Does the Baby Feel Pain During the Circumcision?
The traditional Jewish brit milah, the clamp and the baby
By Levi Y Heber
It’s the night before my son’s circumcision and I cannot sleep. I know my child is not the first to be circumcised, but I am worried about the lack of anesthesia. Will he feel much pain? Will he be traumatized?
I can relate to your worries. It is normal for a mother to worry! In fact, I would be quite disconcerted if you were not worried about your newborn’s health and wellbeing.
Perhaps you can take comfort in the knowledge that circumcision, known as brit milah, has been performed in this manner for over 3700 years, and that it is incumbent upon the mohel, the expert Jewish circumciser, to perform the procedure in a way that will minimize your son’s pain and discomfort.
The Traditional Circumcision
When the mohel performs the circumcision he makes a swift motion with an izmel – a traditional scalpel used for brit milah – which is intended to minimize the pain and discomfort.
Those who stand close to the mohel will notice that the infant usually starts to cry as soon as the diaper is opened, and stops crying as soon as it’s closed. In fact, during the newborn stage, many infants cry anytime they are changed or bathed. The cry is not necessarily pain-related. Typically the infant is calm as the blessings are made over a cup of wine and his Jewish name is announced.
It’s interesting to note that the traditional circumcision is performed on the eighth day of the child’s life when his clotting factor has fully developed, which is optimal for healing. At the same time, the nerve endings are not completely developed which lessens the infant’s discomfort.
The traditional brit milah does not involve anesthesia, as we do not want to cause the possibility of additional complications. Ansthesia can also have negative side effects in such young children.
All said, the brit milah is performed at the healthiest time, using the best method, and it has been documented that complications from a traditional circumcision are extremely rare.1
The Painful Way
Hospital and non-traditional circumcisions often involve use of a clamp. This method is extremely painful and traumatic to the child as the clamp actually crushes the skin tissue prior to severing it. This painful method is prohibited by Jewish law and does not fulfill the Biblical requirement of circumcision.
The FDA has also issued a warning in regards to using a clamp for circumcision as it can lead to laceration, hemorrhage, penile amputation, or urethral damage.
The Eternal Covenant
Think about the importance of the brit milah which has been observed faithfully for thousands of years, ever since our forefather Abraham circumcised himself at the age of 99.
I am sure when the circumcision is over, and you hold your dear son, you will realize the discomfort is short lived but the results are forever: your child will have entered an eternal covenant with G‑d.
Mazal Tov! May we share only joyous occasions!
See studies from Lander J, Brady-Fryer B, Metcalfe JB, Nazarali S, S. M.; and Shechet J, Fried SM, Tanenbaum B. J Am Med Assoc 1998; 279: 1170.