The Benefits of Neonatal Circumcision

There is a mountain of decisions to be made before a mother gives birth to her baby — and whether or not to circumcise a baby boy is an important decision that expecting parents need to address before the due date. Circumcision, the surgical removal of the foreskin that covers the head of the penis, was until relatively recently a traditional procedure performed on newborn Jewish boys. But in the 1800’s, it began gaining acceptance as a way to improve personal hygiene (it was also mistakenly believed to cure paralysis and insanity!) By the 1970’s, circumcision in the United States was being performed on 90 percent of male babies born in hospitals, even when no medical organization anywhere in the world was officially recommending this elective procedure, due to the risks involved. Eventually, North Carolina and many other American states ended Medicaid coverage for routine newborn circumcisions. As a result, circumcisions in the U.S. have declined today to between 31 and 79 percent, depending on the region and different preferences among diverse ethnic groups. The average national rate of circumcision declined from 62.7 percent in 1999 to 54.5 percent in 2009. Research in the last three decades has shown that circumcision can be beneficial. Still, in 1999, the American Academy of Pediatrics stated that while medical evidence showed that newborn circumcision had benefits, the data were “not sufficient to recommend routine neonatal circumcision.” But in 2012, the AAP shifted its position, stating in a report published in the August 27, 2012 issue of the journal Pediatrics, that new research, including studies done in Africa showing that the procedure may protect heterosexual men against HIV, has health benefits that outweigh its risks. The academy did not go so far as to recommend routine neonatal circumcision for all baby boys, stating that the choice should be left up to the family. Benefits of Circumcision In addition to the newly discovered link between circumcision and lower HIV infections among heterosexual men, male circumcision also correlates with lower rates of infection with human papillomavirus, a virus that can cause¬† from genital warts to penile, vaginal and cervical cancers. Circumcision was also found to help prevent infections¬† with the herpes simplex type 2 virus. Additionally, circumcision lowers urinary tract infections early in life and reduces overall penile cancer rates (1,500 new cases of penile cancer are diagnosed each year in the U.S.). Neonatal circumcision can also prevents problems that could require the surgery at a later age: infections beneath the foreskin or the inability to draw back the foreskin. Risk Factors and Negative Points to Consider There is bleeding, there can be a localized infection, and there can be possible injury to the penis. A botched operation, while rare, can result in damage or even accidental removal of part of the penis. There is also the pain to consider, as general anesthesia is not used. For this reason, a local nerve block should be applied, to eliminate or reduce the pain. While deaths from circumcision do occur, they are extremely rare. In its 2010 mortality report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention listed no deaths from circumcision-related complications in the U.S. The decision about whether or not to circumcise a newborn boy should be made soon after birth, as the penis undergoes a growth spurt in the first few months of life; once it becomes larger, the safe removal of the foreskin becomes more difficult. For this reason, most doctors perform the procedure on newborns only during the first month of life. When the baby is older than one month, most doctors will refer the family to a urologist to do the surgery in an operating room, under general anesthesia, which adds more risks and is considerably more costly. By Jamell Andrews

4 thoughts to “The Benefits of Neonatal Circumcision”

  1. Actually, parents DON’T have to make a “circumcision decision.” There is no birth imperative to doing so. In fact, the vast majority of parents in the world don’t give it a first thought, let alone a second thought. The reason U.S. parents feel obliged to “make the decision” is because hospitals, doctors, and nurses keep asking them to do so. Some parents report feeling coerced. Why? Because the procedure is lucrative. It costs the U.S. about $800 million a year and another $800 million to correct the problems this unnecessary surgery causes.

    Parents considering infant circumcision should check out Circumcision Decision-Maker

  2. “The academy did not go so far as to recommend routine neonatal circumcision for all baby boys, stating that the choice should be left up to the family.” Why? It is not the family’s penis. It belongs to the infant boy that it is attached to, who will have to live with it for the rest of his life. He was born with it, just as billions of other men in this world who have lived perfectly happy lives without being circumcised. His body, his choice! I was not given the choice by my parents and my life has been profoundly affected as a consequence.

  3. This was very poorly researched Jamell. The reduced HIV risks are not supported by the evidence seen in Europe or the US. Repeated attempts to justify circumcision in the US have fallen short, so they went to Africa and rigged some studies. These studies have been rejected by European Pediatric Associations. Email me if you would like more info (and possibly write a second article giving the other side?).

    Also, “rare complications” is a lie (unless you consider 9% of circumcised babies needing corrective surgery rare). Plus the additional complications later in life as a result of having 50% of the skin on the penis removed, and 70% of the nerves. There is enough propaganda about circumcision; pleases don’t add more.

  4. There is another thing you need to realize. Deaths caused by medical mistakes are not counted by anyone; death figures on any complication only come from studies. That is why the figures for medically-related complications range from 32k – 98k per year; and both of those figures are from many years ago.

    So when you say “the CDC lists no deaths from circumcision-related complications”, this is a very deceptive statement because no one knows the death rate on any medical procedure. However, a medically published study from 2010 estimate that 117 babies die annually in the US from circ-related complications.

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