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To Circumcise or Not?

The American Academy of Pediatrics neither recommends nor discourages circumcision, so the decision's totally up to you. In the U.S., about 60 percent of baby boys are circumcised -- down from 72 percent in 1950. Experts think the decrease is due in part to reduced insurance coverage and parents' conflicting feelings about the procedure.

Yet as U.S. circumcision rates decline, evidence of its medical benefits is mounting:

  • Circumcision somewhat reduces the risk of sexually transmitted infections among men and lowers the risk of HIV specifically by as much as 50 percent in men engaged in high-risk heterosexual activities, say recent studies.

  • The incidence of urinary tract infections in infants is only 1 in 1,000 in circumcised boys, compared with 1 in 100 in those who are uncircumcised.

The cons of circumcision? The procedure itself carries a tiny risk of complications (including infection, excess bleeding, and cysts), but these are rare. "Most problems are fairly easy to correct but may require additional surgery," says Andrew Freedman, M.D., director of pediatric urology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. His bottom line: The benefits seem to outweigh the risks, but parents who decide not to circumcise shouldn't feel like they're denying their sons proper medical care.

If you do decide to circumcise, ask the practitioner to use local anesthesia, which can make it no more painful than getting a shot, and apply antibiotic ointment to the area at every diaper change for the first week to ten days to prevent an infection.