All About Circumcision

The whats, whys, and hows about newborn circumcision.

What It Is

When boys are born, they have a piece of skin that covers the end of the penis, called the foreskin. Circumcision is the surgical removal of the foreskin to expose the tip of the penis.

A newborn must be stable and healthy to be circumcised. If a parent decides to have her baby circumcised, the procedure is usually performed in the baby's first few days of life (assuming the procedure will not be taking place during a religious ceremony). To perform the procedure, the doctor places the baby on a special table and cleans the baby's penis and foreskin. A special clamp is attached to the penis, and the foreskin is removed. Finally, ointment and gauze or a plastic ring are placed over the cut to protect it from rubbing against the diaper.

The procedure is done quickly. The baby may cry during the procedure and for a short while afterward. Local anesthesia can greatly reduce your baby's discomfort. If you decide to have your son circumcised, talk with your child's doctor about anesthesia options.

Making the Decision

Circumcision is an elective procedure. It's your choice whether to have your son circumcised. In most cases, there is no medical need for a circumcision. It is not required by law or by hospital policy. Scientific studies show some medical benefits of circumcision, but these benefits are not sufficient enough for the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) to recommend that all infant boys be circumcised. The AAP does recommend, however, that parents discuss the benefits and risks of circumcision with their pediatrician and then make an informed decision.

Ask yourself why you may or may not want your son to be circumcised. Some parents may want their sons circumcised for religious, social, or cultural reasons. Followers of the Jewish and Islamic faiths have circumcised their male newborns for centuries. Although many newborn boys in the United States are circumcised, it is much less common in Northern Europe and other parts of the world. Ask yourself if it matters whether your son looks like other men in the family or his peers.

Whether or not to circumcise your newborn is an important decision. Circumcision could be riskier if done later in a boy's life, so if you have any questions or concerns, talk with your doctor about them during your pregnancy. Then you'll have enough time to make an informed decision.

Benefits and Drawbacks

According to the AAP, research suggests that there may be some medical benefits to circumcision. Boys who have been circumcised are at reduced risk for:

  • Foreskin infections
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Penile cancer
  • Sexually transmitted diseases
  • Phimosis, a condition in uncircumcised males that makes foreskin retraction impossible

Here are some of the reasons parents may decide not to have their baby circumcised:

  • Surgical risks: As with any surgery, circumcision has some risks. Complications are rare and usually minor. The most common complications are bleeding and infection.
  • Penile damage: Very rarely, the foreskin may be cut too short or too long. Equally unlikely is improper healing from the circumcision. These complications may require another circumcision or -- in extreme cases -- penile reconstruction.
  • Alteration of penile sensitivity: Some people claim that circumcision may lessen the sensitivity of the tip of the penis, decreasing sexual pleasure later in life. However, this hasn't been proven to be true.
  • Fear of pain: Some parents choose not to circumcise their sons because they are worried about the pain the baby may feel.
  • Protection of the tip of the penis: When the foreskin is removed, the tip of the penis may become irritated, causing the urinary opening to become too small. This could lead to urination problems that may need to be surgically corrected.

Care of the Circumcised Newborn

After the circumcision, the tip of the penis may seem raw or yellowish for seven to ten days. Keep the area as clean as possible by washing your baby's penis with soap and water every day. Change his diapers often so that urine and stool do not cause infection.

If doctors have dressed the penis in gauze, apply a new bandage each time you change his diaper. Coat the gauze with petroleum jelly to keep it from sticking.

Some doctors apply a plastic ring instead of a bandage. This will drop off by itself within five to eight days.

Complications from a circumcision are rare. However, every surgery carries some risk. The AAP reports that complications occur in 1 in 200 to 1 in 500 circumcised newborn males. The most frequent complications are minor bleeding and local infection, both of which can be easily treated by your child's doctor. Call your pediatrician right away if:

  • Your baby does not urinate normally within 6 to 8 hours after the circumcision.
  • There is persistent bleeding.
  • There is redness around the tip of the penis that gets worse after 3 to 5 days.

Care of the Uncircumcised Newborn

It is important to keep the uncircumcised penis clean. Gently wash the genital area while bathing your baby. You do not need to do any special cleansing, such as with cotton swabs or antiseptics.

The foreskin does not fully retract for several years and should never be forced. Once the foreskin fully retracts, around age 3, boys should be taught how to wash underneath the foreskin every day. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommends that you teach your son to clean his foreskin by:

  • Gently pulling it back away from the head of the penis.
  • Rinsing the head of the penis and inside fold of the foreskin with soap and warm water.
  • Pulling the foreskin back over the head of the penis.

Sources: American Academy of Pediatrics; American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology; The Nemours Foundation

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.

