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Why do Spanish parents pierce their babies’ ears?

Spanish babies typically wear earrings
Why do the Spanish pierce babies' ears? Photo: Javier Pincemin/Flickr
Piercing babies' ears is a controversial subject and one that people in many countries are very much against. In Spain however, it's common to see baby girls with pierced ears, so why do the Spanish do this?

While in other European countries it may be more common to pierce children’s ears when they’re slightly older, in Spain it’s still a common tradition to pierce them shortly after birth, when they’re still babies.

While the issue does cause controversy for many, in Spain the matter of piercing a baby’s ears has been ingrained into the culture for decades if not centuries, passed down for many generations.

Spanish mothers who have had girls are often given a pair of baby earrings as a christening present for their little one.

It is also customary for the first gift from the grandparents of the girl to be a pair of gold studs.

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Often the presence of earrings on Spanish babies acts as a way of indicating whether the baby is a boy or a girl.

Many Spanish parents will be asked (typically by members of the older generations) if their child is a boy or a girl if they’re not wearing earrings. 

In fact, up until a few years ago, Spanish state hospitals would actually offer this service for babies who had recently been born.

These days however only private health centres offer this service, or it can get it done at some pharmacies and piercing salons. 

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How do Spain’s baby ear piercing rules and traditions compare to other countries?

In Latin American countries, India, as well as some nations in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa,  it’s considered a cultural or religious tradition to pierce a baby girl’s ears, one that’s harmless to the infant.

But in other Western countries it’s often frowned upon, with some parents putting it on a par with mutilation. 

In Germany for example, the legal age for getting piercings is 16 with your parent’s consent and 18 without, meaning that the subject of piercing a baby’s ears is not even talked about.

Despite many piercing salons imposing their own legal age restrictions and a 2015 petition against the practice that gathered more than 84,000 signatures, there is no UK-wide age limit for ear piercing.

The only law is in Scotland, where anyone wanting a piercing before the age of 16 must have their parent’s consent.

Spanish grandparents often give their granddaughters studs as a baptism gift. Photo: Celeste García M./Flickr

Even though there is no law against it, according to family news site MadeforMums, the average age for ear piercing in the UK is seven years old.

While it may be frowned upon and not practiced in many countries, few actually have a law prohibiting the piercing of babies’ ears.

Both Italy and Sweden for example have no official age limit.  

Is the tradition in Spain changing?

Up until recently piercing a baby girl’s ears was an almost unquestionable tradition in Spain. But views are gradually changing as more parents have started to question whether it’s really worth it just for the sake of cultural norms and not being asked by passers-by if the baby is a boy or a girl.

The fact that the service is no longer offered for free at public hospitals is also a reason for the drop in the number of parents getting their baby’s ears pierced.

There may be no law prohibiting the practice in Spain but it doesn’t mean that all piercing salons or pharmacies will agree to pierce a baby’s ears.

On Barcelona Babies & Kids Facebook group one parent wrote that many salons there will not pierce the ears of anyone under two years of age, while pharmacies will often do it for younger children. 

One reader told The Local Spain that she took her two-year-old sister (with her mother’s permission) to a piercing salon in Mallorca and they refused, stating that it would be too dangerous if she decided to turn her head.

Could it be that the tradition of piercing babies’ ears is slowly dying out in Spain? 

Is it safe to pierce babies’ ears?

Just like parents’ opinions on it, medical views on baby ear piercing also vary depending on who you ask or where you look.

The theory according to some medical professionals is that babies’ ears are much softer soon after they’ve been born, so they don’t feel as much pain as they would if you waited until they’re older.

According to midwife Maite Navarro, the ideal time to pierce a baby’s ears is a few weeks after birth. At that age “the skin of the lobe is softer, which greatly minimises the small discomfort it may suffer.” She recommends that the lobe be pierced during the first six months of life.

However, the Spanish midwife website susMatronas.com advises not to pierce your baby’s ears during the first two months of its life, because the size of the earlobe will change.

While the American Academy of Paediatrics, suggests “to postpone the piercing until your child is mature enough to take care of the pierced site herself”.

Some sources say there’s a possibility of infection, allergic reaction and other minor problems but the general consensus is that the risk is low. 

The Spanish Association of Paediatrics for families states that “from the point of view of paediatrics, there is no scientific study which has analysed this matter but deciding whether to pierce your baby’s ears is not a reason to see a doctor”.


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