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Should We Circumcise Our Son?

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When Kathleen Piraino was pregnant with her first son, Jasper, she avidly researched childbirth procedures and found that many medical interventions once considered necessary -- such as episiotomies and constant fetal monitoring -- no longer were. She began to wonder if the same was true of circumcision, the surgery to remove the foreskin from the penis that is performed on the majority of American baby boys shortly after birth. "These were routine practices that we later learned were often unnecessary," she said. "I wondered if circumcision would be the next procedure called into question."

While many arguments in favor of circumcision seemed unconvincing to her, claims from the anti-circumcision camp about the dangers of the practice seemed alarmist. Ultimately Piraino chose to circumcise her son, but the decision was based on the traditions of her husband's Jewish faith, not medical evidence. Like many parents, she was disconcerted that the last 30 years of research and hot debate among the American medical community and the public had failed to produce a definitive answer to many parents' simple question "Should we circumcise our son?"

Consider the policy of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the first place many parents or parents-to-be turn when making medical decisions for their children: "Existing scientific evidence demonstrates potential medical benefits of newborn male circumcisions; however these data are not sufficient to recommend routine neonatal circumcision." So, is that a yes or a no?

Neither, says Alan R. Fleischman, M.D., professor of pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York and a member of the AAP task force on circumcision that drafted the 1999 policy statement. "The AAP has always maintained neutrality and argued that it is the decision of parents in consultation with families and pediatricians," explains Dr. Fleischman. "There are some potential medical benefits of circumcision, and there are some risks of circumcision. The risks tend to be minor and the benefits are significant, but not significant enough to make a recommendation."

What the AAP does advocate is that parents have access to accurate, up-to-date information presented without hype or hostility so they can make their circumcision decision with comfort and confidence. With that in mind, BabyTalk spoke to experts on both sides of the circumcision debate to give you the background you need to make an informed choice.

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