By:  Karen Sullen

For as long as I can remember, it's been pretty common for baby boys to be circumcised within a few days of birth.  At that time, all the research indicated that it was the best way to prevent infections and disease and promote cleanliness.  With over 90% of boys undergoing the procedure, it seemed most parents agreed.  However, with the number of circumcisions steadily declining to about 50%, parents are gravitating away from circumcision in light of new research that indicates that the previous concerns were either myths or could be addressed another way.  

How Truth Became Myth
Dating backing at least 10 years, studies cited religious belief, the possibly of being ridiculed by peers, cleanliness, increased risk of sexually transmitted diseases, infections and even cancer as valid reasons to have your baby circumcised.  Religious belief and societal pressures aside, most other reasons seem to have lost their legitimacy.  Here's why.

Cleanliness:  While it is true that an intact penis may collect a discharge beneath the foreskin, it does not appear to increase any medical risk and just means that there will be one more area to clean during baby's bath time.

Avoiding infections in the foreskin:  More of a nuisance than anything, occasional irritations can be easily treated with warms soaks and washing with baby wash cloths.  Rarely does the irritated foreskin become infected, but antibiotics will clear it up.

Decreased risk of penile cancer:  It used to be thought that circumcised men had a much lower chance of cancer of the penis. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics determined that this benefit is much smaller than previously thought. 

Avoiding the need to do it later:  Many parents view circumcision as a preventative step that may avoid problems with recurrent infections.  However, those cases appear to be very rare, and circumcision may be like putting the cart before the horse. Researchers say that very rarely will someone have problems that would necessitate removal of the foreskin later in life (which must be done in an operating room under general anesthesia.)

Avoiding bladder infections:  According to the AAP, the benefit of reduced bladder infections is very small, and is only true for the first few years of life.  After that, there is no difference in the number of bladder infections.  

Decreased risk of STD's: Researchers have determined that the risk of sexually transmitted disease is affected more by the use of condoms than by being circumcised.  

Circumcised Care
If you've made the decision not to circumcise or if you're just wondering how to care for your uncircumcised child, here is some information regarding his care.

Keeping the area clean is best way to reduce the risk of infection or irritation.

The foreskin doesn't retract in boys for a few years.  Don't try to force the foreskin to retract, because this can damage the penis and cause problems.  Allow it to move back on its own.

When the foreskin is ready to retract, teach your son how to slide it back and clean the skin underneath. He should wash his foreskin every day while bathing.

While there are still valid societal reasons, it appears that (medically speaking) the circumcision decision rests largely upon your personal choice.  Unless there is a religious preference and in light of this new information, parents should weigh their options carefully before making a decision they may later regret.