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Why do Spanish parents pierce their babies’ ears?

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?

Spanish babies typically wear earrings
Why do the Spanish pierce babies' ears? Photo: Javier Pincemin/Flickr

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.

READ ALSO: The strange things Spanish parents do raising their children

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. 

READ ALSO – Readers reveal: What it’s really like to give birth in Spain

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 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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For members


Does Spain have a dog poo problem?

Many foreigners in Spain complain that the streets are full of dog faeces, but is that actually true and what, if anything, is being done to address it?

Does Spain have a dog poo problem?

Spain is a nation of dog lovers.

According to the country’s National Institute of Statistics (INE), 40 percent of Spanish households have a dog.

In fact, believe it or not, the Spanish have more dogs than they do children.

While there are a little over 6 million children under the age of 14 in Spain, there are over 7 million registered dogs in the country. 

But one bugbear of many foreigners in Spain is that there’s often a lot of dog mess in the streets, squares and parks.

The latest estimates suggest it’s as much as 675,000 tonnes of doodoo that has to be cleaned up every year in Spain.

Many dog owners in Spain carry around a bottle of water mixed with detergent or vinegar to clean up their dog’s urine and small plastic bags to pick up number twos.

And yet, many owners seem to either turn a blind eye to their pooches’ poo or somehow miss that their pets have just pooed, judging by the frequency with which dog sh*t smears Spanish pavements. 

So how true is it that Spain has a dog poo problem? Is there actually more dog mess in Spain than in other countries, and if not, why does it seem that way?

One contextual factor worth considering when understanding the quantity of caca in Spain’s calles is how Spaniards themselves actually live.

When one remembers that Spaniards mostly live in apartments without their own gardens, it becomes less surprising that it feels as though there’s a lot of dog mess in the streets. Whereas around 87 percent of households in Britain have a garden, the number in Spain is below 30 percent.

Simply put, a nation of dog lovers without gardens could mean more mess in the streets. 

Whereas Britons often just let their dogs out into their garden to do their business, or when they can’t be bothered to take them for a walk even, Spaniards have to take them out into the street, unless they’re okay with their pooches soiling their homes. 

There aren’t many dog-friendly beaches in Spain, and the fact that on those that do exist, some owners don’t clean up their dogs’ mess, doesn’t strengthen the case for more ‘playas para perros‘ to be added. (Photo by JOSE JORDAN / STR / AFP)

Doggy dirt left in the streets is most certainly not a Spain-specific problem either, but rather an urban one found around the world.

In recent years, there have been complaints about the sheer abundance of canine faecal matter left in public spaces in Paris, Naples, Rome, Jerusalem, Glasgow, Toronto, London, San Francisco and so on.

READ ALSO: Why do some Spanish homes have bottles of water outside their door?

Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a worldwide study to shed light on which cities and countries have the biggest ‘poo-blem’, with the available investigations mainly centred on individual nations, such as this one by Protect my Paws in the US and UK

And while it may be more noticeable in Spain than in some countries, it doesn’t mean the Spanish are doing nothing about it.

In fact, Barcelona has been named the third best city in Europe for dealing with the problem, according to a study by pet brand

Although Barcelona’s score of 53/80 was significantly lower than many British cities (Newcastle scored 68/80 and Manchester 66/80, for example) its hefty fines of 1,500 for dog owners caught not cleaning up after their canine friends might be a reason. 

And some parts of Spain take it even more seriously than that.

In many Spanish regions doggy databases have been created to catch the culprits. Over 35 Spanish municipalities require dog owners to register their pets’ saliva or blood sample on a genetic database so they can be traced and fined, if necessary. 

In Madrid, you are twice as likely to come across someone walking a dog than with a baby’s stroller. (Photo by JAVIER SORIANO / AFP)

This DNA trick started earlier in Spain than in many other countries; the town of Brunete outside of Madrid kicked off the trend in 2013 by mailing the ‘forgotten’ poo to neglectful owners’ addresses. Some municipalities have also hired detectives to catch wrongdoers.

So it’s not as if dog poo doesn’t bother Spaniards, with a 2021 survey by consumer watchdog OCU finding that it’s the type of dirt or litter found in the streets than bothers most people.

READ ALSO: Clean or dirty? How does your city rank on Spain’s cleanliness scale? 

It’s therefore not a part of Spanish culture not to clean up after dogs, but rather a combination of Spain’s propensity for outdoor and urban living, the sheer number of dogs, and of course the lack of civic duty on the part of a select few. Every country has them. 

On a final note, not all dog owners in Spain who don’t clean up after their pooches can be blamed for doing it deliberately, but it’s certainly true that looking at one’s phone rather than interacting with your dog, or walking with your dog off the leash (also illegal except for in designated areas) isn’t going to help you spot when your pooch has done its business.

Article by Conor Faulkner and Alex Dunham