Why the pain of circumcision lasts far longer than the procedure
By Karen Burka
Issue 132, September/October 2005 Mothering Magazine
Circumcision is the cutting off of the fold of skin that normally covers the glans, or head, of the penis. This double layer of skin, the prepuce, is commonly known as the foreskin. In a circumcision, a baby boy is spread-eagled on his back on a board or table; his arms and legs are strapped down so that he can't move. The baby's genitals are scrubbed and covered with antiseptic. The foreskin is torn from the glans and slit lengthwise so that the circumcision instrument can be inserted. The foreskin is then cut off.4 Years ago, doctors believed—and told new parents—that babies didn't feel pain, and that therefore circumcision didn't hurt and would be forgotten as the child matured. Today, experts both within and outside the medical community agree that babies do feel pain, and that circumcision is extremely painful for them. Many circumcisions are performed without anesthesia. Most doctors and childbirth educators agree that the administering of the available painkillers—including the most effective, the ring block, which requires four injections—can itself be extremely painful for an infant. And even when anesthesia is administered, it does not completely eliminate the pain.
Increasingly, the trauma experienced by the infant during circumcision is being linked to later childhood intolerance of pain. According to an article by British researchers Dr. Maria Fitzgerald and Dr. Suellen Walker, "One important study shows that boys who have been circumcised at birth show increased pain responses to vaccinations at four to six months compared to those who have not. . . . In a follow-up, prospective study of 87 infant boys, uncircumcised infants were found to have the lowest pain scores at vaccination four to six months later, followed by those circumcised after treatment with lidocaine-prilocaine cream (EMLA), while those circumcised after placebo cream showed the greatest responses."5