Boys are usually born with a foreskin that covers the head of the penis. Circumcision is an elective, surgical procedure that removes this foreskin. While males can undergo a full or partial circumcision at any age, it's typically easier and less risky to have circumcision in infancy.
Some circumcisions only remove a portion of the foreskin. This type of procedure is called a partial circumcision.
What Happens During a Partial Circumcision
Baby boys are usually awake during a full or partial circumcision. The doctor cleans the baby's penis with antiseptic and applies a topical analgesic for numbing so the baby doesn’t feel pain during the procedure.
The baby's pacifier might also be dipped in sugar water to help reduce his stress while it's happening. Occasionally, the doctor might offer acetaminophen, but it isn’t usually recommended at such a young age.
There are three common circumcision techniques:
Gomco clamp. At birth, the foreskin and head of the penis are connected by a thin membrane. This technique uses a probe to separate the foreskin from the head of the penis. After separation, a bell-shaped device fits between the foreskin and head of the penis. The doctor then slices the foreskin off using a scalpel.
Mogen clamp. The doctor separates the foreskin from the penis using a probe. A metal clamp holds the foreskin in place over the head of the penis as the doctor cuts it off. The doctor usually leaves the clamp in place until bleeding slows.
Plastibell technique. The doctor separates the foreskin and then slides a ring between the foreskin and head of the penis, tying a suture around the foreskin. This technique leaves the ring in place, which falls off within 6 to 12 days.
Keep in mind that the Mogen Clamp allows the doctor to see exactly how much of the foreskin is removed during the procedure. This is important if you don’t want the foreskin completely removed.
After a partial circumcision is performed on a baby boy, the doctor liberally puts petroleum ointment around the surgical site and wraps gauze around the head of the penis. This ensures that the wound doesn’t get stuck to the baby’s diaper.
You may see some bleeding or oozing, but it won’t be significant. The area may appear red and swollen for the first few days, although things should improve each day.
The baby's penis will likely be sore for several days following the procedure, requiring care with bathing and diaper changes. Applying petroleum jelly to the site after each diaper change will help until it heals completely. This prevents discomfort and protects the wound from urine and feces.
Call your doctor right away if your baby’s partial circumcision if you see:
- Active bleeding or a bloodstain on your baby’s diaper that is larger than the size of a quarter
- Increased redness or swelling on the head of the penis
- Blisters filled with pus
- No urination within 12 hours of the surgery
Benefits of Partial Circumcision
Without proper cleaning and care, the foreskin of the penis may trap dangerous bacteria. Many parents choose to have their infant sons undergo a partial circumcision to prevent health conditions like:
- Phimosis, where the foreskin is so tight that it doesn’t retract from the head of the penis
- Balanitis, or inflammation around the head of the penis
- Posthitis, or inflammation of the foreskin
- Balanoposthitis, which is the inflammation of both the foreskin and the head of the penis
- Lesions, which may be cancerous, pre-cancerous, viral, or warty
Benefits of circumcision include lower chances of things like:
- Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
- Urinary tract infections
- Penis cancer
Risks of Partial Circumcision
While there are significant benefits to having a partial circumcision, there are also a few risks. Complications are rare but may include:
Infection. Doctors use sterile tools for the procedure, but it’s always possible that bacteria is introduced afterward. The good news is that infection is usually mild and treatable with an antibiotic.
Bleeding. Talk to your doctor if you have a family history of bleeding disorders. In rare cases, the surgical site may need stitches to stop bleeding.
Side effects from anesthesia. The type of local anesthesia used for a newborn circumcision is safe, but side effects are always possible. It may cause bruises, bleeding, and irritation. If your baby has this procedure, he might have an allergic reaction to the anesthesia.
Leftover skin. In some cases, the partial circumcision may leave more skin than you anticipated. The biggest concern with this is that the skin is uneven and may need to be fixed at a later age.
Damage to the penis. While circumcision is a common procedure, mistakes can happen. There's always a chance of damage to the head of the penis.
If You Want a Partial Circumcision
If you prefer a partial circumcision to a full one, talk to your doctor. There are several different circumcision techniques, so ensure the provider knows what you expect out of the procedure. Medical professionals who commonly perform circumcisions include:
- Family doctors
- Pediatric surgeons
If you're the parent of a newborn or infant son, you should consult with a neonatologist or a pediatrician. They'll examine your baby to determine if he's healthy enough to undergo a partial circumcision. Newborn boys can typically have the procedure done within 2 days of birth. If a medical condition prevents circumcision, the doctor may suggest a waiting period.