In my country, circumcision is widely practiced. It takes place every summer, where classes are over and young boys aging 5 to 10 years old usually flock to the hospital to have themselves circumcised. In some countries, circumcision is fairly common and is usually done right after the birth of the baby boy. There are also some countries where circumcision is not done at all. This difference in the practice of circumcision is not governed by a state law, but rather a personal decision every parent should make regardless of place of residence.

Circumcision, a removal of the skin covering the tip of the penis, was well-established in the Judeo-Christian tradition as part of a religious ritual. Later on, it became a part of a family tradition and culture. However, in 1999, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), as a result of new research, issued its first policy statement on circumcision saying that the advantages of the procedure are not sufficient for them to recommend routine circumcision for all male newborns. Thus today, the decision whether to circumcise or not is one for parents to ponder.

One way to make an informed decision about this matter is for parents to know the pros and cons of circumcision. Here’s something that might be of help.

The health benefits of circumcision include the following:

• Good hygiene. As the child grows older, soft, whitish, foul-smelling deposits (called smegma) accumulate at the tip of the penis. By removing the skin that is covering the tip of the penis, it is easier to wash away the smegma and clean the penis.

• Penile problems can be prevented. Penile problems usually occur at the tip of the penis. This happens occasionally when the skin overlying the uncircumcised penis maybe firmly attached making it difficult to retract. This condition known as phimosis commonly leads to inflammation of the penis

• Decreased risk of cancer of the penis. Penile cancer is very rare and it is found to be less common in circumcised males.

• Low Risk of Urinary Tract Infection. Although it is an established fact that UTI is less common in males, it is even found to be less common in circumcised males.

The disadvantages of circumcision are:

• It entails surgical risk. Some of the surgical complications that may occur although rare are excessive bleeding, possible infection, cutting the foreskin too short or too long, failure to heal properly, and the possibility that the remaining foreskin might reattach to end of the penis which in this case may need minor surgery to correct it.

• It is painful. Circumcision hurts but local anesthesia can be employed to ensure a pain-free procedure.

If you choose not to have your baby circumcised, it is important to remember that the skin overlying the penis can not be pulled until it retracts on its own, often by age 5. You can simply wash your son’s penis with soap and water. By the time his penis becomes retractable, teach your son to clean beneath the foreskin every bath by gently pulling back the foreskin, wash the exposed area with soap and water and rinse. Then, instruct him to dry the area and pull back the foreskin over the head of the penis.

Opinions are mixed regarding circumcision and there is no right and wrong here. What is important is that parents should speak openly to each other so that a good decision is reached long before the eventual birth. Or better yet, a pediatrician or surgeon should be consulted. Ultimately, only parents can tell whether circumcision is right for their babies.