Circumcision: The Pros and Cons

If you are expecting a baby boy, or if you might be, odds are the topic of circumcision will come up at some point.  This is a common topic for expectant parents to have lots of questions about, and hopefully the information here can help.


Circumcision:  What is It?

Circumcision is the surgical removal of the foreskin, which covers the head of the penis.  It is usually done in the hospital by either a pediatrician or an obstetrician. There are several different techniques used by doctors to perform a circumcision, and the best one is the one your doctor is most comfortable doing.  Local pain medication (called a nerve block) should always be used, and in addition most babies are given a little sugar water to suck on to help soothe them during the procedure.


What are the benefits of circumcision?

The latest data tells us that circumcision has several health benefits.  It decreases the risk of a urinary tract infection during your baby’s first year of life.  Later in his life, it decreases the risk of him getting HIV, genital herpes, HPV and syphilis.  It also decreases the risk of any future female sexual partner acquiring cervical cancer (caused by transmission of some types of HPV).  Lastly, it decreases the risk your baby will develop cancer of the penis throughout his lifetime.


What are the risks of circumcision?

Anytime we perform a surgical procedure, there are risks involved.  Infection is rare but can occur. Bleeding problems can present during circumcision, and if your family has a history of bleeding problems or your baby has not yet had his vitamin K shot it is very important to share that information with the doctor.  Finally, there is a very small risk that something will go wrong with the procedure, necessitating future follow up with a pediatric urologist.


How do I take care of my baby’s penis?

If you choose to circumcise your baby, the doctor or nurse will review post circumcision care with you based on the method your doctor uses to perform the circumcision.

If you choose not to circumcise your baby, you should not try to retract his foreskin.  The foreskin will eventually separate from the head of the penis on its own, but this can take weeks to years.  Most boys can retract their foreskins by around 5 years of age, but some cannot until their teen years. Once the foreskin is retractable, gentle washing with soap and water when your son bathes is all that he needs to do.


So What Should We Choose To Do?

Choosing whether or not to circumcise your son is a personal decision.  The evidence tells us that the benefits outweigh the risks by a little bit, but not enough for the American Academy of Pediatrics to recommend that all baby boys be circumcised.  So it comes down to your preferences. Are there religious or cultural reasons to suggest one choice over another? Is it important to your family that your son look like his father?  No matter what you choose to do, your son will find other boys who look like him. And if you have further questions, feel free to ask us.