Monday, 14 November 2011

Clearblue Digital Pregnancy Tests - Who Are They Kidding?

We all have TV commercials that turn us into eye-rolling grouchy channel-changers. One of mine is a UK advert for Clearblue digital pregnancy tests. It features this annoying broad:

You’ve probably had the displeasure of viewing it before, but if not, you can view it here.

It’s obvious that this commercial is aimed at first time preggos; as any veteran breeder would instantly dismiss it as patronising hyperbole.

Firstly, let’s have a quick look at the aesthetics of the ad:

  • To start with we meet ‘Claire’. We are told by the on-screen text that she is a ‘Clearblue Expert’. I have no idea what one of those is, but they must be pretty senior because her office appears to be from the set of Star Wars and Star Trek combined.
  • In this Jedi office she has some phat widescreen HD TVs showing ultrasound scans. Just in case you are unfamiliar with the appearance of an ultrasound, the TVs helpfully say “SCAN” in block capitals.
  • The scene then switches to a doctor in stereotypical ubiquitous white lab coat and specs. This is a common tactic used by companies to suggest the scientific character of their product. Nestle used it with their infamous milk nurses (see here) –basically they put sales people into nurses uniforms to give the illusion that they were genuine medical professionals. It appears to be an effective strategy. Place average Joe Bloggs in a uniform and it inspires trust and confidence in the viewer.
  • Check out the doctor’s office – he’s got nothing on Claire of course, but his place of employment is far from shabby. It looks like he works in an inner-city penthouse with gleaming glass windows, five-star view and he has a flair for interior design. Harley Street - eat your heart out.
  • But wait, why is the doc looking at x-rays in a pregnancy test ad? As the commercial assumes its audience are ignorant noobs who are unfamiliar with ultrasound scans, it shows the doc sticking scan images onto a lighted screen, as they do with x-rays (because x-rays are common medical procedures and even retarded people who what they look like). This adds extra medical beef to the advert.
  • We are told that: “one of the reasons doctors use an ultrasound is to date your pregnancy”. Firstly, sonographers use ultrasounds rather than doctors, but I'm guessing Clearblue assume that would be too confusing for the target audience. Besides, doctors tend to be of higher rank and so carry more prestige. Secondly, why all the emphasis on ultrasounds? The Clearblue digital pregnancy test is even less accurate at dating a pregnancy than fundal measurements (I will discuss accuracy bellow). It is much, much less accurate than an ultrasound yet the advertisement has ultrasounds all over the place suggesting correlation. That’s not to mention that the dating ultrasound also looks for measurements, foetal heartbeat, Downs, the existence of twins, to name a few enquiries; and furthermore – it’s free. These digital tests are the steep end of a tenner.
  • Back to Claire now. We see an uber-modern levitating screen complete with tech sounds. These features suggest the product’s advanced-nature; i.e. ‘This merchandise is so badass, look how futuristic we are’.
  • Claire smacks of smugness; she raises her eyebrows at the levitating screen then smirks at us as she explains the obvious.
  • Finally we see the actual pregnancy test being advertised. It also levitates – not bad for a stick you pee on.

So okay, the marketing bods behind the creation of this commercial are knob-heads; but let’s now have a look at the product itself. I have a number of issues with this type of pregnancy test:

False Negatives.
As with any pregnancy test, the risk of getting a false negative is significant if you’re the impatient type. The chance is even higher with the Clearblue Digital due to its strict pregnant/not pregnant reading. If you test before your period is due and get a ‘Not Pregnant’ result, there is still a chance that you may be pregnant but that your hormone level is still not high enough for the test to detect. In a traditional test you may see a faint line indicating the likelihood of pregnancy. Not so with the Clearblue Digital. Furthermore, despite Clearblue's marketing hyperbole, their test is only of average sensitivity (25mIU), and unsurprisingly they don't put this on the packaging. You can purchase tests as sensitive as 10mIU on eBay and Amazon for pennies. Although please wait until your period is due before testing. You are about to see why...

False Positives.
Clearblue proudly claim that this test can be used four days prior to your period being due. I believe that this exploits anxious women and can have devastating consequences. For instance, it's estimated that up to 50% of pregnancies are lost in the very early stages. In the past, most women did not even realize they were pregnant - their periods would arrive on time. Now women testing very early, as encouraged by Clearblue, may get a positive test, but experience bleeding almost immediately afterwards. This is an early miscarriage, also referred to as a ‘chemical pregnancy.’ It is likely that the woman did conceive and the embryo implanted for a short time before dying. I argue that it is irresponsible marketing to encourage women to test early. This may be one reason why the Clearblue digital pregnancy tests have been documented to have an abnormally high rate of false positives. A brief Google search reveals mass heartache. Other causes of false positives include taking certain fertility medications, hormones left over from a recent pregnancy, or in some cases by menopause or ovarian cysts.

