For the first time in more than 10 years, the American Academy of Pediatrics has revised its stance on infant circumcision to show more support for the procedure. The AAP now says the "health benefits of newborn male circumcision outweigh the risks," a distinct change from the group's previously neutral opinion.
Why the change—and why now? According to a recent study, circumcision rates in US are at their lowest levels ever, and elsewhere in the world, the practice is being increasingly called into question, even when performed for religious reasons. The most controversial example is in Germany, where, in June, a court ruled that the practice "should be considered as bodily harm if it is carried out on a boy unable to give his own consent."
To justify its shift in policy, the AAP points to growing evidence that shows circumcision lowers risk for acquiring HIV, genital herpes, human papillomavirus (HPV), and syphilis. It may also lower the risk of penile cancer over a lifetime, reduce the risk of cervical cancer in women, and lower the risk of urinary tract infections in a baby's first year of life. The evidence is so compelling, says the AAP, that all health insurance providers should be obligated to cover the procedure.
However—and it's a big however—the AAP also admits that the benefits of circumcision are still not great enough to recommend routine circumcision for all newborn boys. Whether to circumcise is ultimately a decision left to parents.
Mom Lauren Jenks, founder of The Whole Network, a grassroots organization dedicated to circumcision awareness, encourages parents to study up on the procedure itself and view pro-circumcision health statistics with logic. "Baby girls have a much higher risk of UTIs, but we easily treat them with antibiotics and the problem is solved. Why put a newborn through surgery when he has presented no medical issues whatsoever? If he does get a rare UTI, then we can treat with antibiotics," Jenks shares with BabyZone.
Susan Blank, M.D., FAAP, chair of the task force that authored the AAP policy statement, agrees that parents need to educate themselves before making a decision on the matter. "Ultimately, this is a decision that parents will have to make," she says in a statement released by the AAP. "Parents are entitled to medically accurate and nonbiased information about circumcision, and they should weigh this medical information in the context of their own religious, ethical, and cultural beliefs."
And the best time to think about all this? Long before you find yourself in the delivery room. "It's a good idea to have this conversation during pregnancy, and to learn whether your insurance will cover the procedure, so you have time to make the decision," advises Blank.