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It is important to look after your child's penis and foreskin to keep it healthy and prevent redness, pain and infection.
The foreskin is the loose skin covering the head (glans) of the penis. The foreskin cannot be retracted (pulled back from the head of the penis) in most newborns, but over time the foreskin separates and is able to be retracted.
Most young boys will frequently touch or play with their penis. This is a normal part of their development and how they learn about their body. Once the foreskin is ready to be retracted, your child will probably discover this for themselves.
Children who have been circumcised have had their foreskin removed by a surgical procedure.
Separation increases with age. Full retraction is possible in 10 per cent of boys at one year old, 50 per cent of boys at 10, and 99 per cent of boys at 17 years of age. In a rare condition called phimosis, the foreskin will never retract.
As the penis and foreskin naturally separate, there is often redness or pain when passing urine (having a wee). This is normal and usually gets better after one to two days. While the separation occurs, small collections of white/yellow lumps (smegma) can accumulate. The smegma is normal and nothing to worry about.
Care at home
- Do not forcibly retract your child’s foreskin for cleaning. There is no need to clean inside the foreskin in young children. Trying to force the foreskin may cause scarring and problems in the future.
- Once the foreskin is easily retracted, your child should learn to do this as part of normal washing in the bath or shower. The penis should be washed the same way as any other part of the body. Ensure your child rinses off any soap and replaces the foreskin to cover the head of the penis afterwards.
- The foreskin should always be replaced to cover the head of the penis after your child has urinated.
- Do not apply antiseptic creams or lotions to the penis or foreskin (unless prescribed by a doctor).
Nappy rash can cause redness and pain in your child’s penis. To prevent nappy rash, make sure you change wet or dirty nappies promptly.
- Try leaving your child without a nappy for short periods of time. Fresh air will help to prevent nappy rash, and will help nappy rash get better.
- Soaking in a warm bath helps to soothe red or sore skin. Dry thoroughly afterwards.
- Apply barrier or nappy-rash cream with each nappy change, including to the tip of the penis, and avoid using nappy wipes on the penis.
When to see a doctor
Take your child to a GP if:
- the penis is red and swollen
- your child appears distressed when passing urine
- your child has a fever along with other symptoms
- there is a discharge or pus coming from the penis
- your child’s foreskin balloons when he passes urine.
If the foreskin is retracted and becomes stuck, seek urgent medical attention from your doctor or hospital. This is called paraphimosis and requires urgent medical review.
Key points to remember
- Your child’s foreskin should never be forcibly retracted for cleaning.
- Wash the penis the same as any other part of your child’s body, and make sure you rinse off any soap. Teach your child to do this as part of their normal washing.
- Make sure you change wet or dirty nappies promptly.
- If the foreskin is retracted and becomes stuck, seek urgent medical attention.
For more information
- See your GP, Maternal and Child Health Nurse or paediatrician.
Common questions our doctors are asked
Why is my son's foreskin red at the tip?
Redness at the tip of the foreskin is common, and may be due to irritation from wet nappies, soap residue or from trying to pull the foreskin down to clean the penis. Changing nappies frequently and applying barrier or nappy cream to the tip of the penis can help.
What is balanitis?
Sometimes the tip of the foreskin or the head of the penis (called the glans) becomes red and painful from an infection. Your son may cry or complain of pain in the tip of the penis, especially when passing urine. This is called balanitis, and a cream or ointment will be prescribed. A warm bath may help in soothing the sore or red skin surrounding the penis.
Does my son have phimosis?
True phimosis occurs when the tip of the foreskin is very narrow and cannot retract over the head of the penis. One sign may be ballooning of the foreskin when passing urine. Treatment may involve a gentle steroid cream to try to allow the opening in the skin to begin bigger. In severe cases, a circumcision may be required.
Developed by The Royal Children's Hospital General Medicine department. We acknowledge the input of RCH consumers and carers.
Reviewed February 2018.
This information is awaiting routine review. Please always seek the most recent advice from a registered and practising clinician.
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