False advancement.
For women carrying twins, the test can indicate that the pregnancy is more advanced than is actually the case. This is because the test measures the level of HcG (human chorionic gonadotropin) hormone and uses this calculation to determine how far along the pregnancy is. HcG is a hormone detectable in pregnant women's blood or urine about 10 days post-conception; it increases at a rapid rate, peaking about 10 weeks into the pregnancy. Unsurprisingly HcG levels are higher in twin pregnancies however the Clearblue digital pregnancy test interprets these higher levels as pregnancy advancement rather than twins.

Concealed Pregnancy Advancement.
The opposite of false advancement, the test can often proclaim that a woman’s pregnancy is less advanced than it actually is. Hormone levels are higher first thing in the morning, lower in the evening, fluctuate when a woman is on medication, depend on the concentration of the urine, not to mention different for everyone. In fact, if you search around on the official Clearblue website, it even admits that “the level of hCG varies from woman to woman, and it is therefore possible that the Conception Indicator might occasionally give misleading results.” Believing you are only 2-3 weeks along when you are actually 8 weeks can be inconvenient at best, and at worst, distressing. For instance, a lot of women use the test as a reassurance tool to indicate that their pregnancy is progressing as it should be. When a test inaccurately suggests that the pregnancy is less advanced than the woman expects, this misleading information can be worrying, particularly for women with previous miscarriage.

Random errors.
Being an electronic device, the product is more prone to malfunction. Women have reported the display window persistently displaying the timer along with 'not pregnant' with a * underneath it and 3+ weeks underneath that.

In short, dating a pregnancy is best left to a professional, not a money-making gimmick. To quote, if you are concerned or wish to monitor the advancement of your pregnancy, please do it properly - under a physician's supervision, with a blood test at a lab - not at home with a pee-stick.

And if you ever see Claire, give her a slap from me.

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Friday, 11 November 2011

Quiz: Which Type of Parent Are You?

According to fellow parenting blog The Daily Momtra, parents can be divided into three distinct categories: The Well-Meaning Newbie, The Parent-Centric Parent and The Child-Centric Parent. If you are Parent-Centric you integrate your child into your lifestyle. If you are Child-Centric you adjust your lifestyle to fit your child. However I believe that parents display a spectrum of behaviours. It’s not unusual to be child-centric in some of your approaches but parent-centric in others.

Therefore, adopting a comprehensive view, I have created this quiz to enable you to determine where on the parenting spectrum you fall. Are you more Alpha Parent or Slummy Mummy? (Note: the quiz smacks of Britishness, so American cousins don't despair if you can't tell your Boden from your M&S).

How did you feed your child until they were 6 months?
  1. Exclusively breastfed.
  2. Combination of breastmilk and formula.
  3. Breastmilk for a few weeks then switched to full-time formula.
  4. Exclusive formula feeding from the start.
Which of the following dominates your wardrobe?
  1. Boden and John Lewis.
  2. M&S and Next.
  3. Peacocks and Newlook.
  4. Primark and JD Sports.
What do you do if your 8 month old baby cannot settle to sleep at night?
  1. Attend immediately to baby’s every whimper or cough. Never leave to cry.
  2. Leave baby to whimper for 5 minutes then attend to her if she has not settled. Repeat if necessary.
  3. Leave baby to cry for as long as my eardrums and sanity can handle. It’s what babies do.
  4. Mam will get it.
Which of the following best describes your baby’s weaning process?
  1. Solids were introduced at exactly 6 months. Baby’s diet is entirely home-made using only organic produce.
  2. Solids were introduced at around 6 months. Baby’s diet is mostly home-made, sometimes organic by fluke.
  3. Solids were introduced at around 4 months. Baby’s diet is mostly jarred and occasionally home-made.
  4. Solids were introduced at 3 months. Baby’s diet is entirely jarred although I sometimes like to put a rusk into his bottle so he sleeps longer.
Which of the following best describes a common catastrophe in your kitchen?
  1. I can’t find the mini blowtorch for the crème brulée and I’m having to use JARRED sauce for the pasta.
  2. I can’t find enough lids for the tupperware boxes to store the baby’s homemade food for freezing.
  3. The multibag of Walkers has exploded.
  4. There are no clean forks for the kids’ Pot Noodles.
What’s your opinion of the supermarket: Asda?
  1. I had to resort to Asda once. It was nearly five weeks since last pay day and desperate times mean desperate measures.
  2. I don’t like ASDA not because it’s cheap but because they are owned by Walmart and they don’t allow their workers to join a union.
  3. I love Asda – I stock up during their Baby Events; Their George children’s clothing look like imitation mini-Boden; And there’s always a special on. This week he’s working on the checkout.
  4. It’s full of snobs. They even make you pay for plastic carrier bags. Some shit about being "green".
Which car do you own?
  1. A LandRover Discovery - aka the Chelsea tractor.
  2. A Renault Espace.
  3. A trusty Toyota Yaris to pop to Asda in.
  4. A 3-Door with some extra trims and modifications and big phat zorst.
How do your children get home from school?
  1. We all walk together holding hands mirroring a scene from The Sound of Music. It’s good for their health and gives the illusion that I’m eco-friendly, which is all the rage these days.
  2. I drive them home in the Espace.
  3. They get the bus because I need the car for work.
  4. In the back of a police car.

