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Published on September 13, 2012

Baby Boy?: The Pros and Cons of Circumcision

One question familiar to all parents who have welcomed a new baby boy into the family is whether or not to perform a circumcision. Recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a revised policy statement on the subject. Their previous statement was from 1999, and the AAP wanted to see if there was any new evidence regarding risks and benefits that would influence their opinion regarding circumcisions.

From the revised policy statement, released this September in the journal Pediatrics (the official journal of the AAP):  “Although the 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 and to warrant third-party payment for circumcision of male newborns.”

Pros and Cons of Circumcision

So what does that mean?  In general, the complications associated with circumcision (namely bleeding, infection, and disfigurement) are uncommon and usually minor, and severe complications are rare. The benefits of circumcision are that it prevents problems in males that are also relatively uncommon – problems that specifically involve the foreskin, penile cancer, reducing transmission of some sexually transmitted infections including HIV, and reduction of the incidence of urinary tract infections. In other words, the benefits of a circumcision (even though they are small) outweigh the risks associated with a circumcision (which are even smaller), but the benefits are not great enough that the AAP feels that circumcision should become routine for all boys.

Choose What is Right for You

That being said, the decision of whether to circumcise or not continues to be left up to the parents. Often, there are religious, cultural, or ethical beliefs held by the parents that also influence this decision, and the medical benefits should not outweigh these other important considerations.

Circumcision Procedures

For those who choose to have their infant circumcised, this procedure is typically done in the hospital prior to discharge or in clinic soon afterwards. It is possible to perform a circumcision later in life, but at that point the procedure is associated with higher rates of complication and usually requires general anesthesia. There are several techniques for performing the circumcision in infants, and the physician will discuss the specifics of what is involved prior to the procedure being done.  Most physicians will also use some form of local anesthesia to help prevent excessive discomfort to the infant during the procedure.

Infant circumcision continues to be a common practice in the United States. New information tells us it does provide a few small benefits, but the procedure does come with a small amount of risk.  If you are expecting a boy, be sure to talk with your doctor about a circumcision so you have all the necessary information when you make your decision.

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