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Home > Health Library > Circumcision
Male circumcision is a surgery to remove the foreskin, a fold of skin that covers and protects the rounded tip of the penis. The foreskin provides sensation and lubrication for the penis. After the foreskin is removed, it can't be put back on again. See a picture of the penis before and after circumcision.
If circumcision is done, it's usually done soon after birth. In the United States, about 60 out of 100 boys are circumcised, and about 40 out of 100 are not.footnote 1 Worldwide, the rate of circumcision is much lower. Circumcision has both risks and benefits. The decision about whether to have a baby circumcised is often based on the personal preference of the parents.
Some older boys and men need circumcision to treat problems with the foreskin of the penis (such as phimosis or paraphimosis) or for swelling of the tip of the penis (balanitis).
This topic focuses on the circumcision of newborns.
It's up to you whether you have your baby circumcised or keep your son's penis natural. The American Academy of Pediatrics says the health benefits of circumcision outweigh the risks of the surgery. They also say that parents should be the ones to decide what is in the best interest of their child.footnote 2 When you make this decision, it may help you to think about your personal and cultural preferences. For example, you may want to consider your religious and family traditions while you weigh the pros and cons of the surgery.
Circumcision is not just done in newborns. Keep in mind that your son can decide on his own later in life if he wants a circumcised penis.
Problems from circumcision are not common. If they occur, they are usually minor. The most common circumcision problems are:
More serious problems are rare. They include damage to the opening of the urethra, heavy bleeding that requires stitches, severe infection, and scarring.
Circumcisions usually are done by a pediatrician, obstetrician, family medicine doctor, surgeon, or urologist. Circumcisions that are performed for religious reasons are sometimes done by others trained in the procedure. For your baby's safety, it is best that the person doing the surgery is well trained, uses sterile techniques, and knows how to manage your baby's pain during and after the surgery.
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Circumcision is usually done by a doctor at a clinic, in the hospital, or at an outpatient surgery center. During the procedure:
After the circumcision, the groin, penis, and scrotum may appear reddish brown because of the liquid used to clean the skin before surgery. The shaft of the penis where the skin was removed will look raw and slightly swollen.
Your baby will stay in the hospital or clinic for 2 to 4 hours after the procedure. His penis will be checked for bleeding, and the circumcision area may be covered with petroleum jelly and gauze.
You will likely take your baby home the same day he is circumcised. Some swelling around the penis is normal in the first few days after the surgery. Some slight bleeding may occur. If this happens, apply direct but gentle pressure to the area with a clean cloth or bandage for about 5 to 10 minutes.
After surgery, your baby will feel some pain. He may be fussy and have trouble sleeping.
If gauze was used, it will probably come off when your baby urinates. Follow your doctor's directions about whether to put clean gauze on your baby's penis or to leave gauze off. If you need to remove gauze from the penis, use warm water to soak the gauze and gently loosen it.
A thin yellow film will form over the circumcision site after surgery. This is part of the normal healing process and should go away in a few days. Although the penis is beginning to heal, it may look worse a few days after circumcision. The penis should look like it's getting better about a week after surgery.
Here are some things you can do to help your baby feel more comfortable:
Ask your doctor about giving your baby acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) for pain. Call your doctor anytime your baby seems to be in a lot of pain.
Your son's penis will be checked during routine well-baby visits. But it is important to call your doctor if your baby has problems after circumcision.
Call your doctor right away if after circumcision:
If a Plastibell device was used for the circumcision, call your doctor if the ring has not fallen off after 10 to 12 days.
Doctors who usually perform circumcisions on infants include:
A urologist or surgeon normally will do circumcisions on older infants, children, and adults.
Some parents may make the decision about circumcision based on religious and family traditions, personal preferences, or the social norms of their communities. Often these cultural reasons affect the decision more than the medical risks and benefits of circumcision.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says the health benefits of circumcision outweigh the risks of the surgery. But it's up to you whether you have your baby circumcised.footnote 2
Health benefits of circumcision include being less likely to get urinary tract infections (UTIs) or sexually transmitted infections (STIs). For example, in a baby's first year of life, UTIs happen less often in circumcised boys than in boys who are not circumcised. But UTIs are not common.
There may be reasons later in life when your son may need a circumcision. A boy or man may have problems retracting the foreskin or may have swelling of the foreskin that requires circumcision.
All surgical procedures have risks. Problems after circumcision are not common. Minor problems are short-term and may include:
Long-term problems can include:
Major problems are very rare but can include:
As a parent, you will decide whether you want to keep your son's penis natural or want him to be circumcised. This decision often is a personal one based on your own values and religious or cultural beliefs.
It's a good idea to think about your decision before your baby is born. If you wait, the excitement and fatigue of the delivery can affect your ability to carefully consider the benefits and risks of each choice.
Some studies have shown that circumcised men are a little less likely than men who have not been circumcised to get or spread a sexually transmitted infection (STI), including HIV.
Any man, especially if he has high-risk sex, can get STIs, including HIV. The best way to prevent STIs is to teach people about risk factors and the importance of avoiding high-risk sex.
Keeping your son's penis clean may help prevent infection and other problems. It's important to keep your son's penis clean whether he has been circumcised or not. When cleaning a natural (uncircumcised) penis, be careful not to force the foreskin to retract.
If you decide that you would like to have your baby circumcised, talk with your doctor about concerns you may have about pain and your preferences for anesthesia. Ask your doctor about giving your baby acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) for pain relief after surgery.
Your doctor may not do circumcision if your baby has a medical condition that makes him more likely to have problems from the surgery, such as:
Maeda JL, et al. (2012). Circumcisions performed in U.S. community hospitals, 2009. HCUP Statistical Brief #126, February 2012, pp. 1–13. Rockville, MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Also available online: http://www.hcup-us.ahrq.gov/reports/statbriefs/sb126.jsp.
Task Force on Circumcision, American Academy of Pediatrics (2012). Circumcision policy statement. Pediatrics, 130(3): 585–586.
Other Works Consulted
American Urological Association (2007, reaffirmed 2012). Circumcision. Available online: http://www.auanet.org/about/policy-statements/circumcision.cfm.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2013). HIV/AIDS: Male circumcision. Available online: http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/prevention/research/malecircumcision/index.html.
Task Force on Circumcision, American Academy of Pediatrics (2012). Technical report: Male circumcision. Pediatrics, 130(3): e756–e785.
Wiysonge CS, et al. (2011). Male circumcision for prevention of homosexual acquisition of HIV in men. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (6).
World Health Organization, JHPIEGO (2010). Manual for Early Infant Male Circumcision Under Local Anaesthesia. Geneva: World Health Organization.
Current as of:
August 22, 2019
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: Adam Husney MD - Family MedicineKathleen Romito MD - Family MedicineMartin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine
Current as of: August 22, 2019
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine & Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine
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