How many online parenting forums are you a member of?
  1. At least five and I post on them daily. I moderate at least one of them.
  2. Around three and I post on them regularly.
  3. I stick to one but I seldom post.
  4. None. They are full of stuck-up people.
If you had to choose only one parenting forum to frequent, which would it be?
  1. Mumsnet.
  2. Baby Centre.
  3. Netmums.
  4. Baby & Bump.
Which of the following best describes your Facebook conduct?
  1. My friends call me the ultimate baby bore. Every status update is about my children and my parenting achievements. Every step, smile and fart is documented. I make sure my friends and family know that junior is brightest/best-looking/most easygoing baby who’s ever been born. I have a separate photograph album for every month of each of my children’s lives. When I was pregnant I had at least three pregnancy applications which updated my status weekly with detailed information about foetal development and the baby’s size equivalent to various fruit. I’m a member of around five Facebook parenting groups; mostly lactivism, baby led weaning and baby-wearing related. My profile picture is a photo of me breastfeeding with a flawless (handmade to M&S food-porn standard) quiche subtly positioned on the table in the background.
  2. Most of my status updates relate to my parenting experience. I like to report my children’s milestones and regularly post photographs of our outings. My profile picture is the cutest, most flattering photo of my toddler.
  3. About a third of my status updates are parenting-related. I post major milestones such as first word and first step. I occasionally post photographs if they are extra-cute. My profile picture is a photo of me and my children.
  4. I post about my children from time to time but I often find that there are much more important things to post about, such as my recent tattoo, details of my latest spat with my arsehole of a partner, how shit men are, and photographs of me getting wrecked last night. My profile picture is a photo of me, in a nightclub toilet, holding the camera above my head at a right angle and pouting.
Which organisation has assisted you most on your parenting journey?
  1. Le Leche League.
  2. The local library.
  3. Sure Start.
  4. Cash My Gold.
In an ante-natal class, the midwife tells you to write down the kind of child you want to have. You write:
  1. A genius.
  2. A contented child.
  3. One who is really tired at night time.
  4. One with a small head.
When is the right time to get an epidural?
  1. NEVER. Epidurals are for the weak. They prolong labour, increase the risk of complications and interfere with bonding hormones.
  2. When the pain becomes too much to deal with.
  3. As soon as the anesthetist is available.
  4. As soon as you find out you’re pregnant.
What are your pet-hates with regard to parenting?
  1. Unmarried parents, pierced ears, jelly shoes, egg and chips, Barbie, package holidays, Fruit Shoots, babies in football kits, eating in the street, playing with children from council estates, not enough highchairs in Starbucks.
  2. Mothers who don’t attempt to breastfeed, smoking and drinking around children, smoking and drinking whilst pregnant, obese parents bringing their obese offspring for meals at KFC, not enough high chairs in the Marks and Spencer Cafe.
  3. Grandparents that don’t help out, the price of children’s clothing, not enough high chairs in Wetherspoons.
  4. Snobby midwives that interfere with your human right to smoke, toddlers who won’t sit quietly through Jeremy Kyle, not knowing which bloke to put on the CSA application, not enough high chairs in the Job Centre.
A friend suggests ‘baby juice’ for your little one. Which of the following best describes your response?
  1. You spend at least an hour online researching the health implications of said baby juice. You phone your health visitor to ask her opinion. You make an appointment with your GP about a ‘bad back’ that just materialised and ask him about baby juice. You email the dietician at your local hospital for their pennies worth. You decide it’s probably best not to give your little one some baby juice as it’s not water or breastmilk and therefore inherently evil.
  2. You log onto Baby Centre and ask their opinion on baby juice. You follow their advice.
  3. Well my friend suggested it so it must be okay.
  4. No thanks, I’ll stick with giving my baby tea in a bottle. It sounds cheaper.
What do you wear on the school run?
  1. Understated Whistles trousers, a Jaeger shirt, Jones boots, immaculate makeup, glossy blonde mane and carrying hand-prepared organic lunches. I adhere to the "no wellies on the school run, unless they're Hunters" rule.
  2. Sensible shoes, clean blouse, skinny jeans, most of my usual makeup, and carrying hand-prepared albeit non-organic lunches.
  3. Maternity jeans (despite giving birth three years ago), t-shirt from George, imitation-Uggs, dry-shampooed hair, a slap of tinted moisturiser, and carrying pre-packed supermarket lunches.
  4. Anything with elastic (pyjama pants, track pants, etc), my latest bloke’s football shirt, Kappa jacket, slippers with a manky babywipe attached, orange skin, dark lipliner with light lipstick, peroxide hair with roots, ‘gold’ Argos earrings that reach my shoulders, and carrying free school dinners vouchers.
What gift do you buy for your child’s teacher at Christmas?
  1. An elaborately wrapped Mulberry handbag, a spa day voucher and a brace of pheasants.
  2. A bottle of wine, a personalised box of Thorntons and a handmade card.
  3. A Christmas tree ornament and a bottle of Blossom Hill.
  4. A second-hand Poundland soft toy from a car boot sale and some Travelodge guest soaps.
How do you discipline your children?
