Umbilical Hernia

What is an umbilical hernia?

When the fetus is growing and developing during pregnancy, there is a small opening in the abdominal muscles so that the umbilical cord can pass through, connecting the mother to the baby. After birth, the opening in the abdominal muscles closes as the baby matures. Sometimes, these muscles do not meet and grow together completely, and there is still a small opening present. A loop of intestine can move into the opening between abdominal muscles and cause a hernia.

Who is at risk for developing a hernia?

Umbilical hernias occur:

  • More often in African-American children
  • More often in premature infants

What are the symptoms for hernias?

Umbilical hernias appear as a bulge or swelling in the belly-button area. The swelling may be more noticeable when the baby cries, and may get smaller or go away when the baby relaxes. If your doctor pushes gently on this bulge when the child is calm and lying down, it will usually get smaller or go back into the abdomen.

What is the treatment for hernias?

Specific treatment will be determined by your child's doctor based on the following:

  • Your child's age, overall health, and medical history
  • Type of hernia
  • Whether the hernia is reducible (can be pushed back into the abdominal cavity) or not
  • Your child's tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
  • Your opinion or preference

By age 1, many umbilical hernias will have closed on their own without requiring surgery. Nearly all umbilical hernias will have closed without surgery by age 5.

Placing a coin or strap over the hernia will not fix it.

There are many opinions about when a surgical repair of an umbilical hernia is necessary. In general, if the hernia becomes bigger with age, is not reducible, or is still present after age 3, your child's doctor may suggest that the hernia be repaired surgically. Always consult your child's doctor to determine what is best for your child.

During a hernia operation, your child will be placed under anesthesia. A small incision is made in the umbilicus (belly button). The loop of intestine is placed back into the abdominal cavity. The muscles are then stitched together. Sometimes a piece of mesh material is used to help strengthen the area where the muscles are repaired.

A hernia operation is usually a fairly simple procedure. Children who have an umbilical hernia surgically repaired may also be able to go home the same day they have surgery.