Most mums are completely clueless when it comes to caring for their son’s penis and scrotum – and it’s no wonder really, because of course we don’t have the equipment ourselves! It’s really important to look after their genitals properly and keep an eye out for anything out of the ordinary.
To start with, you need to know about your bub’s foreskin. Fully attached from birth, it’s the sheath of skin that covers the head of the penis, although after a while the skin separates and can be pulled back (usually by the age of two). Sometimes the foreskin doesn’t separate properly, but any issues it may cause are usually resolved by puberty.
Some parents choose to circumcise their sons, which is when the foreskin is removed surgically for medical or cultural reasons. These days it’s not a very common procedure, less than 10% of Australian boys are circumcised. Although it’s usually done when they’re a baby, circumcision can also be performed later on – even as adults (often due to medical reasons such as ongoing infections).
Testicles and scrotum
Generally there isn’t too much to worry about here, but you do need to be on the look out to make sure their testicles descend. It could be that one or both are taking a while to come down (which can take up to a year after birth), in which case a simple surgical procedure might be required to locate and bring the testicle down. In rare cases this can mean the testicle has twisted and withered higher up, which may require removal to prevent testicular cancer.
Tips for caring for little boys’ genitals
Some basic care tips for your son’s genitals include:
- Treat a baby’s scrotum and penis like any other body part when washing – you don’t need to clean under the foreskin, and ensure any soap is rinsed off
- Never forcibly pull back a baby’s foreskin which can cause bleeding, pain, infection or scarring
- Change nappies frequently – never leave your child in a soiled or wet nappy for a long period of time as this can lead to infection
- Once the foreskin has separated, retract it when cleaning and once finished roll it back up carefully over the glans
- When your son is a bit older, teach them how to pull back their foreskin for self-cleaning in the bath
- Don’t apply creams or lotions to the penis, foreskin or scrotum (unless advised to by a doctor)
- Be careful not to use too much soap or bubble bath on the genitals, which can cause irritation
- Let little boys go without a nappy sometimes, fresh air helps prevent and heal nappy rash faster
- The tip of the penis is red – This is very common and usually due to an irritation such as a nappy left on for too long or soap residue stuck in the foreskin.
- Balanitis – This is an infection which causes the foreskin tip to appear red and they might also cry when urinating. A doctor might prescribe a topical solution or antibiotics, and a warm bath can also help.
- White/yellow lumps under foreskin – This is called smegma and is nothing to worry about. Made up from dead skin cells and natural secretions, it’s normal and will disappear on its own.
- A stuck foreskin – When the foreskin is stuck in a rolled down position and can’t go back upwards, this requires immediate medical attention.
- Phimosis – When the tip of the foreskin is very narrow and it can’t pull down over the head of the penis. A steroid cream can help with opening up the hole, otherwise circumcision might be required.
When to see a doctor
It can be hard to know when to panic when you’re unsure of what is normal and what isn’t when it comes to little boys’ genitals, but as a general guide you should seek a doctor’s advice if:
- The foreskin is retracted and stuck (you will need to get urgent medical attention)
- The penis looks very red or swollen
- There is a strange discharge or pus coming from the penis
- Your son is in pain or upset when passing urine (especially if they also have a fever)
- A testicle does not appear to have descended (you can’t see or feel one or both inside the scrotum)
If however, at any point you are concerned about your son’s penis or scrotum, as always, please speak to a health professional.