  1. The following steps carried out in painstaking precision: Step one is to listen. Step 2 failure to listen = strike 1, strike 2, strike 3. Step 3, is depending on age, time out or removal of item/activity.
  2. Eyebrows, ‘the look’ and stern mumsy tone of voice. Failing that, sticker chart.
  3. Quick! Slam a dummy in his mouth. If that fails, bribe him with the promise of a comic.
  4. I scream and shout and tell them to shut the F up. A slap on the legs and a good cuff add the finishing touches.
You see a person breastfeeding in public. What’s your reaction?
  1. I printed some "Thank You for Breastfeeding in Public" business cards for just for this occasion. After giving her one I invite her to the local breastfeeding mafia group and recommend The Politics of Breastfeeding as a decent bedside read.
  2. Smile.
  3. Look away quickly. I don’t want her to feel uncomfortable.
  4. Give her the stink eye and ask her why she’s shoving her baps in my face. Exhibitionist!
What was your approach to selecting your child’s school?
  1. I spent weeks searching online at Directgov and my LEA website for details about individual schools. I ploughed through each school’s brochure and website. After that, armed with Ofsted reports and league tables, I visited all the schools in the local area where I interviewed the teachers, head teachers, parents and children. Then to secure my child’s place at my chosen school I helped out at fundraisers, moved to within a metre of the school gates and converted to Catholicism.
  2. I read through the Ofstead reports of my local schools, then "borrowed" the address of a friend who had a flat in the catchment area of the best school.
  3. I sent my child to the same school I went to. There are worse ones.
  4. You can select their school?
It’s your child’s third birthday. How do you celebrate?
  1. I hire an entire soft play centre complete with bouncy castle, ball pool, swimming pool and Justin Fletcher as entertainer.
  2. A trip to the cinema for everyone followed by Pizza Express.
  3. A Wacky Warehouse party with each child paying for themselves.
  4. A few vodkas on the town whilst mam looks after the sprog.
What was your TTC (Trying to Conceive) plan?
  1. I scheduled childbirth for the right month of the school year, I peed on copious amounts of sticks, spat on microscopes, took my temperature religiously and I’ve done most things from this list.
  2. I took a long time considering the implications for my existing family and the environment and then started taking folic acid three months before conception.
  3. I got bored after the first few months of trying so each night I told my bloke to ‘entertain himself’ then come to me when he was ‘ready’.
  4. I calculated how much extra the DSS would give us, then ‘forgot’ to take my pill.
You don’t have any plans one Sunday. How do you spend it?
  1. Somewhere in the Bible it says that Sundays are for relaxing, but why relax when you have flash cards? After an intensive flashcard session my 2 year old has an hour of violin then we all head to the park and fly a kite. When we return home the children help me to re-arrange my bookshelves of parenting manuals before I cook an organic dinner.
  2. We all drive to the MIL's house. She’s been nagging to see the kids so I may as well acquire some brownie points. I compliment her crockery, do the washing up and umpire the Monopoly game. I soon feel guilty because I’m not flying a kite in the park.
  3. Sunday noms at Wetherspoons, including an hour spent retrieving menus, crayons, napkins and peas from the floor.
  4. Curl up with Foxy Bingo and a can of Skol, oblivious to the fact that my toddler is deleting everything from the Skybox.
It’s your first night out without the baby. The only thing on your mind is...
  1. I know I left detailed instructions but I’ll just call the sitter to check that she’s using a 2.5 tog sleeping bag instead of a 1.5 tog; and also that she remembered to set a bowl of water near the nursery’s heating vent so that the air will circulate the evaporating water, maintaining a higher humidity level.
  2. Should I call the sitter?
  3. If I’ve calculated correctly I can afford a double vodka and a single Aftershock which should get me sloshed for the maximum period at minimum price, AND I can still treat Jr to that baby gym I’ve had my eye on.
  4. Is that guy/girl over there checking me out?
Your four year old tells you what they want to be when they grow up. They say:
  1. Prime Minister.
  2. A Doctor.
  3. An Octonaut.
  4. A pimp.
Your son has just hit your daughter over the head with a piece of Duplo. How do you react?
  1. Demand your preschool son give you a verbal essay (approx 1,500 words) on why it is wrong to hit and what he learnt from the experience.
  2. Confiscate the Duplo and request an apology.
  3. Jump in only if blood is shed.
  4. Crank up the TV to drown out the yelling.
One of your children is screaming for you at one end of the house, the other you just found playing in the toilet. What do you do first?
  1. Grab some anti-bac, gloves and a face mask. You’re gonna need them.
  2. Go get screamer, bring him to bathroom and give both a stern telling off.
  3. Hand toilet brush to child number 2, the toilet hasn't been cleaned lately.
  4. Ignore them both; Jeremy Kyle is just about to give a DNA result.
Your toddler recently learned to walk. Is your house baby proof?
  1. I have affixed a camera to his forehead and covered him in bubble wrap. I have also purchased every possible safety device on Amazon, so he is COMPLETELY safe.
  2. With all necessities, sans bubble wrap.
  3. Nah, he needs to be free to make mistakes, and learn from them.
  4. I’ve swapped the glass ash tray for a coke can.

