Circumcision: Pros, Cons, Risks, Benefits

newborn with mother in hospital

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For some parents, the decision to circumcise their newborn is a given as soon as they find out they are having a boy. For others, the decision is fraught with anxiety and stress as they weigh the pros and cons and try to determine what is best for their newborn baby.

Regardless of which camp you find yourself in, keep reading. We'll walk you through the benefits and risks of circumcision as well as let you know what to expect should you decide to have your newborn circumcised. Afterward, you will be armed with enough information to make an informed decision.

What You Should Know About Circumcision

Circumcision is one of the most common procedures performed in the world, representing more than 10% of all pediatric urology cases. In the U.S., an estimated 58.3% of male newborns and 80.5% of males ages 14 to 59 years are circumcised. Yet, despite its widespread use, circumcision is not a routinely recommended procedure, and instead is considered elective surgery.

In 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a policy statement on circumcision in which they indicated that there are some potential medical advantages of circumcision. But even though the AAP recognizes that the benefits of circumcision typically outweigh the risks, they still do not routinely recommend circumcision to parents. "Doctors provide factually correct, non-biased information about circumcision when asked by the parents," says Nivedita More, MD, a pediatrician at Bayside Medical Group at Stanford Medicine Children’s Health. "Parents ultimately make an informed decision about circumcision." This follows the AAP's guidelines.

What Are the Benefits of Circumcision? 

There are a number of benefits of circumcision. Aside from making the area easier to clean, there also is a reduced risk of urinary tract infections (UTIs) and sexually transmitted diseases. In fact, research suggests that there is a 90% reduction in the risk of UTIs in infancy.

"The penis also becomes easier to clean for parents (and ultimately for the child), which helps reduce the risk of infection from bacteria," says Dr. More. "Other benefits from male circumcision include prevention of urinary tract infections, acquisition of HIV, the transmission of some sexually transmitted infections, and near elimination of lifetime risk of penile cancer."

There also is a reduced risk of balanitis, an infection of the glands or the head of the penis. Likewise, circumcision can also eliminate cases of phimosis, or the inability to retract the foreskin as well as reduce the incidence of posthitis, which is an infection of the skin covering the head of the penis.

"Some research has suggested that circumcision may also decrease the risk of a man getting HIV from an infected female partner," says Jorge Perez, MD, a neonatologist and cofounder of KIDZ Medical Services. "Others may choose circumcision so that the child does not look different from his father or other boys. For some people, it is a part of cultural or religious practices."

Circumcision as Part of Culture and Faith

As one of the oldest surgical procedures known, circumcision sometimes has cultural importance or religious significance. Initially, male circumcision was practiced by Semitic people including Egyptians and those of Jewish faith.

In the Jewish religion, male infants are traditionally circumcised on their eighth day of life to represent the covenant made between Abraham and God. Today, male circumcision continues to be almost universally practiced by Jewish people.

Meanwhile, Islam is the largest religious group to practice male circumcision. Islamic people use circumcision as a confirmation of their relationship with God and as a sign of purification. People who follow the Christian faith also practice male circumcision. But, it is not part of their faith. In fact, in 1442 the Roman Catholic Church stated that circumcision was not required.

What Are the Risks of Circumcision?

In most cases, circumcision is a routine and safe procedure with very few risks. "When an infant is circumcised by a well-trained and competent professional under sterile precautions, there are very few risks and complications following the procedure and are extremely rare," says Dr. More.

According to Boston Children's Hospital, the complication rate is relatively low—between 2% to 3%— and most of the time involves only minor bleeding following the procedure. "Some of the potential complications include infection of the site, excessive bleeding, or urinary retention," Dr. More explains.

There also is the risk that not enough foreskin is removed, which can lead to the baby needing a circumcision revision.

Timing also can play a role in the risks associated with circumcision. For instance, there is a greater risk of complications from circumcision if the child is older. Research suggests that the risk of complications increases after the neonatal period. For instance, adolescents have a 6% risk of complications compared to infants.

"The best time to have a newborn male circumcision is in the hospital before discharge or few days after discharge," Dr. More adds. "Babies are smaller and don’t move a lot as newborns during the procedure. It is easier to perform the procedure in an office or hospital setting under local anesthesia since it is less painful. Also, when the procedure is done a day or so after birth, babies can be observed after the procedure. If the baby is older, they need general anesthesia to help with pain and reduce the risk of injury to the penis, since they move more."

That said, there are times when a circumcision does not make sense, Dr. More adds. When the baby is born prematurely, is medically unstable, has an illness at birth, has a family history of bleeding problems, or if the opening of the urethra is not at the tip of the penis, they should not be circumcised at birth, she says.

What to Expect During Circumcision

If you choose to have your baby is circumcised at the hospital shortly after birth, they are typically awake and are given pain medications to make them comfortable during the procedure. Usually, this involves doing the procedure under local anesthesia by blocking a nerve to reduce pain.

"Most newborns are held still or placed into a circumcision brace or board with a baby blanket," Dr. More explains. "The baby is then given a sucrose pacifier to improve comfort during the procedure. Most babies are comfortable during the procedure, which takes only a few minutes."

During the procedure, your baby should not feel any pain, Dr. Perez says. Afterward, you will need to care for your baby's penis as it heals by washing it with mild soap and water.

"With each diaper change, the penis should be cleaned and petroleum jelly applied on a gauze pad and placed directly over the wound," he adds. "Change diapers frequently so that urine or stools do not cause infection. In most cases, the skin will heal in seven to 10 days."

Usually, you cannot immerse your baby in water or bathe them for the first seven days after the procedure, Dr. More adds. If your baby had a plastic ring type of circumcision rather than an incision, the care will be slightly different.

"Parents are asked to wash the area with warm water once or twice a day and if the area is soiled with poop," Dr. More says. "The plastic ring usually falls off in seven to 14 days after the procedure. No dressing is needed for this technique." When a ring is used, parents are able to bathe their child daily (only if the umbilical cord has fallen off). Once the ring falls off, you can resume a standard bathing schedule for your baby.

A Word From Verywell

Deciding whether or not to circumcise your baby is a personal decision often based on your preference, research, culture, and faith. And if you know the sex of your baby ahead of time, it is probably a decision best made prior to labor and delivery.

If you have questions or concerns about circumcision, be sure to talk to a healthcare provider. They can answer your questions and help dispel any myths.

6 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. TASK FORCE ON CIRCUMCISION, Blank S, Brady M, et al. Circumcision policy statementPediatrics. 2012;130(3):585-586. doi:10.1542/peds.2012-1989

  3. Eisenberg ML, Galusha D, Kennedy WA, Cullen MR. The Relationship between Neonatal Circumcision, Urinary Tract Infection, and HealthWorld J Mens Health. 2018;36(3):176-182. doi:10.5534/wjmh.180006

  4. UNAIDS: Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS. Male circumcision: Context, criteria and culture.

  5. Bar-Yaakov N, Mano R, Ekstein M, et al. Parental regret following decision to revise circumcisionFront Pediatr. 2022;10:855893. doi:10.3389/fped.2022.855893

  6. Gologram M, Margolin R, Lomiguen CM. Need for increased awareness of international male circumcision variations and associated complications: A contemporary reviewCureus. 2022;14(4):e24507. doi:10.7759/cureus.24507

Additional Reading

By Sherri Gordon
Sherri Gordon, CLC is a published author, certified professional life coach, and bullying prevention expert.