American Baby

3 Comments

  1. the boys in my family has done circumcise, its not about choices, in our custom once a boys reaches the age 12 they need to be circumcise, once our son is circumcise this is celebrated by family gathering with a feast....it is a sign becoming a adult, this has been respected through out our culture, it is very much the same in the European way when your son turns 18 or 21 that they are mature or is now an adult, that it is given a birthday gift or to allow your child....getting your son circumcise at the age of 3 is horse [filtered], my 7 brothers, my so many nephews, cousins all and each one of them got themselves circumcise without any problems, I say if you want to get your sons circumcise then do it....stop reading and watching a lot of [filtered].....it is your choice only, some people just don't understand how many religions or culture customs work, to some culture it is very shameful not getting your son circumcise, you bring shame to the family...at the end of the day it is your choice...not the doctors or someone telling you what you should do

  2. My kid actually thank me for circumcising him. His peers mostly because of locker room comparing. All my brothers are circumcised. As well as nephews, cousins, so on. All of them agree. They love that fact that they're circumcised.

  3. Please be advised; the statement “.. foreskin fully retracts, around age 3, ..” is incorrect. It does not happen normally until puberty. NEVER try to pull back the foreskin of a small (intact) boy as it can tear the foreskin and lead to an emergency where the blood flow to the head of the [filtered] is cut off. Too many doctors, as well as, parents are making this mistake.

    I beg you all to not circumcise your baby sons. At the very least please watch the documentary American Circumcision; which you can see on Netflix. Brendon Marotta did a tremendous job and I cannot applaud him enough for putting the spotlight on this awful practice that has left so many men in the US, Canada, and Australia without the ability to enjoy sexual pleasure to the same degree as me who was lucky enough to be left intact due to being born in Europe where this is not normally done.

    Many seem to think that the degree of sexual pleasure is not affected by circumcision probably because they are either women or circumcised themselves, but that is so wrong. I know this because as an intact man, I can simply pull my foreskin back to simulate what it is like for someone who is circumcised. I can tell you that if I leave my pubic gland exposed to rub against my clothing during my daily activities, I simply cannot function due to how sensitive my pubic gland is. The only way someone who is circumcised can deal with that is if the pubic gland is severely desensitized, and that of course makes perfect sense. This is how your body will deal with your pubic gland being exposed. There is a good reason for why all male mammals have foreskin and that is to protect the sensitive pubic gland from injury and keeping it moist and sensitive. If it was not needed; it would have been lost through evolution millions of years ago. In fact, the original prudish reason for circumcision was to prevent boys from masturbating by reducing pleasure from it.

    The arguments used these days by the American Medical field, who by the way, profits tremendously from the no 1 surgical procedure in the country, is preventions of various diseases, and they claim that the frequency of these are much higher in intact males. In fact, they misuse the statistics, something that is highlighted in the documentary. The incidents of these are rare in both intact and circumcised males. In any case they are crazy arguments. You would not amputate your breasts to avoid the possibility of breast cancer, or your toes to avoid the possibility of toe fungus etc, right? In fact, the severe effects of circumcision procedures gone wrong are much worse and happen relatively frequently.

    The number of circumcision procedures performed is dropping for a good reason. More and more physicians and parents in the US now understand how important it is to stop this practice. More and more countries are now banning it including Australia where it was performed extensively in the past. Many European countries are too, even though this has not been much of an issue there. Some countries are reluctant solely due to the fear of religious parents having this done anyway illegally by non-professionals. It is the same problem we have with some African parents and female circumcision.

    An important aspect of this too is that you as a parent do NOT have the right to have this done to your son. Only your son has the right to make this decision when he becomes an adult. We all have the fundamental human right of having our perfectly healthy body left intact unless we ourselves, as adults, decide otherwise. All physicians who perform this procedure are violating their own oath of doing no harm.

    It is also an extremely painful and traumatic event for the infant and we still don’t know for sure what psychological consequences it may have for him in the future. We know that the younger a person experiencing a traumatic event is the more severe imprint it makes on the brain. Perhaps it explains some phobias like being afraid of doctors, medical procedures, and even needles etc. My mom, for instance, almost drowned as a toddler and developed a lifelong phobia regarding being near or submerged in water. The same incident would not have the same effect on an adult.

    If you decide to circumcise your son, be prepared for the dreaded question he may ask when he is old enough to understand what was done to him: “Why did you do this to me?” There was in fact, a lawsuit discussed in the documentary where a teenager sued the hospital for doing this to him and he won a settlement. If you leave him intact, I can guarantee you that he will be thankful. It is my sincere hope that this practice will be banned eventually in the US as well. I am sure the hospitals won’t be happy about it though due to the loss of income.

    To religious Jews and Muslims, I can only say that your son has the same basic human right to decide this for himself as well. In fact, to do this for religious reasons makes no sense at all. If “God” created man with a foreskin, then it makes no sense that God would want you to remove it.

    Please make the right choice and don’t do this to your son. He WILL thank you in the future.


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