You've taken the test. So what flavour is your parenting?

MOSTLY As: Bona Fide Alpha Parent. 
“Alpha mums turn parenting into a serious issue and motherhood into martyrdom” hark The Times, and they may have a point. There are some traits of Alpha Parents that are less than desirable. Their relentless perfectionist attitude can be draining on themselves and those around them; and there is only so much Boden you can wear in a week.  As an Alpha Parent you view parenting as an extreme sport. Rigid adherence to guidelines and lack of flexibility act as a straight-jacket . You are easily distinguished from other parents due to the force-field that radiates around you, which causes all incompatible parenting views to rickershaw off it. Most likely a highly educated woman who has abandoned a high-flying career for motherhood, you throw yourself into parenthood with such gusto that you often lose all perspective on what's really important in life. Your urge to micromanage puts your children at risk of stunted independence. Relax and try not to control every aspect of their life.

Here's a badge of honour to pimp up your blog/ Livejournal/ website/ whatever. Just copy the code and display with pride.

MOSTLY Bs: Complacent Alpha Parent.
Possibly crunchy and slightly pushy, like the Bona Fide Alpha Parent you’re a martyr on the treadmill of extracurricular activities, health organisation guidelines and keeping up appearances. But unlike your Bona Fide sister you stay on the right side of sanity. You’re loving, you’re giving, you’ve made more sacrifices than a geriatric monk. You’d sooner pull your top lip over your head than smack your children. Your dislike for alcohol-guzzling expectant mums and smoking parents is admirable but some people interpret your views as judgemental. Screw them. You maintain a healthy balance between preserving high standards and preserving good reasoning. You recognise that life shouldn’t be boot camp for a child, nor should it be a twenty-four-hour playground.

MOSTLY Cs: Relaxed Parent-Centric.
Partial to a bit of Asda, you prescribe to “good enough” parenting. Your behaviour is also characteristic of what has been coined “short-term parenting” (PhD in Parenting). This means that you often place a desire to achieve immediate results above a desire to avoid lasting negative impacts on your child’s physical or mental health. It’s not all bad though. You’re a laid back mum and taking a relaxed approach to parenting puts your children in the driving seat.

MOSTLY Ds: Slummy Mummy. 
Uh-oh. Sirens are going off at La Leche League HQ, the NSPCC, HM Revenue & Customs, and other judgypants establishments. Also known as a ‘Beta Mum’, people can tell what your children had for breakfast by looking at your jeans. There is an element of ignorance in the Slummy Mummy’s approach. It’s not uncommon to hear “They did it when we were all kids and we're all fine”. Do you really believe that? If we were 'all fine' we wouldn't be seeing 50% of taxes disappearing into the NHS. Probably a Rusk Parent, you neither demand of, nor respond, to your child. Rather, your child is an incidental thing in the house. You are a drain on the NHS, the welfare state and the police force; worse still, you keep the Daily Mail in business. On a positive note however, you make other parents feel better about themselves. By being at the bottom of the parenting food-chain, you unwittingly feed the egos of your superiors, providing them with a comforting and enduring sense of smugness.


