Male baby circumcision is a procedure that removes the foreskin from the penis. It is a common surgery that some parents and caregivers choose for their baby, often for religious or cultural reasons.

Sometimes, doctors recommend circumcision to treat a health condition, such as phimosis. This is when it is not possible to draw back the foreskin fully, which can make it more difficult to keep the penis clean.

However, in many cases, circumcision is an elective procedure and a personal choice of parents and caregivers.

Some refer to female genital mutilation (FGM) as “female circumcision.” However, these procedures are very different. FGM often involves removing tissues that interfere with the natural functions of the female body, which carries significant short- and long-term risks.

Read on to learn more about what baby circumcision is, when babies undergo the procedure, the potential benefits and risks, what to expect, and how much it costs.

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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Male circumcision is a surgery that removes the prepuce, or foreskin, from the penis. This exposes the tip of the penis, known as the glans.

Traditionally, people have chosen to circumcise male babies for cultural or religious reasons. It can also treat medical conditions that affect the foreskin, such as phimosis.

Male circumcision is a common procedure in the United States, although statistics show that it is declining in newborn babies. According to a 2021 study, 80.5% of American males aged 14–59 years and an estimated 58.3% of newborn babies are circumcised.

FGM, which some refer to as female circumcision, is not equivalent to male circumcision. Where male circumcision removes a tissue that is not vital to male health, FGM can involve the removal of several important tissues that affect urination, sexual health, and childbirth. This includes the:

  • inner labia
  • outer labia
  • clitoris

Sometimes, FGM also involves narrowing the vaginal opening.

People typically perform FGM on female children and adolescents up to the age of 15. The World Health Organization (WHO) stresses that the practice has no benefits, only risks.

Learn more about FGM and its impact.

Males can undergo circumcision at any time in their lives. Some parents and caregivers choose to let the child decide for themselves when they are old enough, and there is no time limit on when this can happen.

However, for those who want their baby to undergo circumcision while still young, doing so early has several advantages:

  • Anesthesia: The older the child is, the more likely they will need general anesthesia, meaning they will be unconscious during the procedure. By contrast, infant circumcision only requires local anesthesia.
  • Lower risk of complications: While complications of circumcision are generally rare, they are more likely to occur in older children than in infants.
  • Less psychological impact: Toddlers and older children are more likely to remember undergoing circumcision, which could be stressful or potentially traumatic.

For those who want circumcision for their baby, doctors can perform the procedure at the bedside shortly after birth. If someone plans this while still pregnant, then circumcision will typically occur within 1–2 days after birth.

However, in some situations, a doctor may recommend delaying circumcision or not performing one at all. This could happen if:

  • there is a family history of bleeding disorders
  • the baby is born very early
  • the baby has a congenital condition

If a doctor does not use an anesthetic, circumcision will cause pain. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that all babies receive local anesthesia before circumcision takes place so that they do not feel anything during the procedure.

As the anesthetic wears off, there may be some pain and irritation. A doctor may recommend methods to help reduce the pain.

For male newborns, there is no special preparation necessary before circumcision. A doctor may suggest swaddling the baby or giving them a sugar solution to help keep them calm.

When it is time for the procedure, a health professional may come to administer the anesthetic. This may involve an injection at the base of the penis or a topical anesthetic they apply to the skin.

Firstly, an assistant will either hold the baby or place them into a circumcision brace. A doctor will then apply a clamp to prevent bleeding and then cut the foreskin with a scalpel.

Next, they will apply antibiotic ointment or petroleum jelly to the wound and cover it with protective gauze.

Another method of performing circumcision involves placing a plastic cup, or Plastibel, underneath the foreskin but over the end of the penis. A health professional ties a suture around the foreskin to cut off circulation. A doctor may then remove the foreskin with a scalpel. Alternatively, the cup may stay on until the foreskin falls off by itself.

After circumcision, it takes around 7–10 days for the penis to heal. In that time, parents and caregivers need to follow some steps to take care of the wound and reduce the chance of complications.

Pain relief

The baby may cry intermittently after circumcision. Their sleeping and feeding patterns may also change.

In some cases, it may be possible to give them acetaminophen (Tylenol). However, this is not always safe, as it can mask a fever, an important sign of infection.

Seek advice from a medical professional about managing pain safely after circumcision.

Hygiene

To keep the wound clean, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends cleaning the penis during every diaper change to prevent infection. People can do this with water on a gauze or cotton pad.

After cleaning, apply petroleum jelly to the area to reduce irritation. If stool gets on the wound, pour warm soapy water over it and pat dry with a clean towel. Additionally, do not use baby cleansing wipes, and do not scrub the skin.

While the wound heals, parents and caregivers should bathe their baby via a sponge bath rather than submerging them in a baby bath.

The AAP does not universally recommend male circumcision. However, when parents and caregivers opt for the procedure in a baby, the organization states that the benefits usually outweigh the risks.

Circumcision can reduce the risk of:

  • urinary tract infections in newborns
  • penile cancer in adults
  • some sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
  • a male passing human papillomavirus to a female sexual partner

However, it is worth noting that condoms are a far more effective way to prevent STI transmission during sex.

Circumcision complications are uncommon but can include:

  • injury to the penis
  • infection
  • bleeding
  • excessive skin removal
  • scarring
  • pathologic phimosis, or tightening of the foreskin due to scarring
  • meatal stenosis, when the penis opening becomes covered over by scarring

Research on whether circumcision affects the sensitivity of the penis has been inconclusive.

Learn more about how circumcision affects the sensitivity, appearance, and function of the penis.

If a doctor performs circumcision for medical reasons, an insurance plan will likely cover the bill. However, if a person elects to circumcise their child for other reasons, they may not have insurance coverage. While many insurers may cover the procedure, not all do.

Without insurance, on average, the procedure costs $247. Additionally, note that some hospitals may charge up to several thousands of dollars for circumcision.

It is natural to see a little blood in the baby’s diaper after male circumcision. This should clear on its own within a few days.

However, if parents or caregivers see spots of blood that are larger than a quarter or the baby is experiencing ongoing bleeding, they need to visit the emergency room. A person should also seek medical help after surgery if:

  • swelling lasts longer than 3 days
  • yellow discharge is present after 7 days
  • the baby has a fever
  • the baby has not passed urine within 6–8 hours

Male baby circumcision is a surgical procedure that removes the foreskin from a baby’s penis. Some parents and caregivers choose it for religious, cultural, or health-related reasons. In some cases, it can be a treatment for certain medical conditions.

In male babies, it is advantageous to perform circumcision earlier rather than later, as it reduces the risk of complications and the need for general anesthesia. However, males can undergo circumcision at any time in their life.

Male circumcision is not the same as FGM, which some mistakenly view as its female equivalent. This practice is harmful and has no health benefits.

People can speak with a doctor to discuss the benefits and risks of circumcision before making a decision.