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Weighing In on Newborn Circumcision

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The only infectious complication recorded was an infection of the skin and the tissue just beneath the skin, known as cellulitis, which occurred in two circumcised as well as two uncircumcised infants and was therefore not considered to be related to the procedure. Although there have been some reports of the "flesh-eating disease," necrotizing fascitiis, occurring in circumcised babies, the study did not find any cases of it.

According to a pediatrician on staff at Rush Presbyterian-St. Luke's Hospital in Chicago, the complications reported in the study are "extremely rare in good, reliable hands" and the complication rate "might be an overstatement." Bill Barrows, MD, who reviewed the study for WebMD, is also a mohel certified by the Berit Milah Board of Reform Judaism. He performs approximately 50 circumcisions every year. "In almost 20 years of experience, I have not seen one infection," he says.

Recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a policy statement on circumcision that concluded that the benefits are not significant enough to recommend newborn circumcision as a routine procedure. The AAP believes parents should be provided with accurate and unbiased information regarding both the risks and benefits of circumcision when making a decision regarding their baby.

So why perform circumcisions at all? Barrows says even if circumcision is not immediately medically beneficial for newborns due to illness or bleeding risk, the long-term medical benefits of the procedure do support its use in most cases. "Most medical people agree that circumcision is worthwhile. ... When you go back to the original data, the risk of cancer [and infection] ... is clearly lower in circumcised men," he says. "[The] long-term benefits are more clear," he adds. "We do a lot of things for our children. Childhood vaccinations is an example; fluoride in water is another. So is circumcision."

Barrows advises parents and their health care providers to discuss prior to the delivery whether to perform a circumcision on a male infant. This discussion should involve conversation about reducing pain to the newborn, aftercare, possible complications, benefits, and costs.

Vital Information:

  • Circumcision is the surgical removal of the foreskin of the penis, and the decision to have a child circumcised is usually based on religious or cultural preferences.
  • A new study shows that complications from circumcision occur in 1 out of every 476 cases and can include bleeding and infection.
  • The long-term benefits of circumcision include a lower risk of urinary tract infections, penile cancer, and sexually transmitted diseases, but quantifying how much lower is still a matter of debate.
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