Lesson 11: To circumcise or not to circumcise?

If you’re pregnant with a baby boy, you’ll need to decide whether or not you want to circumcise him. In most places in the U.S., it’s assumed that you will and your insurance will cover it as long as you have the procedure performed before you leave the hospital. Fact check me on that, because that’s what I’ve gathered, not what I’ve researched.

It never occurred to me that this would be an actual decision—everybody does it, right? Wrong. Of course it’s a decision. Circumcision means that you alter your little boy’s penis forever. And ever. No take-backs. When I found out I was having a boy, I quickly realized that this choice was (partly, at least) in my hands. And all of a sudden? It seemed like a huge decision.

I told Bo that he needed to research it and decide. He is, after all, a male with certain male parts that I do not have. That alone seemed to make him more qualified. He seemed a little surprised at first that I was struggling with this so much. But the thought of performing any potentially painful procedure on my tiny, defenseless little baby boy was enough to reduce me to tears. I couldn’t fathom it and I wanted a way out. I wanted to do research and find that it was outdated and silly and no longer necessary.

So I started the process of Googling and Oh. My. God. If I was concerned about my baby’s well-being before? I was terrified after reading up on Google about all the terrible things that could go wrong!

It’s genital mutilation! The pain will mentally damage your child forever! He won’t enjoy sex! He could die!

It is unnecessary!


Although they all made my stomach turn and caused pause, I just didn’t buy into most of those reasons. But unless we were doing it for religious purposes (and we wouldn’t be), maybe, just maybe, it was unnecessary.

In the end, we spoke to our baby’s pediatrician and he supported the research Bo had found: circumcision decreases the risk of urinary tract infections and penile cancer. It can also reduce the risk of contracting and spreading STD’s, specifically HIV.

For me, reducing the risk of UTI’s was only a hygiene issue. If we kept our son’s penis clean and taught him to do the same, it would equalize the risk.

And as for penile cancer? It only occurs in 1 in 100,000  men anyway.

And STD’s? Look, we’re going to teach our kid about safe sex and encourage him to wrap it up. Yeah, we can’t always guarantee that he will, but whether or not he’s circumcised doesn’t change the importance of that.

What rate of reduction in risks justified circumcising my son?

So I told Bo I wasn’t convinced. I just wasn’t convinced that our son needed to be circumcised. But he pointed out to me that, even if it reduces the risks only slightly, isn’t any reduction in risk worth it? What if our son was the 1 in 100,000 who contracted penile cancer? Would I be ok knowing that, perhaps, I could have prevented it?

With both the pediatrician and my husband presenting this evidence to me, I acquiesced and agreed to have J circumcised. But quite honestly, I’m still not 100% convinced that we made the right decision. Is it going to have a detrimental effect on him? No. But did we have to do it? No.

I will say, I swear that circumcision had a negative impact on our breastfeeding relationship (in the beginning). On the first day of J’s life, he nursed like a champ. He never had any trouble latching on and he did so frequently.

On the second day, after his circumcision, he quit eating. He slept for 12 hours and never nursed during that time. By the early morning of day 3 I was concerned, even though the lactation consultant assured me that it was normal for baby boys to sleep so long after circumcision. As instructed, I kept waking him to feed and he kept failing to latch.

Finally, frustrated and worried that my son wouldn’t have enough to eat, I gave him a bottle of formula on the third day. No, there’s nothing wrong with formula. But you know what? It’s not what I chose for my son. I wanted to exclusively breastfeed him and I felt like a failure when it didn’t work.

We struggled for the first 3 months of J’s life, trying to get him to latch. I pumped and bottle-fed and it was miserable. I was elated when he finally latched on again, without the assistance of a nipple shield (which I refused to use after the first couple of weeks because it was so frustrating for both J and me).

Next time, if we have a boy, I don’t know if I’ll agree to circumcision. We’ll see. Maybe I’ll wait to have him circumcised. Maybe I won’t do it at all. But this time I’ll be armed with knowledge and experience.

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4 comments on “Lesson 11: To circumcise or not to circumcise?

  1. I am having a baby boy in a few weeks and it is nice to hear others struggle with the same things. Circumcision rates definitely seem to be dropping. Ultimately, my husband is against it and after doing research I came to the same conclusion so our little boy will be staying in tact. I wouldn’t cut up my babys vagina if I was having a girl so why would I do it to my boy?

  2. Eh, I wouldn’t really liken circumcision to genital mutilation (though I know some do). But the important thing is that you guys did your research and you know why you made the decision you made. I think too many people just dive in blindly, so good for you!

    And congrats on your baby boy 🙂

  3. One thing to consider if you have a second son: If one is circumsized and one isn’t, this could be a source of stress to one or the other as they get older. And it may not be something where giving your reasoning for each decision will make a difference. They may intellectually understand, but not emotionally.

  4. […] Lesson 11: To circumcise or not to circumcise? (cabernetandbreastmilk.com) […]

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