Circumcision is the removal of the foreskin of the penis. The foreskin is a sheath of skin that covers the tip of the penis.
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Reasons for Procedure
Circumcision may be done for cultural or religious reasons. It is usually done during the first few days of life. Circumcision may be done on older boys as a treatment for medical problems. Problems may include foreskin that is too tight or foreskin that cannot retract.
Circumcision may be associated with a decreased risk of:
- Urinary tract infection
- Phimosis —tightening of the foreskin, which can be severe enough to close off the opening to the penis
- Penile cancer
- Cervical cancer in sexual partners
- Certain sexually transmitted infections, like HIV
Talk to your doctor about the risk and benefits of circumcision for your child.
Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Your child's doctor will review potential problems, like:
- Reaction to anesthesia
- Unsatisfactory cosmetic outcome—foreskin is cut too short or left too long
- Foreskin does not heal properly
- Decreased penile sensation
- Damage to the tip of the penis
Factors that may increase the risk of complications include:
- History of bleeding disorders in the family
- Chronic illness
What to Expect
Prior to Procedure
Your child will have a physical exam. The penis will be examined for any abnormalities. Your child may also need blood and urine tests done.
Your child may not be able to eat or drink after midnight the night before the procedure. Ask your doctor when your child should stop eating and drinking.
General anesthesia will be used. Your child will be asleep during the procedure.
Description of Procedure
The anesthesia will be given. After your child is asleep, the foreskin will be pulled away from the penis. The foreskin may have some areas attached to the head of the penis. These attachments will be cut. The excess foreskin will then be cut away. If needed, stitches may be placed to stop bleeding.
Petroleum jelly or an antibiotic ointment will be smeared on the penis. A bandage may be applied.
Immediately After Procedure
Your child will be monitored in a recovery room.
How Long Will It Take?
Less than 1 hour
How Much Will It Hurt?
Anesthesia prevents pain during surgery. Your child will be given medication to relieve pain or soreness during recovery.
There may be swelling of the penis. A clear scab may also develop over the area. The penis should heal within 7-10 days of the circumcision.
It is important to keep your child’s penis clean while the circumcision heals. Follow these steps to promote good healing:
- If there is a bandage, follow your doctor's instructions on when to remove it. In general, replace the dressing after your child uses the bathroom for the first 36-48 hours after surgery.
- After the dressing has been removed, keep the penis clean with mild soap and water.
- Supportive underwear may keep your child more comfortable.
- If instructed, apply antibiotic ointment or petroleum jelly to the area
Your child may have some discomfort while urinating for the first few days. Use pain medication as prescribed.
Call Your Doctor
It is important to monitor your child's recovery. Alert your child's doctor to any problems. If any of the following occur, call your child's doctor:
- The penis or the area of the incision appears red, swollen, or is hot to the touch
- Incision or penis is oozing a yellowish discharge after 3-5 days—some discharge is normal in first few days
- Pain is not controlled by the medication your child has been given
- The head of the penis is blue or black
If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics
About Kids Health—The Hospital for Sick Children
Caring for Kids—Canadian Paediatric Society
Blank S, Brady M, et al. Circumcision policy statement. American Academy of Pediatrics. Pediatrics. 2012;130(3):585-586.
Caring for your son's penis. American Academy of Pediatrics Healthy Children website. Available at: http://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/bathing-skin-care/Pages/Caring-For-Your-Sons-Penis.aspx. Updated November 23, 2016. Accessed March 19, 2018.
Circumcision. Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/pregnancy-newborns/caring-for-newborns/infant-care/circumcision.html. Updated November 2016. Accessed March 19, 2018.
Circumcision. Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics website. Available at: http://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/prenatal/decisions-to-make/Pages/Circumcision.aspx. Updated March 12, 2013. Accessed March 19, 2018.
Circumcision. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115571/Circumcision. Updated March 1, 2018. Accessed March 19, 2018.
Last reviewed March 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Kari Kassir, MD Last Updated: 5/5/2014