Ballooning is a normal and harmless occurrence for many intact boys. At birth, the foreskin is fused to the glans (head) of the penis by a delicate epithelial membrane. This shared layer dissolves naturally over time due to hormonal changes and natural exploration. Eventually, the boy will be able to retract his foreskin completely once the membrane has fully dissolved.
During the course of membrane dissolution throughout the early years of a boy’s life, urine can momentarily swirl around underneath the foreskin in spots where it has already separated from the glans. It is not unusual for urine to fill up these pockets between the foreskin and glans briefly during urination. This is often referred to as “ballooning” because it appears as just that: a balloon being blown up, then deflated.
At the tip of the foreskin is the preputial sphincter muscle. It remains tightly closed for most young boys, except when passing urine, in order to keep contaminants out. This muscle relaxes quickly in response to the pressure of the urine behind it, and the “balloon” deflates as the urine exits the body. The slight pressure the urine creates in these pockets before exiting helps further dissolve the fused membrane, aiding the separation process.
There is no need to panic if you notice your son’s foreskin ballooning. Parents might observe ballooning when changing a diaper or while the boy is learning to use the potty/toilet, or they may never observe it! Ballooning does not occur in all boys.
If you observe ballooning in your own son and there are no other concerns (e.g., ongoing pain, discharge, or the urine not exiting), no action is required. You can rest assured knowing that his body is doing what it was designed to do.
Note: When ballooning occurs, the urine will “balloon” under the foreskin and then quickly deflate as the urine leaves the tip of the foreskin. In the rare event that urine is not exiting the tip of the foreskin after ballooning, medical treatment should be sought. If you are noticing other worrisome signs, this story of one mom’s experience may be helpful to you as you explore treatment options.