Should Your Child See a Doctor?

Foreskin Care Questions

Is this your child's symptom?

  • Questions about caring for the normal foreskin and penis in a baby boy
  • Includes questions about foreskin retraction
  • Smegma questions are covered
  • Child is not circumcised

Types of Foreskin Retraction Problems

  • The foreskin usually causes no problems.
  • Paraphimosis. Forceful retraction can cause the foreskin to get stuck behind the glans. The glans is the head of the penis. This can cause severe pain and swelling and is a medical emergency.
  • Cut. If retraction is forceful, it can cause a small cut. This cut may cause a small amount of bleeding and pain.
  • Infection. Sometimes, the cut causes the space under the foreskin to become infected. The main symptom is a red and tender foreskin. Pus may also come out to the foreskin opening.

When to Call for Foreskin Care Questions

Call Doctor Now or Go to ER

  • Severe pain
  • Red foreskin with fever
  • Your child looks or acts very sick
  • You think your child needs to be seen, and the problem is urgent

Call Doctor Within 24 Hours

  • Red foreskin, but no fever
  • Swollen foreskin
  • Pus from end of foreskin
  • Painful foreskin
  • You think your child needs to be seen, but the problem is not urgent

Call Doctor During Office Hours

  • Urine stream looks abnormal
  • You have other questions or concerns

Self Care at Home

  • Normal foreskin care, questions about
  • Foreskin retraction, questions about
  • Smegma whitish material under the foreskin, questions about

Seattle Children’s Urgent Care Locations

If your child’s illness or injury is life-threating, call 911.

Care Advice for Foreskin Care

  1. What You Should Know About the Foreskin:
    • At birth, the foreskin is attached to the head of the penis glans. It is attached by a layer of cells.
    • Over time, the foreskin will separate from the head of the penis. This is a natural process and occurs over 5 to 10 years. It slowly loosens up retracts a little at a time.
    • Normal erections during childhood cause most of the change by stretching the foreskin.
    • If your boy has a normal urine stream, any foreskin movement is normal.
    • There should be no rush to achieve full retraction. This always occurs on its own by puberty.
    • Here is some care advice that should help.
  2. Before Age 1 Year - How to Clean:
    • During the first year of life, only clean the outside of the foreskin.
    • Don't make any attempts at retraction.
    • Don't put any cotton swabs into the opening.
  3. Foreskin Retraction Age 1 Year and Older:
    • Begin gentle partial retraction at 1-2 years of age.
    • It can be done once per week during bathing.
    • Gently pull the skin on the shaft of the penis backward towards the stomach.
    • This will make the foreskin open up. You will be able to see the end of the glans. The glans is the tip of the penis.
    • Be gentle. Retraction should never cause pain or crying.
  4. After Age 1 Year - How to Clean:
    • As the foreskin becomes able to retract on its own, cleanse beneath it. This helps to prevent infections.
    • Wash the exposed part of the glans gently with warm water. Then, dry it.
    • Do not use soap or leave soapy water under the foreskin. This can cause redness and swelling.
    • Wipe away any whitish material smegma that you find there.
  5. Reposition the Foreskin:
    • After cleansing, always pull the foreskin forward to its normal position.
  6. Avoid Forceful Retraction:
    • This can cause bleeding or tears of the tissue.
    • It also may cause the foreskin to become stuck behind the penis head.
    • Retraction is too hard if it causes any pain or crying.
  7. Teach Child to Retract Age 6:
    • By age 6, teach your son to retract his own foreskin.
    • Teach him to clean beneath it once a week during bathing.
    • This will help to prevent poor hygiene and infection.
  8. Pain Following Recent Attempt at Retraction:
    • The attempt to retract the foreskin has probably caused a small cut or tear. Raw surfaces are painful.
    • Cover the raw area with a layer of antibiotic ointment such as Polysporin.
    • If you don't have one, use petroleum jelly such as Vaseline.
    • Once the raw surface is protected from the air, the pain should go away. The pain should slowly improve over a few hours.
    • Continue twice a day until healed. This takes about 1 or 2 days.
  9. Smegma - General Information:
    • Smegma is the small pieces of whitish material found under the foreskin.
    • Smegma is made up of dead skin cells. These cells are shed from the lining of the foreskin and the penis. It becomes trapped under the foreskin.
    • Smegma is normal and harmless. It is not a sign of an infection. It is produced in small amounts throughout life.
    • Smegma can build up under the foreskin. This happens if the foreskin is not pulled back and cleaned regularly.
    • Smegma also can occur before the foreskin becomes retractable. It looks like small white lumps. It lies under the foreskin that is still stuck to the penis head. It can't be removed at this stage.
    • If it lies beyond the level of foreskin retraction, it should be left alone. Wait until normal separation exposes it. Then, gently wipe it away.
    • Caution. During the first year of life, do not make any attempts at foreskin retraction. Leave the smegma alone.
  10. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Pain lasts more than 24 hours
    • Foreskin looks infected
    • Other foreskin problems occur
    • You think your child needs to be seen

And remember, contact your doctor if your child develops any of the 'Call Your Doctor' symptoms.

Disclaimer: This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.

Last Reviewed: 10/20/2014

Last Revised: 10/20/2014

Copyright 1994-2015 Barton D. Schmitt, MD. All rights reserved.