touching her ears…

    Sorry for the novel, LOL!

    • I agree with your comparison to males being circumcised soon after birth. I did not get my ears pierced until I was 13; my parents viewed it as the right time, no brouhaha, just went to the mall with an older sister and had it done with the piercing gun. But, others in my family did have their baby girls’ ears pierced when they were 6 months old or so, others waited until later. Ear piercing is a far-cry from torture, just ask some folks across the water.

  15. I got mine pierced at 12. I can’t see the point in piercing a baby’s ears, but to each his own.

  16. I just want to make sure that I understand the authors position. It sounds like her stance is “to each his/her own” on ear piercing. So each family should do what is best for them AND refrain from judging others.

    At the same time, I sense that the author is okay with judging people who would tattoo or circumcise their children. One form of judgement is okay, but the other isn’t? Or have you decided that one form of altering a child’s body is so commonplace in African American culture that it’s exempt from your judgement.

    I guess everything really is relative. Maybe in cultures where female circumcision is common, people are saying “don’t judge” on that issue, while judging African Americans who ear pierce.

    The thought pattern just seems a bit inconsistent to me.

    • Even if those who practice FGM judge us for piercing our babies ears, that doesn’t give them some sort of leg to stand on against our horror at their practices. FGM is a horrifying, painful, invasive procedure that has cost women sexual pleasure and, worse, their lives. We pierce babies ears so they look cute in a culture that thinks girls and women look cute with jewelry. One can’t reasonably compare the two. Removing an earring is a simple procedure. If your daughter grows to hate them, she only has to take them out. FGM and male circumcision are forever. Tattoos require painful, expensive removal.

    • Are you saying that cutting out a girl’s clitoris is comparable to poking a hole in the cartilage of her ear???

  17. Long time reader, first time commenting…I guess I finally feel like I can, lol! I’m pregnant with my first and due in March. I cannot wait to get her ears pierced! I keep forgetting to ask our pediatrician if he or any of his colleagues do this in their office. My mom had mine done at 3 months, I believe, also in the doctor’s office. I do have sensitive ears, but I never had problems with wearing the wrong metals until I was the one responsible for changing earrings. I saw a set of 6-month-old twins getting pierced at the mall recently and they both stayed very calm the whole way through. Can’t wait!

  18. it’s TOTALLY a cultural thing – my mother is Mexican and in my mom’s family, the godmother pierced the baby’s ears when she was a newborn … with a needle and thread!

    when my daughter was 4-5ish months old, my husband and i took her to a professional piercer – this woman has been piercing ears with a needle for 20+ years – she took a ton of time with us, explaining how she did the procedure and why she used a needle instead of a gun – she explained to me exactly how to hold my daughter while she pierced her ears and was done with both ears in less than a minute – like a previous poster said, she cried less than when getting vaccinations

    i’ve had people comment on having her ears done so early and i always tell them it’s a cultural thing and leave it at that – i don’t really care what other people think – my kid, my decision!

  19. It’s definitely a cultural thing. From the moment my family found out we were having a girl, the jewelry started pouring in. Among the bracelets and necklaces…. earrings ! When my little one was 5 months old I took her in to jewelry boutique to get her ears pierced. At the time we live in a smaller city, not very diverse, predominantly white. There were some people in the store that left the store and looked at me like I was crazy. I don’t expect some people to understand, just like I don’t understand why some parents allow their Tween to wear makeup at such young age…. but that’s their decision and their business.
    My husband and I agreed we would pierce her ears and that’s all I needed.

  20. Just to add my “it’s cultural” comment :) In Nigeria, little girls got their ears pierced before they left the hospital- yes, at 3 days old. I got my twin girls’ ears pierced once they were 2 months old. I really couldn’t imagine them with “bare ears”

  21. I am a black mother of a 3 yeard old daughter and she doesn’t have her ears pieced. I don’t have anything against it…I just didn’t think it was necessary. As soon as my daughter asks for them, I will get them pierced. People in my family made a few comments but I’m the strong-willed, strong minded type and they all know that lol. I also think its interesting my super Christian mother wanted her ears pierced when this clearly goes against Biblical teachings — to which she ignores lol. Anywho, I think calling it abuse, in the face of the real abuse that we know happens, is a bit much!!

  22. I had know idea that this was that big of a deal! I have an 8 month old girl, and I wanted to get her ears pierced as soon as she turned 4 months…mostly because I was tired of people asking me if she was a boy…even though she was all dressed in pink, etc. My husband wanted to wait, simply because his sister waited, and he didn’t want to deal with additional fussiness. I gave in…because quite frankly…it’s not that huge of a deal to me either way.

  23. I believe getting a little girls ears pierced is unquestionable. They just look adorable…its what we do..i am a africian american woman that has had her ears pierced since child birth by my aunt which used a needle and thread. She burned the needled with fire.. Cleaned needle in alcohol..numbed ears with ice.. Made each piercing on both earlobes then tied off.. As for cleaning.. We wld uses alcohol each day and vaseline to keep the thread from sticking and make sure you can turn the thread through the hole each day easily from using the vaseline.. She always used white thread due to coloring on thread may or may not cause infection.. Or she would take a piece of straw from the broom that was bundled high that never touch the floor break a piece off clean with alcohol burn on both sides and use until the ears healed with same care as the thread.. We never had infections nor kiloids … All the girls in the family and the time we had atleast 11 girls between 3 sisters … When i reached 16 i pierced my nose same way .. Ice , burned needle and straw… Same care for cleaning ..No infections .. I am now 47.. Earlobes never closed…total 2 piercings on lubes .. One on higher right cartridge and both tragus done.. This is old fashion piercing..

  24. I’m white, and my mother had my ears pierced when I was about a year old. This makes perfect sense to me. I don’t remember the piercing or the pain, and my mother says I barely cried. My aunt pierced me with a piercing gun.

    16 was the magic age at which many of my white friends were allowed to get their ears pierced. If I had felt left out of the fun I could have gotten a second piercing, but I was glad the decision (and all of the hygiene care) had already been done for me.

    My first baby is a boy, but if I have a girl someday I plan on piercing her ears at 6-8 months. If she doesn’t want to wear earrings when she’s older, she won’t have to, but if she does, she’ll be all set.

  25. So glad i found your blog!
    White mama here – just had my daughters ears pierced at 10months old and have had several comments already such as
    ‘Youve had her ears pierced! That must have hurt her!’
    ‘Youve mutilated her face!’
    And today’s beauty -
    ‘Did she ask for that?!’
    I seriously wish people would mind their own damn business and let me go about my own business of being the good mama I am! Just because I chose to have to ears pierced early doesn’t mean I love her any less than any other mother loves their baby.
    Anyone got any great comebacks I can use in the future to whip the butts of anyone who feels they must comment on my terrible parenting choice of ear piercing?!

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