Thursday, November 26, 2009

Breastfeeding & Circumcision

By Yuki
Edits and updates by Danelle Frisbie

Shirt from Made By Momma

Starting in the late 19th century many changes were made in the way childbirth was viewed. These changes took wide effect by the 1950s. The birthing procedure was taken over by male obstetricians and childbirth became a medical condition - one that women were in need of being saved from. During this time women were routinely pumped full of drugs to give birth, subjected to shaving, enemas, episiotomies, they were encouraged not to breastfeed, and if the baby was born male, chances are likely that he would be circumcised whether it was asked for or not.

Today, more and more women are going back to doing things in a more humane manner - the way nature intended. It can be great to use modern medicine to aid in childbirth, when truly needed, but that does not mean we must medicalise every aspect of birth and the post-partum period. Mother Nature usually knows best.

Even when it was frowned upon for some time, breastfeeding has now made a comeback. Today, it is largely embraced by the medical community, and women breastfeed regularly in public, even if special laws are required to protect them in doing so. Although it hasn't quite become ubiquitously accepted across the country, breastfeeding is becoming a mainstream practice.

In recent U.S. history, breastfeeding and circumcision were treated as opposites by some in the medical community. Circumcision [the complete amputation of the prepuce organ at birth] was claimed to be beneficial and encouraged, or even forced -- while breastfeeding was said to offer no benefits for the longest time!

Today the claimed "benefits" of circumcision have been found to be without merit, while new benefits of breastfeeding are found all the time. Circumcision is not recommended by any medical or health organization in the world, while breastfeeding is universally recommended by all medical and health organizations.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) now states that babies should receive exclusive breastmilk (nothing else at all) for a minimum of the first 6 months of life, and continue nursing for at least the first 2 years of life. The World Health Organization (WHO) states that breastfeeding should be done for the first 2 years of life at a bare minimum and most infants world-wide receive their mother's milk past the age of 2.

Unfortunately in some U.S. cities, circumcision is still more common than breastfeeding. According to 2008 CDC statistics, only 26% of babies in the U.S. are still breastfed at 6 months of age, and the figure drops to just 19% by 12 months of age. At the same time, approximately 50% of baby boys born in the United States continue to be circumcised at birth. Most startling is that lactation reports from several U.S. hospitals show that it is circumcised baby boys who are most at risk of "failure to thrive" and are least likely to have a 'successful' breastfeeding relationship with their mother. Intact boys tend to latch better, nurse more effectively, and breastfeed longer than their circumcised peers.

Medical benefits of breastfeeding

According to the AAP, "human milk feeding decreases the incidence and/or severity of diarrhea, lower respiratory infection, otitis media, bacteremia, bacterial meningitis, botulism, urinary tract infection, and necrotizing enterocolitis infant death syndrome, insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, lymphoma, allergic diseases."(1) It should be noted that urinary tract infections (UTIs) are also reduced by breastfeeding (2,3) even though some claim circumcision may reduce UTIs during the first 12 months of an infants life. Breastfeeding, which does not permanently alter a boy's body via amputation as does circumcision, is shown to be much more effective at reducing UTI risk throughout infancy and childhood (not just in the first 12 months).

Formula fed infants have higher rates of infections, allergies, and a greater intensity of problems from infections and allergies. Over the course of childhood and life they have higher rates of cancer (including increased childhood lymphomas and increased breast cancer in women who were not breastfed as infants), adult intestinal disorders. Infants denied human milk score lower on tests of neurological development. (4,5) Man made breastmilk substitutes clearly do not offer the same nutritional value of breastmilk, and formula fed infants suffer as a result. They experience higher rates of morbidity and mortality across the board, but we continue to ignore the severity of the issue while presenting formula as a safe alternative to breastfeeding. (5)

Effects of circumcision on breastfeeding

In their policy on breastfeeding, the AAP states, "Except under special circumstances, the newborn infant should remain with the mother throughout the recovery period. Procedures that may interfere with breastfeeding or traumatize the infant should be avoided or minimized." (1)

Circumcision is the most commonly performed traumatic and painful surgical procedure done on infants today and is usually conducted in the first 48 hours of life without anesthesia.

Even if we ignore commonsense and human observation on this issue, studies demonstrate without a doubt that circumcision interferes with breastfeeding. Dixon et al., conducted a study on circumcision pain and behavioral consequences with and without anesthesia. The Brazelton Neonatal Assessment Scale (BNAS), a series of stimuli designed to elicit measured response from infants, was used and researchers found that all neurological and behavioral aspects of an infant circumcised at birth were impacted - including breastfeeding. They state, "Behavioral differences were still evident on the day following the procedure. This report adds to the growing body of data that indicate that circumcision is a painful procedure that disrupts the course of behavioral recovery following birth" (7)

Marshall et al., performed a study on how circumcision effects mother-infant interaction. This study also used the BNAS and was double blind (neither the researchers nor the mothers breastfeeding their babies knew when boys were circumcised). One group of babies were circumcised at two days and the other at three weeks. They found that infant behavior changes after circumcision in 90% of cases and that it has a "brief and transitory effect on mother-infant interactions observed during hospital feeding sessions." It was also found that mothers attempted to feed their infants 62% of the time, when their baby's eyes were closed (71%), had negative or neutral facial expressions (91%), did little vocalizing (8%), were clinging (13%), or not feeding (40%)." (8)

Howard et al., did a randomized, double blind and placebo controlled study on acetaminophen analgesia for pain management with circumcision. Among their results they found, "Neonates in both groups showed significant increases in heart rate, respiratory rate, and crying during circumcision with no clinically significant differences between the groups. Postoperative comfort scores showed no significant differences between the groups until the 360-minute postoperative assessment, at which time the acetaminophen group had significantly improved scores. Feeding behavior deteriorated in breast- and bottle-fed infants in both groups, and acetaminophen did not seem to influence this deterioration."


