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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.
The foreskin will have separated in many one-year-olds, and 90 per cent of four-year-old boys will have a separated foreskin. However, for some children, the separation may not happen until puberty. This is normal. 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.
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.
Take your child to a GP if:
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.
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.
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