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Think about circumcision early, before your baby is born

Any decision that has lifelong consequences for your child deserves thoughtful consideration. Too many parents only consider circumcision once a doctor or nurse brings up the subject in the hospital. It’s great that you are doing your research now. Here are some points to keep in mind.

Circumcision is not medically necessary

The American Academy of Pediatrics has stated clearly that the health benefits of newborn circumcision are not great enough to recommend it.[32]

Circumcision is not reversible

Circumcision cannot be undone once it is performed, so it is very important to consider it carefully in advance. Many men are angry that their parents had them circumcised. Consequently, many parents are choosing to allow their sons to make that decision (should they want to) when they are older. Allowing your son the option to choose is a loving decision.

Times are changing

There is a big debate about circumcising children, and it is growing in intensity as more people question the wisdom of permanently removing a natural body part from a baby. If you are wondering what to do, we suggest that you search the Internet under “circumcision regret” to read what other parents are saying regarding their decision to circumcise their sons, or leave them intact.

You are responsible

If you chose circumcision surgery for your son, you are responsible for how his penis looks, works, and feels for his entire life. You do not know what he will want, nor can you foresee the sexual or emotional harm he might experience later in life.

Circumcision has risks

Risks and complications from circumcision include: infection, excessive bleeding, “degloving” (removing too much skin from the shaft of the penis), meatal stenosis (closing of the urinary opening), damage to the glans (head of the penis), and—in rare cases, but not unheard of—death.[33] Is it worth subjecting your son to these risks for an operation that has no medical necessity?

What to expect from your doctor

Doctors want to give their patients the best possible care; they trust the education they have received in medical school and are simply following what was taught to them. But because newborn circumcision has been a part of American medicine for generations, doctors—just like other Americans—are influenced by our social norms and can have trouble accepting new ideas and new ways of doing things.

Doctors have good intentions

Doctors want to give their patients the best possible care; they trust the education they have received from their medical schools and are simply following what was taught to them. But because newborn circumcision has been a part of American medicine for the past 75 years, doctors—just like other Americans—are influenced by our social norms and can have trouble accepting new ideas and new ways of doing things.

Unconscious bias affects us all

If your doctor is male and American, he is likely to be circumcised and may simply not want to question whether his own circumcision was good for him. If your doctor is an American female, it is likely that her father, brother and intimate male partner are circumcised, and she may have a similar kind of bias. It’s often hard for people to recognize their own biases, and to confront difficult issues with such personal implications.

Find a foreskin-friendly pediatrician

Many doctors – even some who perform circumcisions—have chosen to keep their own sons intact. Ask your pediatrician if he is “foreskin-friendly” and knowledgeable about the intact/normal penis. If he seems unsure, offer him resources from this page – or find another doctor for your son.

Many doctors are unfamiliar with the alternative to circumcising

Many doctors in the U.S. have been circumcising babies for years—they see it as the default choice and have never questioned it. Often, they will assume parents will want their sons to be circumcised, and will be unable to offer good information about the function of the foreskin, or care of the intact penis.

Many doctors are unaware of the growing number of men who are complaining about having been circumcised as infants

It’s important for parents to understand that doctors who promote circumcision do so for a host of reasons having little to do with the procedure itself. Men are beginning to speak out about the negative impact circumcision has had on their lives, but many doctors who have performed newborn circumcisions for years find it difficult to acknowledge these complaints. As times change, so will the attitude of the medical profession.

Follow your instincts – it's your job to protect your baby

Your child’s well-being is the most important thing. Regardless of your doctor’s opinion, it is important for parents to realize that circumcision does not need to be done to a newborn. Even if you trust and like your doctor, it is OK to say no to circumcising your baby and allow him to decide when he is old enough to understand the decision.

How to talk to your doctor

Explain your decision

If you decide to keep your son intact, when your doctor asks, tell him or her that you have done your research and you do not want your son to be circumcised. If possible, you should state this desire during a prenatal visit, and note “NO CIRCUMCISION” on any forms you are asked to sign or furnish to the hospital before the birth.

You can always wait

If you are struggling with the decision, it's OK to take the baby home and decide later. Circumcision can be performed at any point in a person's life, including in adulthood. But once it is done, it cannot be undone.

How to talk to friends and family members

Explaining to relatives

If your parents or other relatives try to convince you to have your son circumcised, share some of the information that helped you to make your decision to keep your baby the way nature made him. If you feel pressured, you might tell them that you appreciate their concern, but that this is a decision that you (and your partner) feel comfortable with, and that you want them to welcome your baby into the family (or circle of friends), no matter what his private parts look like.

Reassuring religious parents

If your parents are very conservative or religious, they may try to pressure you to keep the tradition of circumcision. The core message to convey is that times are changing: many parents from cultures that traditionally have circumcised are now welcoming their children into the faith with non-cutting ceremonies, and children can still be faithful members of their religion, regardless of the appearance of their private parts.

How to clean and care for your baby boy

Care is easier with an intact foreskin

In a baby, the foreskin is attached to the head of the penis with the same type of connective tissue that causes finger and toenails to adhere to the nail bed. Unlike a newly circumcised penis, an intact penis requires no special care. “Just clean what’s seen.” In other words, wash your baby’s natural penis as you wash his fingers or toes—plain warm water. That’s it!

If you do have your son's foreskin removed

You must change the dressings on his wound at every diaper change so it heals properly. Each time, apply petroleum jelly, monitor for bleeding and infection, and be vigilant that the skin does not form adhesions (which may necessitate another surgery). It is highly recommended that you use cloth diapers while his penis heals so that excessive bleeding or hemorrhage is immediately seen; super-absorbent disposable diapers can hide blood loss, putting your child in danger. A bloodspot larger than a quarter is cause for concern; contact your son’s pediatrician immediately.[35]

Your child's foreskin should never be forcibly retracted

When cleaning your baby, simply wash his penis in a bath gently. Forcibly pulling back his foreskin damages his penis. Warn other caregivers of this hazard. Never allow anyone, even a doctor, to do this. It is painful, and can lead to bleeding, infections and adhesions. [34]Stay with your son during all medical examinations, and state that his foreskin should not be retracted. Your son should be the first and only person to retract his foreskin.

How to talk to your child

If you chose to leave him intact, explain why, and tell him his genitals are natural.

When you son gets old enough, if he asks about why some boys’ penises look different from his, you can explain that you chose to protect him by leaving his body as nature made it. If he is being teased, tell him that it nobody should be made fun of for the way he looks, and that bodies come in all shapes and sizes. As he gets older, if he asks, you can share age-appropriate information with him about circumcision and about the role and functions of the foreskin.

If your son was circumcised, and you now regret your decision, explain and apologize.

Many parents who were unaware of all the facts and allowed their son(s) to be circumcised have come to regret that decision. Depending on your son’s age and the questions he asks, your explanation and/or apology will vary. An age-appropriate version of the following elements is a good start: “I thought it was the right thing for you. I know now that wasn’t the case. I am sorry.”

Get additional information, help, and support

Social media and blogs are a great place to interact with parents who have struggled with the same questions as you have. Intact America's Facebook page is a place where you can get started finding these discussions.