Should I Circumcise My Baby Boy or Not?

Reviewed by James Brann, MD
If you are the parents of a baby boy, you will be faced with a tough decision of whether or not to circumcise your child. This is a procedure that involves snipping the foreskin of the penis so that it does not cover the tip. In most cases, this is done when the baby is a newborn, typically within a day to ten days of birth.
The United States is one of the most ethnically diverse races in the world; therefore the rate of circumcisions varies depending on where you live, your family ancestry and beliefs, religion and other factors. Some parents do it just to ensure their child will “fit in” with the other kids in the locker room, as the child grows up and starts playing sports. Others do it to avoid the chance of infection, particularly Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) or Human Papillomavirus Infection (HPV), which is more common among uncircumcised boys and men than in those who are circumcised. And yet, the chances of getting either one of these infections are marginal; less than one percent.

Statistics of Circumcisions by Region

By and large, the rate of circumcisions has declined among babies born between 1979 – 2010, according to National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). It went from 65% of all male infants to 55% by 2002, but then gradually increased to approximately 59% by 2010. These are the freshest statistics available. Even more interesting is the percentage widely varies, depending on the region in which the family lives.

  • Midwest: Approx. 72% of male infants were circumcised
  • Northeast: Approx. 67% of male infants were circumcised
  • South: Approx. 58% of male infants were circumcised
  • West: Only approx. 37% of male infants were circumcised
Upon review of these statistics, it becomes evident that race, beliefs, and social pressures do play a role in a parent’s decision of whether or not to circumcise a baby boy. There are more Hispanic families in the West and South, as well as blacks. Some of these families prefer not to circumcise their children and find it unnecessary. The northern states and Midwestern states did it for other reasons, and social pressure was one of them. Some mothers chose to circumcise their baby just so the child would “look like his daddy” or so the child would fit in amongst his peers, or not be ridiculed by girls in high school.
In other parts of the world, circumcision is not the most popular choice. Global statistics do not exist, but some researchers estimate that 85% of the world’s men are not circumcised. It was first cultured by a Jewish ritual, which is still celebrated among most Jewish families.

What Happens During Circumcision?

In some states, circumcision is done while the baby is still in the hospital, typically about a day after it is born. In other states, the parents must bring the child to a clinical visit about seven to ten days after birth. The latter can be more emotionally troubling, at least from a mother’s perspective. It is tough to “willingly” bring your baby in for a surgery that you know will be painful, so it might be good to bring a family member or relative and stay behind in the waiting room, if you have any worries. The medical staff is trained experts, and very rarely do you hear of any complications, although they do occur in a small percentage of babies.

The nurse either holds the newborn, or the baby is strapped to a papoose board, which is a firm board with Velcro straps to lock the baby into place. This prevents the baby’s legs and arms from flailing. The medical staff cleans the penis first and then the doctor will administer a lidocaine injection or some type of pain reliever. Some pediatricians do not do this unless you ask for it, so as a parent it is important to request analgesia (pain relief) cream, which is a topical cream that is smeared on the penis and surrounding area. It does numb the area, but the baby will still experience some pain.

The doctor then uses a special circumcision device or clamp, which he places over the head of the penis and quickly removes the foreskin. The tool is sterilized prior to the procedure and afterwards. This is done to prevent infection, although in isolated cases, some babies are more susceptible to infection. This depends on how well the baby is cared for by the mother or caregiver during the following week. The pediatrician will give instructions on how to care for the baby’s penis, most often with petroleum jelly and small gauze pads for protection. It does heal very nicely within a week to ten days in most babies.

Understandably, the baby boy will be very upset. Some babies scream and cry, but within a few minutes, the procedure if finished. The pediatrician may prescribe a low-dose baby pain reliever, but this depends on the doctor. Let your little one sleep and rest to help him heal.

If You Do Decide to Circumcise, Better Sooner than Later

The longer you wait to get the circumcision, the more it does hurt and can take longer to heal. So, putting off the circumcision until the child is a year or two of age can actually be worse, as the newborn baby does not have any recollection of such a traumatic event, whereas a child who is older may remember the trauma more clearly.

If you choose a circumcision for your baby boy, it is best to get it over with as soon as possible after birth. It may be difficult, but if you want what is best for your baby boy, this is a decision you should make before the baby is born and stick to what you feel is best for your child, no matter what opinions are expressed by others or by your pediatrician. There is no right or wrong, as every family has a different perspective, but just make sure you know what to expect!


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