A decision that may come your way after your baby boy is born is whether or not to circumcise.
Circumcision is a topic surrounded by cultural, religious and medical considerations, making it both complex and personal. For some parents, the decision is easy. For others, not so much.
To help you make an informed decision, we’ll discuss factors to consider, pros and cons and how to navigate disagreements.
What is circumcision?
Before deciding on circumcision, it helps to understand how the procedure works.
“Newborn circumcision is a procedure in which the skin covering the tip of the baby’s penis, called the foreskin, is surgically removed,” said Ariella Friedman, MD, a pediatric urologist with Banner Children’s.
Circumcision is usually done within the first few days after a baby is born. In some regions, it may be performed when leaving the hospital. However, some choose to circumcise their children in a clinic or at home by a religious or cultural practitioner.
“For example, Jewish males receive their circumcision on the eighth day after birth, with a person trained in Jewish circumcision laws performing the rite of passage,” Dr. Friedman said.
The benefits of circumcision
Circumcision offers several potential benefits. It may make cleaning the baby’s penis easier and reduce the risk of certain infections, such as urinary tract infections and sexually transmitted infections like HIV and HPV.
“Circumcision may also essentially eliminate the risk of penile cancer if performed in the first 12 months of life, as well as the risk of foreskin-related issues such as paraphimosis (foreskin trapped behind the head of the penis) and posthitis (foreskin inflammation),” Dr. Friedman said.
The risks of circumcision
Although newborn circumcision is low-risk, it carries certain risks like any medical procedure. These may include bleeding, infection and injury to the penis or urethra.
“In less than 2% of cases, a secondary surgery may be needed,” Dr. Friedman said. “This includes revisions for foreskin issues or treating meatal stenosis.”
Meatal stenosis is a rare condition that happens when the opening at the end of the penis narrows and becomes too small. It usually only happens in circumcised people.
The American Academy of Pediatrics and American Urological Association guidelines state that the health benefits of circumcision outweigh the procedure’s risks. However, they both fall short of making a recommendation for or against it – leaving the decision in the hands of the parents.
Factors to consider when making the decision
Many different things shape the decision to circumcise your baby. Two of the biggest factors are cultural and religious considerations.
“Some families do it because it’s a tradition they’ve always followed, but religion also plays a part,” Dr. Friedman said. “Certain faiths believe in circumcision as a sacred practice.”
Other factors include:
- Medical conditions: Sometimes, babies may need circumcision for medical reasons, like when they have issues with how their penis is shaped or positioned. These problems, such as hypospadias, penile curvature (chordee) or rotation (torsion), often require surgery when the baby is a few months old or older.
“Circumcision helps fix these issues and can prevent problems with how the penis works, looks and how the child will feel about it,” Dr. Friedman said. “The results look the same as a regular circumcision and children generally do very well.”
- Timing: Though a circumcision can be done at any age, it is generally easiest for the child when performed in the newborn period. Recovery is quicker and easier in babies. The older the child gets, the more uncomfortable they may get about the procedure.
“If you have reservations, the decision doesn’t need to be made right away,” Dr. Friedman said. “Know that it can potentially be done in the future.”
- Insurance: Some insurance plans don’t cover elective newborn circumcision, and the cost may burden families. It’s important to check your insurance coverage and save accordingly if you plan to circumcise your child.
Not seeing eye to eye: Navigating disagreements
Deciding whether or not to circumcise your child can be a source of disagreement between parents. Dr. Friedman shared these tips to help with decision-making:
- Ensure the decision aligns with your values: Make sure your choice is based on what feels suitable for your family rather than pressure from others.
- Use open communication: If you and another parent are involved in the decision-making process, try to have open and honest discussions about your preferences and concerns. Look for common ground.
- Seek more information: It’s okay to have questions and seek more information, even after initial discussion. Talk to your child’s health care provider to better understand the options before you decide.
Questions to ask your provider
When talking to your child’s health care provider about circumcision, consider asking the following questions:
- What are the specific medical risks and benefits in our child’s case?
- What is the procedure like and what should we expect after surgery?
- Are there any reasons that might make circumcision medically necessary or unnecessary?
- When is the optimal time for circumcising our baby?
Deciding whether or not to circumcise your child is a complex and personal choice. Remember that there's no one-size-fits-all answer. The decision ultimately comes down to what you believe is best for your child and your family's values and circumstances.
Your child's health care provider or a Banner Health specialist can provide valuable information and guidance to help you make an informed decision that aligns with your family's needs and beliefs.