In my last blog, I mentioned that it takes 6 months for testicles to descend from the abdomen into the scrotum. If this process doesn’t occur properly, a baby will be born with an undescended testicle. (If the testicle can be felt in the inguinal canal, it’s referred to as a partially undescended testicle.) In many cases, an undescended testicle will drop to its normal position by 2 to 3 months of life. If this fails to occur, the baby will be referred to a pediatric urologist.
Prior to puberty, a boy’s testicle is roughly the size and shape of a peanut. This fact, combined with an active scrotal reflex, often pulls the testicle into the lower part of the inguinal canal. We call this a retractile testicle. It’s not the same as a partially undescended testicle. In pre-adolescents, testicles commonly “hide” when boys giggle during the genital exam.
The way doctors differentiate between a partially undescended testicle and a retractile testicle is to see what happens when the boy squats. During a squat, a retractile testicle will drop down so it can be easily pulled into the scrotum; a partially undescended testicle will not. If there is any question about this, your child will be referred to a pediatric urologist.
If your child can’t get through the genital exam because he’s ticklish, there is a way parents can identify a retractile testicle without seeing a urologist. Have your child sit in a warm bath for about 5 minutes. Because the testicles are meant to be cooler than the body, retractile testicles will almost always drop down into the scrotum, which itself gets “baggy” in warm water. If you see or feel the testicles in the lower scrotum, you don’t need an appointment with a urologist.