Congratulations, you’re having a boy! Among the first decisions you’ll have to make as a parent of the male species is whether or not to circumcise your child.
For some, the decision to leave or snip your child’s foreskin (whether for religious, cultural medical or other personal reasons) may be cut and dry (no pun intended).
Others, like mom Ashley M., are unsure what to do. "I'm having a boy soon, and just learned there's a big debate these days on having your son circumcised," Ashley's husband is circumcised, as are most of his age mates, so they were assuming they would circumcise their baby. But she has started to second guess this: "Now people are telling me it's not the norm, most boys aren't having them done? I'd love to hear both sides of the argument here! We are uneducated about it and undecided."
The circumcision decision is one that will last your child’s lifetime, so Circle of Moms members recommend thinking it through well in advance of the birth. You don’t want to postpone the decision so that you’re stressed about what to do immediately following delivery, and you'll also need time to find a skilled professional, should you decide to circumcise.
Here, Circle of Moms members offer up four factors to consider as you decide whether or not to circumcise.
1. Medical Benefits and Risks
According to both the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), circumcising your son has both medical risks and benefits. The same holds true if you decide to leave your son’s penis intact. Although the AAP does not recommend one option over the other, saying "the decision to circumcise is one best made by parents in consultation with their pediatrician, taking into account what is in the best interests of the child, including medical, religious, cultural and ethnic traditions and beliefs," it nevertheless notes research that suggests there are some medical benefits, such as lower risk of urinary tract infections, a reduced likelihood of developing sexually transmitted diseases and HIV infections, and possibly a reduced risk for cervical cancer in female partners.
Those are precisely the reasons mom Melissa B. had her son circumcised. "I read about cleaning issues, cancer, more likely to contract an STD, and many other things if you don’t," she says. “Definitely talk with your doctor and do research online about the pros and cons then make your decision," she recommends.
On the other hand, the AAP also notes there are risks of bleeding, swelling, disfigurement and even death following a circumcision. Lindsay M. had her oldest son circumcised (her younger son was not) but now wishes she hadn’t because he suffers from reattachment complications from the surgery. "There is a good chance his puberty erections with be extremely painful, because his erections now can be sore,” she says, adding that she now believes the risks are not outweighed by the benefits.
Whether you receive any insurance benefits if you circumcise also may impact your decision. According to mom Jennifer L., "Most insurance companies no longer cover [circumcision] because it is not medically necessary."
Whether you circumcise or not, some maintenance is required to ensure your son does not get an infection. It’s just a matter of when you want to take on that responsibility. For example, moms who circumcise their sons will need to ensure the area is clean, heals properly and that the Plastibell, a device that is sometimes used in the procedure, falls off, Jessica W. says.
Conversely, if you choose not to circumcise, then your son eventually will need to be taught to pull the foreskin back and wash the area underneath. Several Circle of Moms members, including Laura D., recount stories of brothers, friends, and husbands who were not circumcised and later got infections because they did not clean the area properly. As a result, shares Laura, "I had both my boys (ages three and six) circumcised." Her husband is not circumcised, and when he was growing up, says Laura, he had a horrible time with it. "Let's just say no one showed him how to clean it properly until he got infected. If you decide to not circumcise your boys, make sure you show them how to clean themselves."
Rachel M. adds that when men get elderly and wind up in nursing homes, they often are unable to properly care for uncircumcised penises. "My mom works in a nursing home and she says that they have lots of problems with the men who are not circumcised. Almost weekly, there is an infection of some sort and the staff has their doctors there to help take care of it."
The worst case scenario is that if your son doesn’t get circumcised but routinely gets infections or faces other complications, he may need a circumcision when he is older. Moms on both side of the fence are in agreement that a circumcision is best done before a boy can remember the pain.
Pain and the fact that circumcision in most cases is considered cosmetic surgery are the top reasons why Circle of Moms members choose not to circumcise. The AAP says, "The evidence is clear that infants experience pain [during circumcision]."
However, Rachel M. says that most doctors use a local anesthetic and pain medication before performing a circumcision to reduce the pain your infant may feel.
Just because your son isn't circumcised doesn't mean he won't face minor emotional pain at a later point in his life. Several Circle of Moms members noted they were worried their boys would be teased for being different "down there" from their friends. Bev P., in fact, had her son circumcised precisely so that he won't get made fun of when he's in the locker room with other boys when he's older.
But teasing is a normal childhood activity, and in monitoring statistical trends, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that the proportion of boys being circumcised is just slightly higher (65 percent) than those going uncircumcised. There are differences depending on race and the region of the United States, with a greater percentage of circumcisions performed in the Midwest and a smaller percentage performed in the West, the CDC says.
Thus, the figures seem to indicate that whether you circumcise your son or not, he’s likely to have a good mix of "hooded" and "unhooded" friends.
4. Your Family's Feelings and Beliefs
Many moms like to consult with dad on whether or not to circumcise, assuming they are more familiar with the equipment or that their sons will want to "match" their fathers, as Sara H. puts it. "Just as a man cannot understand labor and delivery, a woman cannot understand circumcision," agrees mom Rogina C.
But while many moms feel that dads have special insight here, some argue that the choice ultimately belongs to your son: "It isn't our penis, it's our son's. If we have him circumcised, that can never be undone. But if we do not have him circumcised, he can choose to have the foreskin removed if he so wishes," says Jennifer L.
Evelyn A. reassures that whatever you finally decide, there is no right or wrong way to go. Circumcision is a controversial topic, and people on both sides will express strong opinions, but, she feels, the choice to circumcise or not is primarily a family decision: "Weigh all the factors involved and trust your heart to make the right decision. Your little boy will do just fine either way," says Evelyn.
Image Source: Meagan via Flickr/Creative Commons
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