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Deciding to Circumcise – Facts, pros and cons for infant circumcision

About two-thirds of males in the United States are circumcised, though this number varies within certain ethnic and religious groups. The circumcision rate peaked at 85% in the sixties, but has dropped by 30% in the past thirty years.

What is circumcision?

Circumcision is the removal of a fold of skin, generally called the foreskin, that covers the head of the penis. The operation is performed under local or general anesthesia and takes about ten minutes. Laws vary by state, but circumcision will typically be performed either by an obstetrician in the hospital shortly after the baby is born, or by a pediatrician in an office. Circumcisions that are done for religious reasons may be done by others who are properly trained in the procedure.

There are certain instances in which circumcision may be done in older boys and men for medical reasons to treat problems with the foreskin (phimosis or paraphimosis) or problems related to swelling of the tip of the penis (balanitis). But many parents choose to get their baby boys circumcised soon after birth either for personal or religious reasons. Since it’s such a loaded decision, here are some pros and cons:

Pros

  • Religious or cultural significance. Circumcision has traditional significance in certain religions, such as Judaism and Islam.
  • Circumcision may let the infant resemble other male family members. Some families choose to circumcise their infant if the older male family members are circumcised and they don’t want their sons to feel “different.” However, the same can be true for a family whose members are uncircumcised.
  • Circumcised infants are ten times less likely to contract urinary tract infections (UTIs), however, only about 1% or less of uncircumcised males will be affected by a UTI despite their increased risk.
  • A study found circumcised males to have a reduced risk for contracting penile human papillomavirus (HPV). Female partners of circumcised males were also found to have a lower incidence of HPV.

Cons

  • The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says there is no medical need for the procedure. Though some studies have shown circumcision to decrease the risk of certain infections, no evidence has been weighty enough for the AAP to change its recommendation.
  • Like any surgical procedure, circumcision poses potential risks. Complications such as minor bleeding or infection can happen as a result of surgery, though both can be easily treated by your doctor. The incidence of these complications is uncommon, occurring in around 0.2% to 3% of cases, but it’s important to be aware of the risks.
  • A circumcised penis isn’t more or less hygienic than an uncircumcised one. With normal cleaning and personal hygiene, the circumcised penis is no cleaner than the uncircumcised penis.

Let’s cut to the chase – without across-the-board recommendations from pediatricians or clear medical benefits, circumcision is an elective procedure. The answer to circumcise or not isn’t clear. If you’re unsure, focus on the facts regarding the benefits and drawbacks of the procedure, and know that the decision to circumcise your baby boy is a choice for you and your family to make. For more news on the circumcision debate, check out Babble’s Strollerderby posts on this topic.

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