To cut or not to cut? For parents of newborn boys, that is the question, and lately, the circumcision debate has grown more heated. In fact, when we asked readers their views about it on American Baby's Facebook page, we were quickly hit with hundreds of responses. "We chose to circumcise our sons mainly because of the health issues," one reader wrote. "I read they'd be less likely to have bladder infections." Another mother responded, "Our son was born perfect, so there was no need for us to change him!"
For many families, particularly those of the Jewish and Muslim faiths, circumcision is a given. For others, though, deciding whether or not to do it can be fraught. Mounting research over the past decade has shown that surgical removal of the penis's foreskin has potential health benefits. Yet there are risks, and the percentage of American families choosing to circumcise has actually decreased in recent years. In 2010, a researcher at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made news when he presented data indicating that the U.S. rate of circumcision at hospitals and reimbursed by insurance had dropped from more than half of boys in 2006 to about one third in 2009. The exact numbers are difficult to pin down, but it is clear that many parents are opting out. The cost of circumcision may be one reason, especially because fewer insurance companies are covering it, says Ronald Gray, M.D., a professor of epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. But America's changing demographics also affect the number of boys undergoing the procedure. "The increased proportion of black and Hispanic births in the U.S. affects rates, because these groups are less likely to circumcise," Dr. Gray says.