Could a baby rip an ear off?
February 20, 2007 10:03 PM   Subscribe

Could a 9 month old baby rip someone's ear off?
posted by fenriq to Health & Fitness (34 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I wish this was rhetorical.
posted by fenriq at 10:04 PM on February 20, 2007

All of the ear, or just the lobe?

It could possibly get the lobe, but definitely could pull jewelry through.
posted by dilettante at 10:08 PM on February 20, 2007

Yeah, getting the entire ear would be a bit less likely, but the baby could definitely do damage, especially if it got a hold of earrings. Um...what happened?
posted by infinitywaltz at 10:09 PM on February 20, 2007

I understand that it only takes a few lbs to rip off an ear (sorry, I don't have a source for that), and babies have a very strong grip, so it's believable to me that a 20lb+ baby could pull off an ear.
posted by crabintheocean at 10:12 PM on February 20, 2007

Could a 9 month old baby be trained to consistently "win" fights against an ear?

I don't think earlobes are any weaker then nipples, so it seems unlikely to me that a baby would ever try to bite of an ear (or a nipple). I do think their jaw muscles are a lot weaker at that age.
posted by delmoi at 10:13 PM on February 20, 2007

Response by poster: Nothing yet, but he got a real good grip on my ear tonight and it got me thinking. I've heard it only takes 7 pounds of force to pull an ear off, he can easily pull 7 pounds so that made me think. And wonder.
posted by fenriq at 10:15 PM on February 20, 2007

Definitely don't let baby grab your ears if you're wearing any kind of hoop earring.
posted by Savannah at 10:18 PM on February 20, 2007

It can't possibly only take seven pounds to pull off an ear or we'd be hearing about an awful lot of earless people.
posted by 6550 at 10:18 PM on February 20, 2007

I'm googling, and it looks like in some mammals the 'masseter' muscle, which controls the jaw, does not become coordinated for a while, so a baby at 9 months might not actually be able to bite an ear tight enough. I don't know if thats true of humans, though.
posted by delmoi at 10:19 PM on February 20, 2007

It can't possibly only take seven pounds to pull off an ear or we'd be hearing about an awful lot of earless people.

I agree, If that were true, just about anyone would be able to pull their own ears off.
posted by delmoi at 10:26 PM on February 20, 2007

here is a good paper on baby chewing, which involved the study of babies from 12 to 48 months. According to the paper, babies develop the ability to chew from 5 to 8 months, so a 9m/o ought to be able to bite, as you're aware.

The paper has a TON of footnotes to other research, so some of that might be able to tell you just how strong babies jaws are at that point.

There's a lot of info out there about people lose jaw strength as they age, but it's much harder to google up stuff about how their jaws develop as infants.
posted by delmoi at 10:32 PM on February 20, 2007

I think you physically can pull your own ear off, psychologically, not so much.

I don't think you'd be able to let the baby pull your ear off - I think you'd do whatever it took to get it off you, and your screaming would probably make it let go too.
posted by crabintheocean at 10:32 PM on February 20, 2007

Are we talking about biting or grabbing with the hand? I assumed the latter.
posted by crabintheocean at 10:33 PM on February 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

Stop resisting. The baby can't pull your ear off if you move your head closer while you disengage the hand. If it could pull it off at all, that is.
posted by ctmf at 10:37 PM on February 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

Native Alaskans have proven that it takes a lot more than seven pounds to pull off an ear, although it could get pretty bloody, which is why it's no longer in the Arctic Winter Games.
posted by rhapsodie at 10:38 PM on February 20, 2007 [4 favorites]

Too many factors to be considered.....

of course a baby could rip an ear off.....

define "baby...."

age, weight, size, etc, etc.......
posted by peewinkle at 10:59 PM on February 20, 2007

I just assumed it was the babies mouth, I mean how strong are a babies hands anyway? Could a baby even support it's own weight with it's grip? I don't think even 24 pounds (the top 'healthy' weight for a 9 month old) would pull off an ear, so even if the baby were hanging off the ear it wouldn't come off.

Pulling on my own ear now, my hand slips off long before it becomes too painful to continue. It's definitly more then seven pounds of force.
posted by delmoi at 11:02 PM on February 20, 2007

age, weight, size, etc, etc.......

9 months, and we can assume less then 24 pounds.
posted by delmoi at 11:02 PM on February 20, 2007

I'd tend to agree that there would probably be a lot more earless people running around if this was a serious danger. Lots of babies in the world... and lots of ears. So far they seem to have lived in relative harmony of eachother.

Not to say he couldn't put you in some serious pain though. But that's what kids do! Like on America's Funniest Home Videos when they always hit dad in the crotch with a baseball bat! Ha ha ha! Good times!
posted by miss lynnster at 11:02 PM on February 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

I think you would do better to rephrase the question.