Sunday, 6 November 2011

Friday, 4 November 2011

Is it child abuse to pierce a baby’s ears?

David and Victoria Beckham caused a stir when they had their son Romeo’s ears pierced at the tender age of just 2 years old (Socialite Life). However Romeo Beckham may be considered geriatric compared to many babies whose parents pierce their ears before they even leave the maternity ward. In light of this questionable practice, I am going to dispel the myths of baby ear piercing and rebut the arguments that pro-piercing parents give to defend their ‘choice’.

Parental discretion

Their first common argument is that parents do lots of things to children that they think are best despite not necessarily being what the child wants, and ear piercing falls into this category. Examples given include pinning down a child to change its nappy, brushing a child’s hair against their will, and changing the outfit of a protesting child.

I would argue that a child NEEDS to wear clothes, but they do not 'need' to wear earrings. It is necessary to change a child’s nappy and to put on fresh clothing. Dressing a child is a basic prerequisite of healthy childhood and refraining from doing so regularly would be classed as neglect. It is not necessary to pierce a child’s ears.

Gender recognition

The second argument given by pro-piercing parents is that it is often difficult to tell whether a baby is a boy or a girl. If its ears are pierced then people can immediately identify the baby as female. I would question the need to specify arbitrary gender roles so early. Why is it so important to know the sex of a baby? Most parents would be horrified to see a baby wearing lipstick and eye shadow, so why the desire to decorate them by punching holes in their ears? If it is necessary to ascertain a baby's gender for some reason, I’m sure asking the parent would suffice. Secondly it could be argued that, as ear piercing disproportionately affects girls, it exacerbates gender inequality.

Health gamble

Another pro-piercing argument contends that if parents get their children’s ears pierced as infants, they can ensure that the wound stays clean, doesn’t grow over and doesn't get infected, Furthermore, their baby won't remember the pain. Thus according to this argument, parents can actually save their child from the distress and pain they would otherwise experience if they got their ears pierced at an older age. Equivalence with vaccinations is suggested in that they are a momentary pain in infancy to save the child from later pain.

I would refute such claims, firstly on the basis that they are egotistically assumptive. It is impossible for a parent to know for sure that their child would have opted to get their ears pierced at an older age. Holm.S has pointed out that “the child might grow up and reject her parents’ tastes, perhaps later seeing them as instruments of patriarchal oppression, or as irredeemably bourgeois”.

Secondly and more importantly, by piercing, parents are exposing their babies to a greater risk of infection and malformation. A baby’s immune system is significantly less mature than an adult’s or an older child’s. The younger the child is, the weaker their defence system, so they are more at risk of an infection, and less likely to cope as well if they do get one. Studies have shown that up to 35 percent of persons with pierced ears have one or more complications, e.g., infection [77 percent], allergic reaction [43 percent], keloid formation [2.5 percent], and traumatic tearing [2.5 percent] (Simplot. TC and Hoffman. HT). The respondents in this particular study were adults. The rate of complication is likely to be even higher in babies. To put this in context, the rate of complications resulting from infant male circumcision is between 0.2% and 0.6% (CNN).

Contact dermatitis resulting from nickel exposure is common in ear piercings (Meltzer. D). Contact sensitivity to gold and localized argyria, a skin discoloration resulting from silver salts, have also been widely reported (Hendricks. WM; Sugden. P et al).

Furthermore, earrings can become embedded in the earlobe (Muntz. HR and Asher. BF). Some infants have needed general anaesthesia and the operating room to have such earrings extracted (Baby Zone).

Also, trauma to the pierced ear is common. Lacerations may occur after falls, rough and tumble play, or accidental pulling of an earring (Meltzer. D). “Many babies tug on their new earrings, and rip their earlobes. Playmates can also be a danger and can rip the earrings out without realising the pain they will cause” (Piercing Claims Specialist). Babies and small children are less aware of their bodies, so for example, a toddler who likes to throw her head to floor when she has a tantrum, wouldn't be considering the risk of banging her pierced ear and causing it to break the skin or worse. It is for this reason that many daycare centres, nurseries and schools forbid the wearing of earrings.

Moreover, the risk of aspiration and ingestion of earring parts is at its highest with babies and young children (Becker. PG and Turow. J). Although the dangers of choking can be reduced by ‘infant friendly’ studs; no earring will ever be 100% safe (Piercing Claims Specialist).

