It’s a question many parents-to-be grapple with: Should you have your baby boy circumcised at birth? The official position of the Canadian Paediatric Society (CPS) since 1996 has been that routine circumcision is not recommended. But studies in recent years have shown that circumcision can potentially reduce the risk of everything from urinary tract infections (UTIs) to sexually transmitted diseases to penile cancer. In December, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States released draft recommendations that doctors should counsel male patients and parents on the health benefits of circumcision. (Final recommendations have not yet been released.)
In light of this new research, the CPS examined more than 1,596 journal articles to ascertain the benefits and risks of circumcision. In a statement published today, the CPS maintained its stance: “While there may be a benefit for some boys in high-risk populations and circumstances where the procedure could be considered for disease reduction or treatment, the Canadian Paediatric Society does not recommend the routine circumcision of every newborn male.”
The key in the new statement is the word routine. While there may be some instances where circumcision is beneficial (for example, to reduce the risk of infection if the infant has an underlying urinary tract anomaly), the benefits are not widespread enough to recommend circumcision for every male baby. (The CPS gives the example that 111 to 125 infant boys with a normal risk of a UTI would have to be circumcised to prevent one UTI.) Circumcision is painful and there are risks, including minor bleeding and infection. (There are more severe risks, like partial amputation of the penis and hemorrhage causing death, but these are extremely rare.)
The CPS stresses that parents should speak to their health provider for guidance. “Because the medical risk-to-benefit ratio of routine newborn male circumcisions is closely balanced when current research is reviewed, it’s challenging to make definitive recommendations for the entire male newborn population in Canada,” according to the statement.
As well, parents of both circumcised and uncircumcised males should receive information from health professionals on how to properly care for their son’s penis.