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In a small voice whispering “circumcision”

I’ve been quiet about this topic because parents have such strong feelings on both sides.  My intent in this post is to encourage you to think about the procedure and the statistics worldwide.  Why did this procedure become so routine in the US?    

When I was pregnant, I honestly didn’t think twice about circumcision until my childbirth instructor assigned one couple (Emily and Matt, I think) to research and present on it.  We had only one friend with an intact son but they were granola so we figured it was a hippie thing.  I assumed that if we had a boy, we would circumcise.  Then I learned about the procedure and I was surprised to learn that the American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend circumcision.  I widened my view and learned that in other parts of the world, babies are not routinely circumcised for non-religious, medically unnecessary reasons.  In fact, the rates are less than 1% in New Zealand, 2.1% in England, and 9% in Canada.  In non-English speaking countries, the rate for non-religious, medically unnecessary circumcision is close to zero.  Even in the US, it isn’t as common as one might think with roughly half newborn boys being circumcized.  As more insurance companies refuse to cover the procedure (after all, it isn’t medically necessary), the numbers will continue to decline. 

Circumcision does carry risk.  The risks include pain, hemorrhage, infection, surgical mistakes, interference with breastfeeding and sleep, skin tags, scarring, damage to the urethra, and in some cases, death.  Excessive bleeding seems to be the most common complication I have encountered.  There is a new scary risk:  MRSA, an antibiotic resistant staph infection frequently spread in hospitals.  One of my client’s newborn contracted MRSA in his umbilical cord stump.  It was very serious.  Her pediatrician praised her for not circumcising as that would have been an easy opening for further spread of the superbug.

And, of course, for all circumcized infants, there is a guaranteed loss of penile sensitivity.      

Want to learn more?  Check out the studies and information available here and here.  If you would like to see what happens during a circumcision, click on the American Academy of Family Physician site to view drawings (not graphic pictures) of the currently preferred method–the Gomco clamp.  Scroll midway down the page to see the procedure.    

Again, my intent is not to pass judgement.  We are all learning together and I have been on both sides of the fence in this debate.  I do not try to talk my clients and friends out of circumcision.  But for those who have not given the subject much thought, I am providing a starting place to begin considering medical and ethical views beyond the cultural perspectives.

6 responses »

  1. Jordan and I have talked (and talked and talked) about this and, although he disagrees, I just refuse to have this done. Who knows? Maybe we’ll never have a boy and won’t have to worry about it. We argued over it with Suzi until we found out she was a girl at 19 weeks.

  2. Thanks for posting about this topic. If more people talked about it maybe our circ rate would go down. Most women (me included) just defer to the husband since they have a penis, but after researching it realize the future ramifications of this unnecessary procedure.

  3. I’m so glad you wrote about this. We never knew with either baby if we would have a boy or a girl, so we needed to have a decision, but hoped we wouldn’t have to make it. Which seems so strange now, all this angst about making a decision not to mutilate your child. Should be an easy call, right? I even have a little twinge from time to time now with our intact boy, wondering if he will ever be angry with us about the choice we made. Will he ever wish he looked like friends who are circumcised? I’m so glad it is becoming more common in the US to leave well enough alone, and grateful for support from both our midwife and pediatrician in making this decision! For the record, she has girls, but if she had boys would have left them intact.

  4. Just gotta say….glad you brought it up. Babies need someone on their side….it’s not as if they can say, “NO!!!” on their own!

  5. tough topic, but an important one.

    our son has his his foreskin. it’s his. if he doesn’t want it, he can make that choice for himself.

  6. Although circumcise may not be medical “necessary” there are legitimate reasons–health and otherwise for choosing to circumcise. It’s not a decision of just “following the culture” for everyone who goes this route.


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