It is unsurprising that infections are the most commonly reported complications associated with piercing. Parenting website Baby Centre, in giving advice to parents, has commented that “your child will be constantly touching her ears and the pierced area can easily become infected” (Goodwin. M).  In babies and young children, an infection from an ear piercing could lead to hospitalisation (Baby World). As their fragile immune systems are prone to infection, if they become seriously ill, a baby with blood poisoning is in grave danger of losing their life (Piercing Claims Specialist). This is yet more worrisome when one considers that many newborns are pierced before they even have their first tetanus vaccination. In addition, the combination of the trauma inherent in the piercing process together with the ongoing presence of a foreign body furthers the risk of infection (Trupiano. JK et al). Such a break in the integrity of the skin can expose an infant to the danger of local infections such as cellulitis and abscesses as well as to systemic infection (Stirn. A). Common causes of infection include if the equipment used was not sterile, if the earrings used have dirty posts, or if the earrings are clasped too tightly. Anatomic variations, such as blood supply to the site, can contribute to an increased risk of infection after piercing, therefore there is no way a parent can predict exactly how their baby’s body will respond.

Sometimes an infection is so severe that a doctor will recommend that the piercing heal and close up, which can lead to keloid formation. Keloids are lumps or lines of scar tissue that have failed to heal correctly. They occur when the body over-defends itself and goes overboard, leading to large scar tissue. In their worst from keloids can be ugly disfigurements that embarrass a child as they grow older. Some keloids can be removed with the help of surgery. Typically, after surgery the ear cannot be pierced again in the same spot because the tissue in the lobe scars and becomes dense when it heals.

What’s more, not all ear-piercing businesses have suitable equipment or staff trained in working with babies and young children. It makes me shudder when I see parents taking their babies to Claire’s Accessories to be butchered by a 17 year old Saturday girl with a weekend training certificate. For instance, despite ear-piercing guns not being recommended for piercing babies’ ears, they are the most commonly used tool. The gun is very tight against the swollen earlobe, and the shaft is ridged creating an ideal place for pus and scabs to accumulate. These are hard to turn, and when turned often pull away the healing scabs, leaving newly exposed raw areas so healing takes longer. Furthermore, piercing guns are made from steal and plastic and cannot be sterilized. If your child is pierced with a gun, there’s a higher risk for her to contract hepatitis or another type of infection (Nguyen. DP). Guns are used hundreds of times and there is a significant chance of blood to blood contact (Rosenberg. R and Slivka. H). If someone with AIDS or other disease was pierced with the same gun the parent is subjecting their baby to the chance of contracting that disease.

Aside from the substantial health risks, piercing a baby’s ears before they have had a chance to grow can lead to embarrassing lopsided holes later in life. Some adults who have had their ears pierced as babies have expressed resentment. Here is a genuine comment posted on a parenting forum:

“I have holes in my ears - I didn't ask nor want them as a baby yet I got them anyway. They are also now uncoordinated from when I've grown so they look pretty stupid too. I hate mine, as there's nothing I can do to get them level, I'm stuck with it. I'd never do the same to my child.”

As for the contention that ear piercings are synonymous with vaccinations because they both pierce the skin and cause pain – I argue that this is nonsensical. Vaccinations are arguably for the benefit of the baby based on centuries of scientific research. Ear piercing on the other hand provides no benefit to the baby. It only benefits a parent's sense of vanity.

Violation of bodily autonomy

One of the biggest issues in the piercing debate, and arguably the most important, is the question of consent. A baby who has their ears pierced and grows up with earrings has no memory of the procedure, and no opportunity to protest. Some parents argue “my baby, my choice. It’s none of your business if I get my baby’s ears pierced”, but as I have maintained before in relation to infant feeding (here), if a parent is acting to a child’s detriment, it is everyone’s business.

The continued and widespread piercing of babies and young children is evidence that Britain continues to ignore the rights of children despite ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child back in 1991. Article Three of the Convention stipulates that the best interests of children must be the primary concern in making decisions that may affect them. If a baby were able to be asked whether it wanted ear piercings, it would most definitely say NO. Ear piercing does not enhance babies’ quality of life. Rather, it causes unnecessary pain and the potential for long term discomfort. No baby would want to be put through it, and as adults' role is to protect and care for their offspring, pro-piercing parents are abusing their baby’s trust. I believe that we do not own our children’s bodies and thus we should not have the right to make this sort of decision for them. There would be uproar if someone pierced a baby that 'belonged' to someone else, but its okay to do it to a baby one 'owns'.

