The Facts on Circumcision: FAQ's & What You Need To Know

Baby Boy Circumcision

There are few topics surrounding newborns that can incite such heated debates as the decision of whether or not to circumcise baby boys. For many families, the decision to circumcise their sons is easily made for cultural or religious beliefs, or simply wanting them to be like dad. But critics of the circumcision often liken the procedure to female genital mutilation and denounce its inherent risks and long-term consequences. No matter what decision you make for your son, the important thing is that you educate yourself on the risks and benefits beforehand and choose the path that is right for your family. Here’s what you need to know.

What is circumcision?

Circumcision is the removal of the foreskin of the penis exposing the glans or penis head. Circumcision is a surgical procedure typically done within the first ten days of life by a doctor in the hospital or pediatricians’ office, or in religious exceptions, in the home. 

How common is circumcision? 

Although circumcision rates are declining with more and more parents choosing to forego the procedure, approximately 55 percent of infant males are still routinely circumcised. 

Does circumcision have health benefits?

Research suggests that circumcision reduces the risk of urinary tract infections in infants by up to 90 percent and penile cancer in older men by more than 50 percent. However, these conditions are rare in uncircumcised individuals as well. The American Academy of Pediatrics does acknowledge that circumcision reduces the risk of sexually transmitted infections.

Does circumcision have risks?

Like any surgical procedure, circumcision does have risks. Complications occur in approximately .2-2 percent of circumcision procedures and may include bleeding, infection, negative reaction to anesthesia or problems with the foreskin such as failing to heal properly or reattachment to the end of the penis. Fortunately, complications are rare and are typically easily addressed with treatment. 

Will circumcision hurt my baby?

With proper use of a local anesthetic, the pain experienced by the infant will hopefully be minimal. Historically, doctors did not use any sort of anesthesia or pain relief prior to the procedure which can be quite painful. Fortunately, now, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all infants receive a topical or injectable anesthetic before being circumcised. Talk to your doctor about what type of anesthetic will be used for your baby before the procedure. 

Is it more hygienic to have my baby circumcised?

Both a circumcised and an uncircumcised penis require gentle cleansing with warm water. If you choose not to circumcise your son, it is not necessary to retract the foreskin to clean beneath it. This will happen on its own typically before puberty. As your son ages , it’s important to instruct him on how to properly cleanse his penile region whether he is circumcised or not just as you would with other areas of bodily hygiene. 

If I choose to have my son circumcised, how long will it take to heal?

Circumcisions typically take 7-10 days to heal. The doctor will give you detailed instructions on how to care for the penis as it heals. During this time, take special precautions to clean the area gently and apply petroleum jelly during diaper changes to prevent the incision site from sticking to the diaper. Do not use baby wipes on the incision site.  

The decision of whether or not to circumcise your son is a personal, family decision that should be dealt with as such. If you have questions or concerns about the procedure or would like more information, contact a pediatrician before he is born to set up a time to talk. As with any medical procedure, it’s important to have a comprehensive understanding of the risks and benefits beforehand so that you can make an informed decision that is best for your child. 

For questions about pregnancy, natural birth, infant care and the postpartum period, contact Health Foundations for a free consultation with a midwife and for a tour of our Birth Center.