I mean, could all the molecules in my clothes suddenly move three feet sideways, surprising my fiancee? Why yes, yes they could, but you would not get good odds.

What are the odds of a baby ripping your ears off? Based on observation, close to zero. I will be happy to insure your ears for a nominal premium, fenriq.

More seriously, I just tried tugging on my ears as hard as a dared, and I am very sure I was pulling harder than any baby. Total ear count stable throughout the operation.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 11:30 PM on February 20, 2007 [2 favorites]

i think the seven pounds figure actually refers to the old wives' tale of how much pressure it takes to pop an eardrum (like if someone slapped your ear). sorry, i can't find a good cite on that.
posted by twistofrhyme at 1:26 AM on February 21, 2007

I think i_am_joe's_spleen's brave self-experimentation is pretty good proof that you are safe. But, if you are still concerned, when changing the baby's diaper you could just grease up his hands and your earlobes with a little baby oil.
posted by roofus at 2:16 AM on February 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

Google says it is a fine defense against muggers. My one year old nephew has pulled my ear with considerable force in some kind of bizarre game of his own invention. It hurt enough for me to stop him, but my ear remained attached. I seriously doubt a baby could do any real damage.
posted by Lame_username at 5:50 AM on February 21, 2007

At a family dinner the other day I found myself sitting next to my 8 month old nephew, and he swiped my corn on the cob - took it right off my plate. So yes, babies can rip off an ear. I wouldn't have believed it had I not seen it with my own eyes.
posted by iconomy at 6:14 AM on February 21, 2007 [7 favorites]

Could a baby even support it's own weight with it's grip?

Pretty much all primate infants can, but human babies lose the ability very quickly (about three months):

Perhaps the most dramatic neonatal reflex action is the Darwinian reflex, in which the infant grasps hard when anything touches his palms. Most infants have such a strong Darwinian reflex that they can hold their own weight up if allowed to clutch a rod.
posted by carmen at 6:20 AM on February 21, 2007

A round of applause for iconomy, ladies and gents. Oh, and try the corn.
posted by redteam at 6:40 AM on February 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

yeah, babies + hoop earrings = danger

having said that, they don't seem to have some monster superhero strength, or babies would be biting nipples off like crazy, too. they don't.
posted by matteo at 7:01 AM on February 21, 2007

iconomy -- how in the world does he eat corn without teeth? or did he swallow it whole?
posted by matteo at 7:02 AM on February 21, 2007

Your ear is probably safe but MY GOD! Don't let him near your NOSE!

N'thing the earring thing as I've had that experience - babies & big dangly earrings are a bad combination, which is why we parents of the late 80s got combat pay. However, it's really not that hard to unwrap a baby's fingers or distract one with something shiny, so I doubt a baby has ever actually yanked a whole ear. If he does do it, though, make sure you get it on video.
posted by mygothlaundry at 7:12 AM on February 21, 2007

fenriq - the force needed to tear off an ear isn't something a 9 month old could produce, mostly because a sustained, deliberate stress probably wouldn't do it, as much as a sudden shearing force applied at the back of the ear directed toward the face. I suppose you could request a literature search for such a thing but I doubt it's been described.

It is possible that the force of an infant's grasp could cause a hematoma to develop. The skin of the ear is closely adherent to the underlying auricular cartilage, and trauma can cause the two layers to separate, which is a common wrestling injury, and which can result in cauliflower ear if not dealt with appropriately.

Babies typically respond to a brisk and forceful jab to the snout in these situations, much like sharks and other predatory animals.
posted by docpops at 7:17 AM on February 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

matteo, he does have teeth, but he basically just gummed the corn and sucked at it.
posted by iconomy at 7:59 AM on February 21, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for the insights everyone. I wasn't really fearful of him tearing it off but I wasn't sure. The responses here tell me I'm pretty safe for the most part.

He does have a pretty amazing grip for such a wee fellow though.

And he grins maniacally when he gets a grip on my nose or ear.
posted by fenriq at 10:32 AM on February 21, 2007

Does the ear have a knife? Are there ninjas involved?
posted by blue_beetle at 11:25 AM on February 21, 2007

Miraculously despite two kids, I have both my ears and my nose has never been broken. I say this because it's not for lack of their trying with all their might.

I have heard the cartilage in my nose crack more times than I care to remember as little heads meet the bridge of my nose & pried little fingers off my ears, even recently. The 4 year old recently realized that by grabbing my ears (disturbingly also sticking one finger in each ear hole), she could move my head to face to wherever she wanted me to look at least until such time as I could detach her hands from my ears.
posted by susanbeeswax at 10:57 PM on February 21, 2007

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