Throughout their life, people who are pierced as babies have a permanent reminder that their parents had no respect for their bodily autonomy. To those who argue that ear piercing is not permanent, and that the earrings can be removed so that the holes close up; Firstly, a baby cannot ask for the earrings to be removed. The longer they are left in, the greater the risk of permanence. Secondly, whether piercings become permanent depends on a range of factors unique to the individual, such as the intensity of the ear tissue as well as the ability of each individuals healing rate. The holes also become permanent when a fistula is created by scar tissue forming around the initial earring. It is impossible to predict how each baby’s body will respond. Parents are playing Russian roulette.

The gift of personal responsibility

The decision to pierce the body should be left to the individual. When a child is old enough to understand that the process costs money, that there will be pain, and that regular and diligent aftercare is required, then they can make an informed choice. Waiting until a child is old enough to comprehend such issues teaches them personal responsibility and such an approach can be applied to all sorts of other life choices in various forms. Dunlop.DG et al have argued that “children should be involved in their health care according to their age and maturity rather than becoming ‘passive recipients’ of their parents' views”.

Furthermore, if vanity has any place at all in the lives of babies surely it should not extend to putting a needle and a piece of metal into their bodies. It is tantamount to saying “my baby isn't pretty enough in her natural state – I must adorn her with jewellery”. It is upholding a mentality that little girls need to be conscious (or their parents be conscious) about their looks from an age where they should be allowed to freedom to simply be children - before the pressures of adulthood and their gender are thrust upon them. It also gives a negative message to a young child; that mutilating the body is acceptable for the sake of what our culture regards as beautiful. Babies are perfect and beautiful as they are.

Abuse is a spectrum

Some people argue that referring to piercing babies as ‘abuse’ trivialises actual abuse. They contend that the abuse word is thrown around too lightly and that it is doubtful that any child who has had their ears pierced will grow up to think they have been abused by their parents. In response to this argument, I would like to highlight that there is a spectrum of abuse, with torture at one end, and perhaps light smacking at the other. 'Abuse' is not a blanket term. Some have argued that it is wrong to weaken the concept of abuse by including ear piercing within its parameters. However in the 1950s it was commonplace to beat your child with a wooden spoon. I'm quite thankful that the concept of abuse has weakened to include this.

The NSPCC defines physical abuse as "inflicting pain or injury". It has been observed that the ear piercing procedure “is painful and often performed without anaesthesia or analgesia, and because of the pain it constitutes an immediate harm” (Holm. S). Piercing may not be on the same level as some cruelty that sadly occurs, but not all forms of abuse have to be to the extreme. It is naive to suggest that because piercing is significantly less serious than sexual abuse, torture, etc that it can therefore not be abusive whatsoever.

I would argue that the only reason piercing a baby’s ears is commonly tolerated and not thought of as abuse is because it is culturally accepted; and for no other reason than this. Why is it only okay to pierce a child's ears? If I was to pierce my daughter’s nose I’m sure the majority of people would be horrified - because it’s not a social 'norm'. This is notwithstanding that piercing a baby’s nose, eyebrow, tongue, lip, navel, etc is perfectly legal. In fact, any body part is fair game aside from the nipples and genitalia.

What about cultural practice?

The last pro-piercing argument I am going to examine is that of multiculturalism. In some societies ear piercing is a central part of their culture. In Spain for example, the majority of baby girls have their ears pierced from birth. Likewise in Mexico baby girls have their ears pierced in hospital before they leave. In Hindu culture, most boys and girls have their ears pierced before they are 12 days old. For a girl the left ear is pierced first and for a boy it’s the right. This is based on the Ayurvedic principles of nerves leading to the brain. Ear piercing is also mentioned in the Bible and for some Christians is said to be a sign of faith.

It follows that to prohibit the piercing of babies and young children is to violate religious and cultural rights. However I feel no need to adapt my anti-piercing stance for the benefit of other cultures. If we consider a rights hierarchy, which features religious rights, I would contend that the right to be free from physical harm features higher in the hierarchy than the right to religion. In fact, the European Convention on Human Rights recognises that some rights trump others in this manner. Female circumcision is widely and rightly recognised as a barbaric breach of human rights, despite the fact that the practice is religiously and culturally subscribed in some communities.

In conclusion...

The idea of parents piercing their baby's ears underlies the more worrying concept of parents imposing ideals on their children and treating them as accessories. Causing unnecessary pain to a child so they can look a desired way is questionable parenting at the very least. Ear piercing of babies and young children cannot be claimed to be in the immediate best interest of the child, and given the risk of permanent damage it seems questionable whether it should be within the protected area of parental discretion. Is piercing a baby’s ears child abuse? If you deliberately hurt a child for no reason other than vanity then how can it be anything else?

The fact that we are talking about a vulnerable group such as babies who cannot speak up for themselves makes this an appropriate area for legislation. A Government-approved petition has recently been set up requesting a legal age restriction on all body piercing:

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