Deciding About a Circumcision for Your Newborn Son

If you and your family are undecided on the best choice for your newborn son, this article provides some basic information. You can also talk with your doctor. In the end, this is a personal decision, and we will respect your choice. Please remember to check with your insurance carrier before scheduling your child’s circumcision as this type of procedure is sometimes considered elective.

What is a circumcision?

When a baby boy is born, the penis has a tube-shaped, double-layered fold of skin at the end. This is called the foreskin. A circumcision (or “circ”) is a surgical procedure that involves the removal of this skin. The desired result of a circumcision is to have the tip of the penis fully exposed and not covered by the foreskin.

With a young, healthy infant, a circumcision can be done safely in the doctor’s office or at the birthing hospital. In either setting, your baby boy will not be unconscious. He will be given medication to help with localized pain and discomfort.

The procedure itself usually takes 30 minutes or less—but be sure to plan for a longer visit because your son will be examined for ongoing signs of bleeding.

Is a circumcision painful?

Yes. Like any surgical procedure that involves cutting the skin, there can be pain. There are several ways to help decrease pain during the procedure and during the healing period:

  • During the procedure, a numbing medication will be used to reduce pain.
  • At the end of the procedure, a gauze with petroleum jelly will be used to help reduce irritation from the diaper.
  • After the procedure, you can help sooth your son by swaddling, comforting, feeding, and talking with him.
  • Lastly, oral pain medications can be given after the procedure to help control pain.

Are there benefits to a circumcision?

Yes. In September 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reported a decrease in the risk of urinary tract infections during the first two years of life. The AAP also said that later in life, a man with a circumcision has a lower risk of getting HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases. Here’s a quote from that report:

“Benefits include significant reductions in the risk of urinary tract infection in the first year of life and, subsequently, in the risk of heterosexual acquisition of HIV and the transmission of other sexually transmitted infections."*

Further benefits may include:

  • Preventing phimosis. In this condition at a later age, the foreskin cannot retract back from the head of the penis.
  • Reduction in the risk of cervical cancer to future female sexual partners.
  • Reduction in the risk for cancer of the penis. But this is a rare form of cancer (about 10 cases per year per 1 million American men).

Are there risks to a circumcision?

Yes. Like most surgical procedure, there are risks. These include excessive bleeding, infection, injury to the penis or urethra, and removable of excessive foreskin. The AAP notes that such complications are infrequent and most are minor.

The same AAP policy statement states:

“The procedure is well tolerated when performed by trained professionals under sterile conditions with appropriate pain management. Complications are infrequent; most are minor, and severe complications are rare. Male circumcision performed during the newborn period has considerably lower complication rates than when performed later in life."

Your PacMed provider is professionally trained. Our care team will provide appropriate pain management.

Is circumcision the right choice for me and my family?

This is a personal decision. You and your family will need to make this decision for your newborn son.

In summary, the AAP says that circumcision should be offered as an option:

“Although health benefits are not great enough to recommend routine circumcision for all male newborns, the benefits of circumcision are sufficient to justify access to this procedure for families choosing it..."

We believe that you, the parents, ultimately should decide whether circumcision is in the best interest for your son. If you have further questions or concerns, please discuss them with your physician.

Dr. Alexander Hamling is a board-certified pediatrician at PacMed's Canyon Park (Bothell) clinic. To learn more or make an appointment with Dr. Hamling, visit his webpage or call (425) 412-7200.


*All excerpts are from the AAP Policy Statement on Circumcision and/or the AAP Technical Report on Male Circumcision. Both were published in the September 1, 2012, edition of the AAP journal, Pediatrics.