Parents who are expecting a new baby boy will frequently ask me about the risks and benefits of circumcision. While the American Academy of Pediatrics used to recommend the procedure, they have changed their policy in the past few years, given that medical evidence of the benefits of the procedure are not convincing. That being said, let me provide some tips on this controversial subject.
First, there is some ever-increasing evidence to suggest that newborn circumcision will reduce the risk of your child developing cancer of the penis or an infection of the urinary tract, and it may also decrease the risk of their acquiring HIV and other sexually-transmitted diseases. But those medical problems are very, very rare events, even in boys who are not circumcised. Thats why, on a purely medical level, circumcision is not automatically recommended in this country as the current standard of care. That may change in the future, however, as the data supporting the benefits of the procedure get stronger.
Another issue is the fact that circumcision is performed on a baby without his consent, given that he is an infant. Critics point out that the procedure is a painful one that can come with complications, such as bleeding and infection. Supporters, though, argue those complications are extremely rare, and that local anesthesia can be used to reduce the pain.
By far, the most common reasons people give for circumcision are not medical at all; its either for religious reasons or because the father had been circumcised when he was a baby. So what do I recommend to parents?
The decision is a personal one that should be decided by the family, so talk to your pediatrician and get all the facts specific to your child.
If you decide in favor of circumcision, local anesthesia can and should be given to reduce the pain. If you elect against circumcision, make sure that your child learns proper genital hygiene, to reduce the risk of infections.
Hopefully this advice begins to give you the information you need to make an informed choice when it comes to the question of circumcision for your baby boy.
Lewis First, M.D., is chief of Pediatrics at Vermont Children's Hospital at Fletcher Allen Health Care and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine. You can also catch "First with Kids" weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and on WCAX-TV Channel 3. Visit the First with Kids archives at www.vermontchildrens.org.