Circumcision probably isn’t something you think about every day. That is, unless you’re about to welcome a new baby boy into your family.

Then — regardless of whether it’s something you’ve always known you’d have done or it’s something you’re still undecided about — you probably want to learn more about the procedure itself and all that goes along with it.

Male circumcision is the surgical removal of the skin that covers the tip of the penis. This piece of skin is known as the foreskin.

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A circumcision involves the removal of the prepuce, also known as the foreskin.

Most males who are circumcised in the West — including the United States — have the procedure done when they’re newborn babies. (In some cultures, or for certain medical reasons, circumcision may be performed on older boys or adult men.)

You’re not medically or legally required to circumcise your baby. But there are a number of medical, religious, and social factors you may consider when deciding whether or not to circumcise your son.

You may already be confident in your decision to circumcise your son, or you might be feeling woozy at the mere thought of having a medical procedure performed on your new baby.

So we’ll give you the straight facts — the benefits, the risks, how it’s performed, and how to care for your baby following the procedure, should you choose it.

Circumcision is an ancient procedure going back thousands of years — which you may know, if you’re choosing it for religious reasons. It’s also a well-studied practice. There are a number of extensive research studies supporting the benefits of circumcision.

The current American Academy of Pediatrics policy regarding circumcision states, “Evaluation of current evidence indicates that the health benefits of newborn male circumcision outweigh the risks.”

Some of the researched benefits of circumcision include:

Many boys and men find it easier to maintain good genital hygiene when the foreskin is removed. But we do want to be clear here: Good hygiene is good hygiene. Teach your child how to keep their genital area clean — foreskin or not — and they’ll be in good shape.

There have been studies indicating that there is no effect of circumcision on sexual sensation or pleasure. Other studies, such as this one from 2008, have found an increase in sexual sensitivity for circumcised men.

While this can be an uncomfortable — and admittedly far off — thing to think about when it comes to your newborn, it’s worth considering.

As a new parent, you may be very nervous about this part. As with any surgical procedure, there are some risks to consider when deciding whether to circumcise your baby.

To reassure you, circumcision is a very common procedure and complications are rare. But the risks may include:

  • bleeding at the time of the procedure
  • infection
  • pain
  • damage or deformity to the penis, which may appear later in development

The incidence of serious complications (such as damage to the penis) is extremely low, estimated to be as low as 0.2 percent and often occurring with circumcisions done outside of a hospital setting. The incidence of minor complications (such as bleeding or infection) is reported at around 3 percent.

There certainly are risks to consider. But these risks are minimal when the procedure is performed by a trained medical professional in a sterile setting.

We won’t beat around the bush. Circumcision is a controversial procedure.

Somewhere between 60 and 90 percent of boys born in the United States are circumcised.

Worldwide, circumcision is most common in the United States, Canada, the Middle East, Australia, and Africa. Circumcision is much less common in Asia, Europe, and South America.

There are a number of reasons parents may choose to circumcise their son:

  • religious reasons
  • hygienic concerns
  • feeling that it benefits their child’s health both in infancy and later in life
  • wanting their son to look like other men in the family

Other parents feel that circumcision causes unnecessary pain or disfigurement, or want to wait and give their son the chance to choose for himself when he gets older. These may be valid considerations for your family as well, and we encourage you to talk about them when making this personal choice.

If your baby is born very early or with certain penile issues, your baby’s doctor may have recommendations on circumcision as well.

Most circumcisions are performed 24–72 hours after birth if performed in a hospital by a pediatrician or obstetrician.

You may also take your little one to the pediatrician’s office within the first 10 days of life to have the circumcision performed there.

It’s considered safest to have a circumcision performed in a medical setting. It’s also generally regarded as safe to have circumcision performed by a trained mohel if you’re of the Jewish faith and wish the circumcision to be done at home as part of a bris (a Jewish ceremony of circumcision).

The procedure usually takes between 10 and 20 minutes. You can stay with your baby during the entire thing.

Usually your baby will be taken to a procedure room (along with you or your partner) and placed on a special table with soft restraints for their arms and legs. Newborns still have that adorable startle reflex, so this is actually helpful in making everyone more comfortable — baby, and the doctor performing the procedure.

Your sweet babe will likely be draped in warm towels and may be given a little sugar water on a pacifier for comfort, if you give your OK.

An anesthetic (medicine to numb the pain) can be injected at the base of the penis with a needle or applied as a topical cream to the skin.

Depending upon the method your physician prefers — and you can talk about this with them prior to your baby’s birth — they will put either a plastic ring or a special clamp around the foreskin to cut off the blood supply, and then remove the foreskin.

Immediately following the circumcision, soft gauze coated in petroleum jelly will be loosely wrapped around the tip of the penis to keep it from sticking to your baby’s diaper.

Continue changing your baby’s diaper as frequently as needed! Reapply a dab of petroleum jelly and a new loose gauze if needed with each diaper change.

Fasten the diaper loosely, and be gentle when holding your baby, so as not to put pressure on the healing penis.

Bathing baby after circumcision

It’s totally fine to bathe your baby following circumcision.

Most pediatricians only recommend sponge bathing a newborn once or twice in the first week anyway, so by the time you’re giving more regular baths, the penis should be fully healed.

While the penis is healing, be gentle when placing your baby in and out of the tub, and don’t scrub with soap or a washcloth. Just rinsing with warm water will do.

Once the penis is healed, you may wash it with soap and water.

There will likely be some redness, swelling, and slight bleeding or oozing for a few days following circumcision. This can be hard for you as a parent to see, but it’s perfectly normal.

Most newborns recover fully from circumcision within 7–10 days.

If the circumcision was performed using the Plastibell method, the ring should fall off within 5–7 days on its own. Call your baby’s doctor if the ring hasn’t fallen off within two weeks.

Things to look out for during recovery

We’ve talked about what’s normal. But be on the lookout for abnormal signs that could signal infection. If your baby’s penis becomes extremely red or starts oozing thick yellow fluid, he may have developed an infection at the circumcision site.

A fever may also be a sign of infection. Any fever in a newborn requires a trip to the doctor right away.

Infections in newborns should always be treated with caution, even if they turn out to be minor. It’s best to call your baby’s doctor if you notice any of these signs in the days following a circumcision.

Also call your baby’s doctor right away if you notice that your baby isn’t having wet diapers, is having fewer wet diapers, or seems to cry when he pees.

Circumcision is a minor surgical procedure to remove the skin covering the tip of the penis. It’s been performed on male newborns for many years, and is considered generally safe.

However, it doesn’t matter how many millions of times this procedure has been done — if it’s new to you, you may have concerns. That’s what makes you a great parent!

We hope we’ve addressed some of your fears. Remember: Circumcising your baby is a very personal decision between you and your partner — there’s no one right answer.

If you have questions about circumcision, the pediatrician you choose for your baby can help discuss the benefits and risks. Other people you might want to consult are trusted friends, leaders in your faith community if your reasoning is religious, and people on both sides of the debate who will respect your choice.