The Effects of Circumcision on Newborn Boys
If you are planning a hospital birth for your son, you should expect hospital staff to approach you at some point in the first day or two after your son is born to ask about circumcision. There are many long-term reasons to leave your son intact,1 but you may not have considered the more immediate benefits to you and your new baby.
No American medical association recommends infant circumcision as a routine procedure. The reason that American medical associations (and the vast majority of medical associations worldwide) do not recommend routine infant circumcision is because it is not medically necessary.2 And as Lamaze’s Healthy Birth Practice Paper #6 details, “experts agree that unless a medical reason exists, healthy mothers and babies shouldn’t be separated after birth or during the early days following birth.”3 Consequently, unless there is a medical reason to circumcise your newborn son, it is inadvisable to agree to this unnecessary medical procedure.
1. Circumcision Causes Pain and Stress: An infant’s foreskin has more than 240 feet of nerves, 20,000 nerve endings, and 3 feet of veins, arteries, and capillaries – circumcision removes all of them, causing the infant tremendous pain.4 Research has conclusively demonstrated “that circumcision has significant physiologic impact on newborns, mainly due [to] pain.”5 Serum cortisol (a hormone released in response to stress) concentrations increase during and after circumcision,6 and “[h]eart rate, respiratory rate and blood pressure increase, and oxygen saturation decreases, during and shortly after circumcision.7
After circumcision, the penis has a raw, open wound. The newborn’s surgically exposed glans is re-injured by abrasion and contaminants because it is encased in diapers (including the baby’s own feces and urine, which breaks down into ammonia). Disposable diapers themselves are also often irritants, because they are laden with chemicals, dyes, and fragrances that cause further pain.
2. Circumcision Interferes with Breastfeeding: Circumcision negatively affects breastfeeding, regardless of whether infants are given Acetaminophen (Tylenol) to help manage pain immediately after circumcision. Some circumcised males are unable to suckle at all after the procedure. Mothers who leave their sons intact have a better chance at establishing a healthy breastfeeding relationship.8
3. Circumcision Disrupts Sleep: After circumcision, babies’ normal sleep patterns are disrupted. Researchers believe this may be a mechanism to cope with the stress of the procedure.9 Infants who do not get enough sleep or enough quality sleep are at risk for additional significant stress.10
4. Circumcision Can Interrupt Normal Bonding and Causes Emotional Trauma: Lamaze recognizes that “[i]nterrupting, delaying, or limiting the time that a mother and her baby spend together may have a harmful effect on their relationship and on breastfeeding success.”11 The significant stress, disrupted sleep patterns, and breastfeeding problems experienced by circumcised babies all have the potential to interrupt the normal, healthy bonding with their caregivers. Bonding is interrupted because “the circumcision procedure frequently causes the newborn to withdraw from his environment[,]” including his mother.12
Protect Your Newborn: Leave Him Intact
Unless there is a medical reason to circumcise, you and your son can only benefit by deciding to keep him safe and close to your side after birth. The newborn period is so beautiful and fleeting. There is no reason to traumatize your baby or jeopardize your breastfeeding relationship by exposing your son to needless pain and stress.
If, after thoroughly researching, you feel that the decision to circumcise is one that you must make, please wait until after those fragile newborn days. Remember, you can always decide to circumcise, you can never decide to take it back.14
This post is part of the Lamaze Healthy Birth Blog Carnival. The topic of this month’s carnival is “keeping moms and babies together after birth.”
- Please see What is Circumcision and Common Concerns, as well as the articles and research cited therein, for an explanation of the many reasons to leave your newborn son intact. ↩
- For official statements of many leading medical associations worldwide, please see this list compiled by NOCIRC. ↩
- Jeannette Crenshaw, “Healthy Birth Practice #6: Keep Mother and Baby Together,” (citing Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine Protocol Committee, 2007; American Academy of Family Physicians, 2007; American Academy of Pediatrics Expert Workgroup on Breastfeeding, 2005; International Lactation Consultant Association, 1999; UNICEF/WHO, 2004; WHO, 1998) ↩
- Paul Fleiss, MD, “The Case Against Circumcision” ↩
- Arie Alkalay, MD, “Analgesia for Non-Ritual Circumcision in Healthy Newborns” ↩
- Megan R. Gunner et al., “The Effects of Circumcision on Serum Cortisol and Behavior” ↩
- Analgesia for Non-Ritual Circumcision in Healthy Newborns; see also K.J.S. Anand et al., “Pain and Its Effects in the Human Neonate and Fetus” ↩
- Cynthia R. Howard, MD, “Acetaminophen Analgesia in Neonatal Circumcision: The Effect on Pain.” “Immediately” being 2 hours after the procedure. Acetaminophen is shown to have a positive effect on pain starting around 6 hours after the procedure. ↩
- Thomas F. Anders, MD and Robert J. Chalemian, MD, The Effects of Circumcision on Sleep-Wake States in Human Neonates; Robert N. Emde, MD, et al., “Stress and Neonatal Sleep” ↩
- Avi Sedah, “Stress, Trauma, and Sleep in Children” ↩
- Healthy Birth Practice #6: Keep Mother and Baby Together (citing (Enkin et al., 2000) ↩
- “Position Statement: The Effects of Circumcision on Breastfeeding” (citing Stress and Neonatal Sleep and Richard E. Marshall et al., “Circumcision: II. Effects Upon Mother-Infant Interaction“) ↩
- Paul Fleiss, MD, “What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Circumcision” at xi ↩
- Of course, allowing your son to make his own informed decisions about his genitals is ideal. Every person should have the right to decide whether to keep his or her genitals whole. Wouldn’t you want to have the option? For more, see “Circumcision FAQ,” What if we want to have our son circumcised? ↩
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