Comparison of analgesia methods for neonatal circumcision

Multiple pain management interventions exist


Clinical question

What is the optimal way to manage analgesia during neonatal circumcision?


Neonatal circumcision is one of the most commonly performed surgical procedures. The American Academy of Pediatrics in 2012 noted that the health benefits outweigh the minor risks of the procedure, but that parents should make the decision to circumcise based on their own cultural, ethical, and religious beliefs.

One of the primary risks of neonatal circumcision is pain during and after the procedure. Multiple methods for managing analgesia exist, but it is unknown what combination of methods is optimal. Usual analgesia techniques include: local anesthetic cream composed of lidocaine and prilocaine (EMLA) applied to the skin prior to the procedure; oral sucrose solution given throughout the procedure; dorsal penile nerve block (DPNB); and penile ring block (RB).

Study design

Single-center, double-blinded, randomized, controlled trial.


Multispecialty freestanding hospital.


Parents of infant boys born at 36-41 weeks’ gestation who chose to have their children circumcised were offered participation in the study. Of 83 eligible participants, 70 were randomized, with 10 in the control group (EMLA only) and 20 in each intervention (EMLA + sucrose, EMLA + sucrose + RB, EMLA + sucrose + DPNB). A single pediatric urologist performed all circumcisions using the Gomco clamp technique.

A video camera recorded the infant’s face and upper torso during the procedure. Two researchers, who were blinded to the analgesia plan, scored these videos using a modified Neonatal Infant Pain Scale (NIPS). The NIPS used ranged from 0 to 6, with 6 considered severe pain. For rating purposes, the procedure was divided into 6 stages with a NIPS score assigned at each stage. There were no significant differences in baseline characteristics among the groups; no significant differences in the duration of the procedure by intervention; and there were no complications. Interrater reliability for the NIPS was good (kappa, 0.84). All interventions were superior to EMLA alone, with significantly decreased NIPS for all stages of the procedure. No significant differences in NIPS were found among the following:

EMLA + sucrose.

EMLA + sucrose + RB.

EMLA + sucrose + DPNB (for any stage of the procedure).

The one exception was that following lysis of foreskin adhesions, EMLA + sucrose + RB was superior (NIPS 2.25 for EMLA + sucrose + RB vs. NIPS 4.4 for EMLA + sucrose + DPNB vs. NIPS 4.3 for EMLA + sucrose vs. NIPS 5.8 for EMLA alone). In terms of crying time during the procedure, all interventions were significantly superior to EMLA alone. Of the interventions, crying time was statistically and clinically significantly shorter with EMLA + sucrose + RB (5.78 seconds vs. 11.5 for EMLA + sucrose + DPNB vs. 16.5 for EMLA + sucrose vs. 45.4 for EMLA alone). This was a single-center study and the procedures were performed by a pediatric urologist rather than by a general pediatrician, which potentially limits applicability.

Bottom line

All tested analgesia modalities for neonatal circumcision were superior to EMLA alone. The most effective analgesia of those tested was EMLA + sucrose + penile ring block.

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