What to know about circumcision

by Kaiser Permanente |
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Circumcision is a minor medical procedure during which a doctor removes the foreskin covering the tip of a penis. Whether to get your infant circumcised is a very personal decision for your family. Many people base it on religious teachings, cultural factors, or health issues. The procedure is considered a personal decision and not one that is medically indicated.

If you decide to have your infant circumcised, a clinician will use a medication to numb the area before the procedure. The medication will be either by an ointment or injection. The procedure usually takes place before you leave the hospital, but can also be done at a later time.

Circumcision benefits

There are certain benefits to circumcision, such as:

  • A lower chance of urinary tract infections in the first year of life
  • Reduced risk of some types of rare cancers of the penis or foreskin
  • Reduced risk of some sexually transmitted infections later in life, such as HIV or herpes

Circumcision risks

Like any other procedure, circumcision does come with risks, including:

  • Bleeding
  • Cosmetic concerns
  • Infection
  • Injury to the head of the penis
  • Pain
  • Scarring
  • Loss of function of the penis

These risks are rare. Be sure to ask your clinician if you have any concerns.

Recovering from circumcision

It’s normal for your baby’s penis to look swollen and red following the procedure. Before going home, a clinician will tell you how to care for it. Your baby may have gauze and petroleum jelly on the penis after the procedure. In most cases, the gauze falls off by itself. However, you may need to gently soak the gauze with warm water to help loosen it.

Before caring for the circumcision area, be sure to wash your hands. Only use plain, warm water to wash the penis after every diaper change. Always pat the area dry, and don’t try to remove any film or scabs that form. This is part of the healing process.

Applying petroleum jelly during each diaper change helps prevent the penis from sticking to the diaper. Diapers should be fastened loosely until the penis heals.

Your clinician will tell you whether you should give pain medications to your baby. Be sure to follow their directions exactly.

What to know about the Plastibell method

Some clinicians use a plastic ring called a Plastibell that is tied around the end of the penis. This ring prevents bleeding as the foreskin is removed. If your clinician uses a Plastibell, no special care is needed. The ring should fall off by itself within 10 days after the procedure. Don’t pull it off, since this can cause bleeding. It’s normal for a black or brown crust to appear while the penis heals.

Caring for an uncircumcised penis

It’s pretty easy to care for your child’s penis if they aren’t circumcised. As your baby grows, the foreskin will naturally separate from the tip of the penis. It’s important not to force it back before this happens.

Once the foreskin can easily be moved back, you can do so to wash beneath it. This should be a normal part of your baby’s bathing routine.

This article has been created by a national group of Kaiser Permanente ob-gyns, certified nurse-midwives, pediatricians, lactation consultants and other specialists who came together to provide you with the best pregnancy, birth, postpartum, and newborn information.

Some of the content is used and adapted with permission of The Permanente Medical Group.