New moms of baby boys are at a disadvantage. Because we are equipped differently, we’re entering unfamiliar territory when caring for our baby boy’s private area.
Questions can quickly pop up — literally — like, is it normal for my infant to have an erection? How should I clean it? Why is my baby’s scrotum swollen?
Though these questions may make you blush, they are common concerns discussed in the pediatrician’s office. Here, Dr. Sarah Adams, a pediatrician at Akron Children’s Hospital Pediatrics in Hudson, helps moms of baby boys successfully charter new territory with 5 tips to help keep the area clean and healthy.
Is tugging at an early age normal?
When changing a diaper or bathing your baby, you may notice him tugging at his penis. Though your first reaction may be horror, there’s nothing to worry about. It’s perfectly normal — and common. On average, tugging can start around 6 months of age, or when a baby discovers it’s there.
“They’re just grabbing it because it’s there, not necessarily because it feels good,” said Dr. Adams. “They may not even know it’s a part of their own body. It’s no different than when they grab their toes or ears.”
It’s okay to let babies explore as long as they’re not harming themselves by tugging too hard. However, hands are dirty and full of germs, so tugging and adjusting can introduce harmful bacteria to the area.
If you’re uncomfortable with it, Dr. Adams suggests you simply distract the child and move their hand away. As kids get a little bit older, it’s important to teach that there is a time and place for that.
If you notice your son tugging or pulling often, along with pain while peeing, he may have a urinary tract infection. Follow up with your pediatrician.
Can infants get erections?
Erections can happen anytime and usually occur for no reason at all.
“A lot of times you take the diaper off and it’s sticking straight up,” said Dr. Adams. “It’s totally normal and there’s nothing to worry about. It could occur from air or manipulation. Just put the diaper back on and try not to make a big deal out of it.”
The good news is it can be a positive sign. It can signal your baby’s nervous system is working well or that his bladder is full and he needs to urinate.
Beware if the erection lasts for more than a few hours or if there’s a rash and a fever. It could signal a problem. Contact your pediatrician to get it evaluated.
How are undescended testicles treated?
As a baby boy grows inside his mother’s womb, his testicles typically form inside his abdomen. Once they start producing testosterone, they move down (descend) into the scrotum shortly before birth. But in some cases, that move or descent doesn’t occur, and the baby is born with a condition known as undescended testicles.
“It can take up to 12 months for the testicles to drop down,” said Dr. Adams. “If one or both hasn’t dropped by the time your baby is 12 months old, we’ll do an ultrasound to first make sure there’s a testicle present and locate it. Then, we’ll refer you to a urologist.”
It’s a painless condition, but will require surgery to position the testicle in the scrotum. If left untreated, the testicle could be damaged in the abdomen, which could affect fertility later on or lead to other medical problems.
Is the lump in my baby’s groin a hernia?
Sometimes when the testicle makes its descent, it can leave a small opening in the muscle wall. When a loop or portion of the intestine protrudes out of that wall, this is called an inguinal hernia. It’s noticeable as a bulge in the groin area, especially when a baby cries or coughs.
“Most of the time it’s not an emergency, but will require surgery to treat the condition,” said Dr. Adams. “If the groin area begins to swell, there’s discoloration or your baby cries in pain, it may require immediate attention.”
These are signs of an incarcerated hernia, where the tissue gets trapped in the opening and cannot retract, and can be a serious medical problem. For example, a loop of intestine that is caught and squeezed in the groin area may block the passage of food through the digestive tract.
If you notice any lump in the groin area and the scrotum begins to swell, contact your pediatrician for an evaluation.
How do I clean the area and avoid infection?
If your baby was circumcised, Dr. Adams recommends you follow your doctor’s instruction during the healing process. Also, you can use a little Vaseline on the head of the penis to keep it from sticking to the diaper during the healing process.
Once it’s healed, you’ll want to clean around the head of the penis to avoid infections, pulling back the foreskin if necessary.
“It’s common for the foreskin to stick to the head of the penis and then it becomes difficult to pull it back,” said Dr. Adams. “So, it’s very important every time you change him or during a bath, to pull it back and clean the area.”
Gentle soap and water is all you need to clean it. It’s a good idea to clean the penis every day to avoid irritation or infection.
In addition, the penis can get diaper rash, just like your baby’s buttocks. Also, it’s not unusual to get a rash at the base of the penis because it can get sticky between the penis and the scrotum.
“You can put diaper rash cream on the penis to ease irritation,” said Dr. Adams. “But if you’re concerned about infection, let the doctor take a look at it. In the meantime, you could use an over-the-counter antibacterial cream.”