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.