Should You Circumcise Your Baby Boy?

  Photo by  Michal Bar Haim  on  Unsplash

Circumcising newborn boys is a personal decision for all parents. Throughout the world, there are many faiths and cultures that require young boys to be circumcised. However, it is not mandatory. If you don't feel comfortable circumcising your baby, there is no need to do it. Hospitals and pediatricians do not require infant males to be circumcised. There is no law requiring circumcision.

If you're curious about the procedure, talk to your pediatrician. While there are quite a few benefits from circumcision, it's still not universally recommended by the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics). Instead, The AAP recommends discussing the benefits and risks of the procedure with your own doctor. To learn more about circumcision, read on.

What is it? 

Circumcision is the elective, surgical removal of the foreskin to expose the tip of the penis. When baby boys are born, they are born with a small piece of skin that covers the end of the penis. That is the foreskin that is removed during the surgery.

For a newborn to be eligible for circumcision, he must be healthy and stable. Doctors will not perform the operation on infants who were born prematurely or have blood clotting disorders.

Sometime between 3 and 14 days of life, the procedure should be performed. You will not be with your baby when he is circumcised. It is a surgery, requiring a sterile environment. It's a quick procedure, normally fifteen minutes or so. Some doctors offer local anesthesia while others may give babies a few drops of sugar water to help ease the pain. Your baby may cry during and after the procedure for a short period.

Why should you do it?

Like so many parenting decisions, this is a personal choice. Some religions, like Judaism and Islam, make circumcision a tradition and a celebration. Perhaps you or your partner subscribe to one of these faiths and wish to carry on the tradition.

Additionally, there are a few health benefits to being circumcised. Those who are "snipped" have a lower risk of contracting infections and STIs (sexually transmitted infections) later in life. Circumcision is much easier and less traumatic for a newborn than it is for an older child or adolescent. If you think it may be done at some time in your son's life, the earlier the better.

Finally, there lies the desire for your little man to "look like" the other men in his life. If his father is circumcised, as most men in the United States are, you may want your baby boy to be the same way.

Ultimately, while there may be a few benefits, there is no true medical need for a circumcision. It's up to the child's parents to decide.

What are the benefits of the procedure?

As stated above, one of the primary benefits of circumcision is the decreased risk of infection. Further, boys who are circumcised reduce their risk of

  • Penile Caner
  • UTI (Urinary Tract Infection)
  • Phimosis (A condition in uncircumcised males that make it impossible to retract foreskin)
  • STIs (Sexually Transmitted Infections)

Other benefits include:

  • A more hygienic genital area that is easy for a young boy to care for on his own.
  • Avoiding a more painful, later-in-life circumcision. These are usually performed due to an infection.
  • Decreased risk of cervical cancer in female partners. Cervical cancer is less common in the female sexual partners of circumcised men.

What are the risks of the procedure?

  • Penile Damage--In extremely rare cases, the foreskin may be cut too short or too long. This could require another circumcision.
  • Fear of Pain--Many parents worry about the comfort of their child so soon after birth. While babies do experience some pain during and immediately after the operation, it is not considered extreme.
  • Inherent Surgical Risks--All surgeries, including this one, come with some risks. Bleeding and infection are the most common.
  • Urinary Problems--If the procedure is done incorrectly, it may affect the urinary tract, leading to painful urination and more surgery.

It's important to note that the AAP states the benefits of circumcision do outweigh the risks. They don't necessarily recommend it for all male newborns. The AAP leaves the decision up to parents--while supporting the use of local anaesthesia for infants who have the procedure.

Myths about Circumcision

You may have heard a few myths about circumcision. The most common one is that circumcision reduces sexual pleasure in men. There is no scientific basis for this idea. Men who are circumcised are able to enjoy a fulfilling sex life, just like their uncircumcised peers.

Perhaps the second most popular myth is the notion that circumcision diminished male fertility. Again, there is no scientific evidence to support this theory. The vast majority of American men are circumcised and they manage to father more children each year. There is no correlation between circumcision and lowered male fertility.

Others have suggested circumcision is akin to FGM (female genital mutilation)-a barbaric practice that must end. This is a false equivalency. While circumcision has extremely rare side effects, FGM has common, scientifically indisputable trauma. Male circumcision does no harm. FGM does. Male circumcision cuts the foreskin, FGM cuts the clitoris. For male circumcision to be equivalent to FGM, the entire tip of the male’s penis would need to be cut off. Additionally, FGM is usually performed when a young woman is going through puberty, making the psychological and sexual side effects extremely devastating.

How To Care for a Circumcised Newborn

In general, it will take 7-14 days for a baby to heal completely following the procedure.

During that time, your doctor will instruct you to apply a small patch of gauze over the tip of the penis. You may apply Vaseline (or another brand of petroleum jelly) on the gauze or directly on the penis to prevent it from sticking to the diaper. This way, your baby's sensitive skin will not be irritated. Some doctors may apply a plastic ring instead of a bandage. If your baby has one of these rings, it will fall off within 5-8 days on its own.

The penis will look red and shiny for a few days. You may even notice a yellow crust forming around the penis. Do not worry. This is a normal part of the healing process.

However, if you notice any of the following symptoms, call your pediatrician right away:

  • There is persistent bleeding.
  • The redness gets worse after 3-5 days.
  • Your baby does not urinate within 8 hours of the surgery.

While complications are rare (1 in 500 circumcised newborns experiences a complication), the most common are local infections and bleeding. The good news is both of these complications can be treated easily by your pediatrician.

Remember, whatever you decide, it's your decision.