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Q&A: Should we have our boy circumcised

by Dr. Christine Wood, M.D |
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Q My wife and I are having our first baby this September. We found out its a boy, and are very excited. We have been hearing mixed stories as to whether circumsion is good or bad. Do you have any thoughts as to whether we should or not? Thanks!

A The American Academy of Pediatrics gives some pros and cons of circumcision as follows:

Reasons Parents May Choose Circumcision

Research studies suggest that there may be some medical benefits to circumcision. These include the following: A slightly lower risk of urinary tract infections (UTIs). A circumcised infant boy has about a 1 in 1,000 chance of developing a UTI in the first year of life; an uncircumcised infant boy has about a 1 in 100 chance of developing a UTI in the first year of life. A lower risk of getting cancer of the penis. However, this type of cancer is very rare in both circumcised and uncircumcised males. A slightly lower risk of getting sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including HIV, the AIDS virus. Prevention of foreskin infections. Prevention of phimosis, a condition in uncircumcised males that makes foreskin retraction impossible. Easier genital hygiene.

Reasons Parents May Choose Not to Circumcise

The following are reasons why parents may choose NOT to have their son circumcised: Possible risks. As with any surgery, circumcision has some risks. Complications from circumcision are rare and usually minor. They may include bleeding, infection, cutting the foreskin too short or too long, and improper healing. The belief that the foreskin is necessary to protect the tip of the penis. When removed, the tip of the penis may become irritated and cause the opening of the penis to become too small. This can cause urination problems that may need to be surgically corrected.The belief that circumcision makes the tip of the penis less sensitive, causing a decrease in sexual pleasure later in life. Almost all uncircumcised boys can be taught proper hygiene that can lower their chances of getting infections, cancer of the penis, and sexually transmitted diseases.

Scientific studies show some medical benefits of circumcision. However, these benefits are not sufficient for the American Academy of Pediatrics to recommend that all infant boys be circumcised. Parents may want their sons circumcised for religious, social, and cultural reasons. Since circumcision is not essential to a child's health, parents should choose what is best for their child by looking at the benefits and risks.

I don't think you can really make a "wrong" decision, medically speaking. I find it comes to personal reasons that some people may choose one way or the other. Most doctors will use a local anesthetic to control pain during the procedure. Ask your doctor if they use a local anesthetic, either an injection at the base of the penis before the procedure or a topical cream placed a couple hours before the circumcision. In my practice here in San Diego, I would say about 10% of families choose not to circumcise. Many cultures do not believe in circumcision. If you choose not to circumcise, they would not be that "unusual." I tell parents that if they choose to do the opposite of what the father is (either circumcised or uncircumcised) you can always explain that you had different information when they were born.

Christine Wood, MD

Click here to Ask Dr. Christine Wood questions about your baby's health

Dr. Christine Wood is a practicing pediatrician in Southern California. She attended the University of Detroit for her undergraduate degree in chemistry and received her medical degree from the University of Michigan. She completed her pediatric residency at Children's Hospital of Los Angeles. She was Chief Resident there and then worked in the emergency room at Children's Hospital of Los Angeles. After three years doing pediatric emergency room medicine she went into private practice. She received her lactation educator certification from the University of California, San Diego.

She is the author of "How to Get Kids to Eat Great and Love It," a book that addresses the issues of why and how to feed kids healthy. The book also covers information about environmental threats and the role of nutritional supplementation for children. She lives in Southern California with her husband and son.

Christine is also the cofounder of Call Your Ped.com a website designed to give concerned parents with non-emergency medical questions, solid, no-nonsense information that can give them information in deciding when to call the doctor and some home treatment advice. You can visit her website at http://www.callyourped.com

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