Circumcision Pros And Cons: Should You Circumcise Your Baby Boy?

Circumcised vs uncircumcised (or intact, as some parents prefer) — whatever route you decide to go once your baby boy is born is a personal choice, based on your own religious, cultural and personal beliefs. It is a decision that varies around the world (circumcision is much more common in the United States than Europe, for instance)–perhaps because the American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP) has stated that the health benefits of newborn male circumcision outweigh the risks. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), 50 to 60 percent of all male babies are curcumcised in the US. The rate in Australia is much lower, estimated at around 32 percent of males under 30. If you are debating circumcised vs uncircumcised, give yourself plenty of time to think about it before your child is born.”Explore what circumcision means to you, based on your beliefs,” says Dr Wendy Sue Swanson, a paediatrician and mum. Here, Dr Swanson breaks it all down for us.

What is circumcision?

Boys are born with a glans-foreskin covering over the head of the penis, and a circumcision is the act of cutting back that skin. The 5-to 20-minute procedure is typically done on newborns two days to two weeks after birth by a paediatrician or obstetrician. “There are different techniques,” Dr Swanson says, and suggests that families follow their practitioner’s advice and preferred method. Alternately, a holistic circumcision or “bris” is performed by a Rabbi or a Jewish circumciser, called a mohel, typically 8 days after birth at home or in a religious setting.

It is important to know that although quick, the circumcision procedure is painful and babies will cry. Most practitioners will use either a topical or injectable anesthetic, acetaminophen and/or something like a sugar cube to suck on to reduce the pain, followed by breastfeeding or cuddling to calm the baby down. After the procedure, the penis usually heals within a week or two.

What are the health benefits of circumcision?

According to the AAP, circumcised boys often avoid urinary tract infections and penile cancer (neither of which are especially common in uncircumcised boys, however). And studies show that circumcision may reduce the likelihood of contracting sexually transmitted diseases (like HIV and HPV). Additionally, many find that the circumcised penis is easier to clean and less likely to harbor smegma (the gunk that collects beneath the foreskin), although Dr Swanson says that most uncircumcised (or intact) boys can care for their own penises by learning to pull the skin back, rinsing and cleaning behind the foreskin properly.

What are the health risks of circumcision?

“Risks during the actual surgery are low,” says Dr Swanson. Parents may be worried about penile injury during the procedure, which is unlikely. The bigger risks are the side effects, such as bleeding and local infection (inflammation of the urethral opening, for instance), both of which can be treated easily with an antibiotic ointment. Although some parents have expressed concern that not enough of the foreskin was removed, Dr Swanson says that additional surgery is very rare.

What does the AAP’s position on circumcision really mean?

Although the AAP clearly states that the benefits of circumcision outweigh the risks, they go on to explain that the benefits do not mean circumcision is recommended for every male baby, simply that those who choose the procedure are justified, and permitted to have it paid for by insurance.

Is it possible to wait and circumcise your child later?

Yes. However, according to Kids Health, once a child is past the newborn stage the procedure can be more complicated and may even require general anesthesia.

Still unsure whether to circumcise your child? Take some time before your son is born to discuss your feelings, concerns, and motivations with your partner and your healthcare provider. Think about what the norm is in your family or town, whether you have any cultural or religious beliefs to consider, as well as how you feel about the practice of altering a baby’s penis. Ultimately, it is up to you.

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Image: Getty