Circumcision and breastfeeding both represent areas that too many parents are simply uninformed in. Many parents are not well educated on the advantages and purposes of the prepuce organ (foreskin), and are not aware that NO medical organization recommends circumcision for their baby. Equal numbers of parents do not realize that exclusive breastfeeding IS recommended for a minimum of 6+ months of their infants' life, with partial breastfeeding for 2+ years to follow. Just as parents are not aware of all the side effects that result from circumcision, they are not aware of the gigantic health problems that result from denying a human baby human milk.

Some people buy into the myths of circumcision benefits, but they are not aware of all the documented benefits of breastfeeding -- those that do not put a newborn baby through pain and trauma and the permanently loss of a body organ.

Only in modern U.S. history have we found breastfeeding to be discouraged, while the cutting of newborn baby's genitals was encouraged. Unfortunately, we continue to see the repercussions of this discord played out in the lives of many newborn babies still in 2009.

But times are changing. People are wising up to the myths and misconceptions that surround birth and babies. Parents are choosing to become educated on the realities of breastfeeding and the horrors of circumcision. Advocates of breastfeeding (lactivists) and keeping babies intact (intactivists) share common ground in their missions, and we can work together to help children receive the very best care that they deserve.

For more information on circumcision and breastfeeding see:

Related Articles:

Protect Your Intact Son
Only Clean What is Seen
Intact = Do Not Retract!
Forced Retraction
Take Your Whole Baby Home
Functions of the Foreskin
Babies Voice Objections
Circumcision & Women's Health
Foreskin Restoration
Oprah & Circumcision
Dr. Sears & Circumcision

For more on circumcision, pain and related side effects see:

ALL pain studies conducted on circumcision in the US and Canada have come to an early end as a result of infant trauma.

The Brain Altered by Circumcision

Infant Pain Impacts Adult Sensitivity

Boys cut at birth move their bodies differently

Circumcision: How Much Does it Hurt?

A plastibell circumcision (the type used in Patti Ramos' photo essay on circumcision) - the company likes to claim genital cutting does not hurt as much when plastic clamps are used rather than metal clamps

Reports from mothers who observed son's circumcision

Reports from a father who observed his son's circumcision: Stop MGM and Will You Make the Cut?

Men on this site tell their stories of how circumcision impacted them.

Babies "voice their opinion" [video clip of common newborn reactions]

A mother of 2 circumcised sons researches it before her 3rd is born

Another plastibell circumcision is video taped here

For statistics on side effects (including death) due to circumcision see: 

Intact vs. Circumcision Outcome Statistics

Death From Circumcision


1. American Academy of Pediatrics - Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk (RE9729)

2. Pisacane A et al.
Breastfeeding and urinary tract infection. The Lancet, July 7, 1990, p50.

3. Marild S.
Breastfeeding and Urinary Tract Infections. The Lancet 1990;336:942.

4. A full list of medical benefits of breastfeeding with citations from medical journals to back them up can be found at

5. James W. Prescott,
Breastfeeding: Brain Nutrients in Brain Development for Human Love and Peace. Touch The Future Newsletter, Spring 1997

6. Katie Allison Granju.
Infant Formula: What Every Parent Should Know. Minnesota Parent 1997

7. Dixon S, Snyder J, Holve R, Bromberger P.
Behavioral effects of circumcision with and without anesthesia. Journal of Developmental Behavioral Pediatrics 1984; 5(5): 246-50.

8. Marshall RE, Porter FL, Rogers AG, et al.
Circumcision: II effects upon mother-infant interaction. Early Human Development 1982; 7:367-374.

9. Howard CR, Howard FM, and Weitzman ML.
Acetominophen analgesia in neonatal circumcision: the effect on pain. Pediatrics 1994;93(4): 641-646.


  1. The first weeks of any baby's life are very tiring and overwhelming for new parents. Why anyone would add a painful penis on to that situation is beyond comprehension.

    Thanks for bringing all these ideas together in one place. I'll be sending it out to other birth workers. Gloria

  2. Wait, you mean to say that our culture has it completely backwards? Like rockets pointed the wrong way?

    Gee, imagine that! *sarcasm*

    In these issues is the ringing of Irony.

  3. A very thorough post - your efforts are appreciated.
    As one of five brothers - all intact - I can attest to the inherit wisdom and functionality in natures design of the male genitalia.
    If men were given the opportunity at eighteen to decide if they wanted to be circumcised...the vast majority would stay stay as they were born.
    Thanks again for your post.

  4. ozzychikk@yahoo.comMay 28, 2010 2:04 AM

    where can i get those diapers?!

  5. They are Dilley Dally diapers - find info and links to the Dilley Dally site in this post:

    The maker is currently on her 'babymoon' so she likely won't be doing orders for a couple more months.

  6. I'm getting really tired of fixing latch issues brought on, at least in part, by RIC. To make it worse, I warn every damn client that this happens frequently and point them toward information. They all seem interested, then I see them PP and realize what they did to those poor little boys. Of all the booby traps I have to help moms through, this is the one that I have the hardest time handling professionally.



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