Marian Tompson, Founder of La Leche League

This is an article that Marian Tompson, the founder and past president of La Leche League International, had printed on page 8 of “The People’s Doctor-A Medical Newsletter for Consumers” by Robert S. Mendelsohn, M.D., P.O. Box 982, Evanston, Illinois 60204, Vol. 4, No. 12.

If our two sons had been born under any other circumstances, they probably would have been circumcised. But to begin with, our family doctor opposed circumcision – a rather unusual position for a doctor to take in the late 1950’s when our eldest son was born. Dr. W. would not even perform the operation unless medically indicated, and his opinion carried a lot of weight with us. Then too, our sons were born at home, and the whole idea of submitting them to the violence of surgery without anesthesia and all the possible complications of surgery went against everything we were trying to accomplish by having our babies at home, particularly when that surgery seemed to serve no real purpose. So we decided against circumcision, and we felt it was the right decision. We did have some concerns, however, about the effect being “different” might have on our sons as they grew up.

In those days, almost nothing appeared in print on the pros and cons of circumcision. In fact, many people, unaware that the United States is the only developed country where newborns are routinely circumcised for non-religious reasons, didn’t know they had a choice. Some of our friends thought we might be breaking the law. Even in 1978, when the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists adopted the position taken several years earlier by the American Academy of Pediatricians that “there is no absolute medical indication for routine circumcision of the newborn,” few heard about it. Indeed, during the following year, 85 per cent of male newborns in the United States – nearly 1,500,000 babies – were circumcised. (By way of contrast, in Norway where this surgery is performed only when indicated, the rate is 0.02 per cent.)

When a writer for the Village Voice interviewed 10 percent of Manhattan obstetricians, more than half said they believed circumcision was unnecessary. Nevertheless, they performed the operation on more than 90 percent of the males they delivered, indicating that the parents’ desire for the surgery was so strong it would have been useless to try and convince them otherwise. But when mothers were interviewed, two out of three stated that if the doctor had suggested their child not be circumcised, they would have accepted his opinion!

Today, you don’t have to wait for your doctor to bring up the subject. All the information you’ll ever want, and then some, can be found in the new book “Circumcision, An American Health Fallacy” by Edward Wallerstein (Springer Publishing Co., $9.95). Fully documented and based on an intensive review of the medical and popular literature, this book describes how circumcision became the “wonder drug” of American Medicine and carefully examines the claims made over the years for the prevention and cure of a list of ailments ranging from asthma, epilepsy, and tuberculosis to modern-day worries about cancer, hygiene, and sexual performance.

Still, what about the effect on a boy of being different? To quote a young man we know very well who has been through it, “Don’t worry about it!””

(Note: Wallerstein’s book, referred to above, was printed in 1980.)

Here’s from “The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding” La Leche League International, The World’s Foremost Authority on Breastfeeding” – Third Edition, Revised and Enlarged, La Leche League International, Franklin Park, Illinois, July 1981, Eighth Printing- April 1985, pages 92-93: “ELECTIVE SURGERY FOR YOU OR BABY”

If you are going to be in the hospital anyway for the birth of your baby, you or your doctor may suggest that you have some other medical matter attended to. Examples of elective surgery for the mother include stripping the legs of varicose veins or typing the fallopian tubes (tubal ligation). As for the baby, it may be considered almost routine to circumcise boy babies when they are only a few hours or days old. But circumcision is elective surgery and you have a choice of whether or not to have your baby circumcised. You can also choose to wait a while before having this done. We bring these subjects up because, physically and emotionally, these procedures all take their toll on mother and child. Since they represent elective surgery, their appropriateness at this critical time must be questioned.

Circumcision is as painful a procedure to a newborn as it is to an adult. As a religious rite, circumcision is not performed until the baby is eight days old, when he is less apt to hemorrhage. The reasons given in the past for the non-religious, almost routine circumcision of the newborn were generally hygienic and are no longer accepted by many physicians and parents. If you’re interested in learning more about this subject, see the Book List at the end of this book.

The most important reason for deciding against elective surgery following childbirth is that it interferes with a mother and her new baby being together and getting to know each other. While a mother may feel very good following the birth of her baby, her body nevertheless has some recovering to do. Adding the strain of recovering from a surgical procedure might lessen her enjoyment of these early days with her baby. In regard to tubal ligation, there can often be an unexpected emotional reaction in the mother. When it dawns on her that the baby in her arms is her last, there may be feelings of deep sadness. It might become difficult for her to keep a normal perspective on her mothering of this baby. She may become exceedingly anxious about doing everything just right.

Whatever the inconvenience you may experience by postponing such operations for you or your baby, it is slight compared to the upheaval such surgery can cause in your life at this time.

In the Book List Marian Tompson refers to, (page 347), under “Prenatal Care and Childbirth” Circumcision: An American Health Fallacy by Edward Wallerstein Springer Publishing: 1980. Softcover. Available from Birth and Life She calls the book:

“A very definitive book, covering twelve years of research. The author feels that circumcision is a solution in search of a problem. Extensive arguments against routine circumcision are presented in a most readable manner.”