How to Care for an Uncircumcised Penis

Circumcision is just one of the many decisions new parents must make.

baby in bath and mom squeezing soap
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One of the first decisions many parents face after birth is whether or not to circumcise the male child. They need to weigh the benefits and risks and come to a decision that is right for them and their child.

The circumcision trend might be partly attributed to the American Academy of Pediatrics 2012 task force report, stating that even though circumcision has medical benefits, it's not routinely recommended for newborns. It might also be because fewer insurance companies are covering the procedure, according to Ronald Gray, M.D., a professor of epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

Deciding not to circumcise your child is a perfectly acceptable choice based on cultural, ethical, and religious standards. But those who opt against circumcision should understand how to safely and properly clean their baby's genitals. Here's how to care for an uncircumcised penis.

Uncircumcised Baby Care

When your baby is first born, their foreskin is completely fused to the penis. The foreskin will retract later in life—usually by five years old, but sometimes not until puberty. Rarely, your child's foreskin might begin retracting within days or weeks of birth.

Improperly cleaning the foreskin of an uncircumcised baby might cause bleeding and pain. Never forcefully push the foreskin back on the shaft, or else you might cause pain, bleeding, or tearing. Forcing the foreskin back is also unnecessary since germs or dirt won't accumulate where it's still fused with the penis.

Wipe the penis and foreskin during diaper changes to keep it clean, says Vanessa Elliott, M.D., a urologist at UCP Urology of Central PA, Inc., and gently wash your baby's genital area with soap and water while during bathing. You don't need to do any special cleansing with cotton swabs or antiseptics since these can irritate the skin.

Call your doctor if the foreskin looks red, or if it appears painful and itchy for your child. This may indicate an infection or inflammation. Also let your M.D. know if urine is pooling inside of it, which may signal that you child's foreskin is too tight.

Caring for a Penis With Retracted Foreskin

Shortly after your baby's foreskin starts retracting, you may notice small, white bumps underneath it called smegma. These cells once attached the foreskin to his penis and are now being shed.

When bathing your child, retract the foreskin gently from the head of the penis—but only as far as it will go without forcing it. The foreskin is thin and fragile, so never pull it back more than it seems to want to go.

Once the foreskin fully retracts, your baby 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 the inside fold of the foreskin with soap and warm water.
  • Make sure the penis and foreskin are dry after washing.
  • Pulling the foreskin back over the head of the penis.

When to Call a Doctor

Since the foreskin covers the penis, including the tip, it can trap warmth and moisture, potentially leading to infections such as balanitis. Balanitis is a common condition that primarily affects kids under 5 and is simple to treat and prevent.

The most important aspect of foreskin care is to keep it clean and dry. When moisture from urine or sweat is not properly cleaned, it can create the perfect environment for a bacterial or yeast infection.

Signs of infection

Most time, infection is mild and easily treated at home by properly washing the affected area with warm water and mild soap, followed by drying the skin before getting dressed. If an infection gets worse, you may notice the following symptoms:

  • Redness and swelling
  • Puss from the tip of the penis
  • Pain around the opening of the foreskin
  • Itching
  • Foul odor
  • Tightened foreskin from swelling

Call your doctor if you are concerned about infection or if your child appears in pain.

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