PAMF Health Blog

Be Well, Be Well Informed

A New Look at Circumcision

Posted on Aug 12, 2014


Are you expecting a baby boy? If yes, the topic of circumcision is sure to come up. Before you know it, you’ll be immersed in a lively discussion about whether it’s best for baby to be circumcised or not. Some parents choose to have their son circumcised for religious or cultural reasons. Others want their little boy to “‘look like dad or the other men in the family.”

Although recent scientific studies show some important health benefits of circumcision, it is not essential to your child’s good health, says Paul Protter, M.D., a pediatrician with the Palo Alto Medical Foundation. “Ultimately, it’s up to the parents to decide what’s best for their child,” he says. Here are his answers to expecting parents’ most common questions about circumcision.

What is circumcision and what should I expect for my baby boy after circumcision?

During circumcision the foreskin, a small piece of skin that covers the end of the penis, is removed surgically. Circumcisions are usually performed in the hospital during the first few days of the child’s life.

It’s a good idea to decide before or soon after your son is born whether you want him circumcised. The procedure is safest and provides the best health benefits when performed on newborns.

After your son is circumcised, the tip of the penis may look red or yellowish. Apply petroleum jelly to the tip of the penis while it is healing to prevent it sticking to his diaper or anything else. It usually takes about a week for the penis to heal fully.

Does circumcision hurt?

Yes, but safe and effective pain medications can be used to reduce the pain. Talk to your child’s doctor to find out what type of pain medication he or she recommends.

Circumcision is less painful to newborns, who are less aware. That’s another reason not to wait until your son is older. Later circumcisions, even after the first couple of months of life, will need to be performed under general anesthesia. This means greater health risks and pain for your child.

What are the main benefits and risks of circumcision?

Recent scientific studies provide evidence of a number of health benefits when boys are circumcised as newborns. These benefits include a lower risk of getting HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) and sexually transmitted diseases including the human papillomavirus (HPV) and genital warts. Circumcision also helps prevent urinary tract infections during the first year of your son’s life. Other benefits include preventing phimosis, a condition that makes it impossible to pull back the foreskin, and a lower risk of getting cancer of the penis, although that cancer is rare.

Although circumcision is a safe procedure and complications are rare, as with any surgery there is a risk of bleeding and infection. Parents may decide not to have their son circumcised because they don’t want to expose their child to any health risks from the surgery.

Some parents also believe that the foreskin is needed to protect the penis, or that removing the foreskin may reduce sexual pleasure as an adult. Some parents believe that if their son learns how to keep his penis cleaned properly, he can lower any health risks associated with not being circumcised.

What do I need to know if I decide not to have my child circumcised?

Talk to your child’s doctor so you understand how to keep your son’s penis clean. It’s important to know that you will not be able to pull back the foreskin for several years – this should also never be forced until your son can do so himself. When the foreskin can be fully retracted, he can learn how to keep his penis clean, just like the rest of his body.

ProtterP_2009 Paul Protter, M.D., is a board-certified pediatrician at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation.