04 June 2012

Pain of Circumcision

Circumcision by David Gollaher, 2000, Excerpts

According to a popular consumer medical guide published during the 1970s, infants naturally protest any prodding or restraint. “Although the baby may scream and kick during the procedure, this seems to be more a reaction to being bundled to the circumcision board than the actual pain. Many babies fall asleep during the process, especially that part that localizes pain, circumcision done at this age the first few days after birth is probably the best time.”

Pediatricians who studied infant pain produced unsettling descriptions of babies trembling, becoming plethoric, dusky, and mildly cyanotic because of their wailing, and on occasion, vomiting and breathing irregularly. The operation triggered significant physiological changes: in breathing, crying, heart rate, and cortisol levels. Immediately after the operation, babies demonstrated classic responses to intense stress: their appetites deteriorated and they became apathetic, disinclined to interact with their mothers or nurses. In some instances, circumcised infants needed to be fed infant formula, a finding that bothered some physicians, because early feeding with formula tends to reduce the duration of maternal breast-feeding.

Since most circumcisions are done without anesthetic, most boys suffer acute pain. Whether or not this pain makes a lasting impression – influencing the child’s future development – has been hotly debated.

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