Is Circumcision Painful?


Circumcision is quickly becoming a controversial procedure, among baby boys, children and grown men. One of the main issues with circumcision, especially in babies, is how painful it is, and how this can affect babies in the long term.

Baby boys are routinely circumcised without pain medication, whether the procedure takes place in the hospital or at a bris, a Jewish circumcision ceremony. Studies have shown that circumcision raises blood cortisol levels in babies, meaning their stress response is elevated. Behavioral distress, such as crying and screaming, has also been noted. Babies are usually restrained, or strapped down, during the procedure: some studies have indicated that this part of the process isn't painful or overly stressful to infants.

Circumcision, then, is known to be painful: in fact, researchers have said it's "among the most painful [procedures] performed in neonatal medicine,” and one study recorded that the pain of the operation was “severe and persistent.” Furthermore, researchers concluded, “this level of pain would not be tolerated by older patients.”

Studies also show that even if a baby doesn't cry during circumcision, his cortisol levels will still rise, showing there's still pain present during the procedure.

Adult circumcisions usually are performed under local anesthesia, but infant procedures usually aren't, because of the risk of using such medicines on a newborn. Post-operative pain can be treated in adults with painkillers, whereas these medicines aren't usually used in infants.

Infants' neurological wiring may change as a result of being circumcised without anesthetic. They may be more sensitive to pain, and more stressed about experiencing it. The effects, some researchers say, are similar to post-traumatic stress disorder.


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