What Are Umbilical Hernias?
Umbilical hernias are swollen bumps that appear when part of your intestines stick out through your abdominal muscles near your navel. If your baby has a bulge around the bellybutton, they may have an umbilical hernia.
Before the umbilical cord falls off, you may notice that the area seems to stick out a little more when the baby cries. Or maybe, once the cord is gone, you see that their navel sticks out (an “outie,” as it’s commonly called). In some cases, even if you can’t see a bulge, you might be able to feel one.
Umbilical Hernia Causes
While you’re pregnant, the umbilical cord is connected to your baby’s abdominal muscles through a small hole. This usually closes up after the baby’s born. When it doesn’t, the gap that’s left is called an umbilical hernia. If intestines and fluid poke through it, they cause the belly to bulge or swell.
Forget what you may have heard: The way the doctor cuts or clamps the cord when your child is born doesn’t affect whether an umbilical hernia will form or not.
It’s less common, but adults can also get umbilical hernias. Adult umbilical hernias often happen over time when abdominal pressure goes up. You might have this because of:
- Chronic cough
- Extra belly fluid
- Problems urinating because of a large prostate
- Straining in childbirth or weightlifting
Umbilical Hernia Symptoms
You’ll be able to see the hernia most clearly when your child cries, coughs, or strains while trying to poop. That’s because all of these things put pressure on the abdomen. When your child rests, you might not be able to see the hernia. Usually, they don’t hurt.
Your child’s doctor can tell if there’s a hernia during a physical exam.
You’ll want to keep a close eye on your child’s hernia for signs that the intestine has been trapped in the hole and can’t go back in. Doctors call this an incarcerated hernia. Symptoms include:
- Pain around the bellybutton area
- Swelling in the area
- Discoloration of the bellybutton area
If you notice any of these symptoms, take your baby to the emergency room.
Umbilical Hernia Diagnosis
In order to see if you’re dealing with an umbilical hernia, your doctor will feel and look at the area. They’ll also ask you for your symptom history. Your doctor may try to see if they can push the bulge of the hernia back into your abdomen. Sometimes a doctor may suggest you get a CT scan to check for complications.
Umbilical Hernia Treatment
Most umbilical hernias don’t need any treatment. Usually, the hole heals on its own by the time your child is 4 or 5 years old. Even if it doesn’t, it’ll likely get smaller. That’ll make surgery a bit easier.
You might think it looks like your child needs to have an operation, but their doctor might suggest you wait to see if the problem goes away on its own. If the hole is large, they may recommend surgery before your child turns 4 or 5.
Your doctor may also suggest surgery if the hernia is:
- Larger than ½ to ¾ inch
- Large and doesn’t get smaller in the first 2 years of life
- Gets trapped or blocks intestines
The procedure is done in a hospital or outpatient surgery center. It takes about 45 minutes, and your child will be given anesthesia and won’t be awake.
The surgeon will make a small cut just below the bellybutton. If any part of the intestine pokes through, it will be put back where it belongs. The doctor will use stitches to close the hernia. They’ll also sew the skin under the navel to give it an “innie” look. Then, the cut will be sealed with surgical glue that’ll hold the edges of the wound together. It’ll come off by itself once the site heals.
After the procedure, your child will stay at the hospital while they recover from the anesthesia. Most kids can go home a few hours later.
Your doctor will want a follow-up visit in 2 to 4 weeks.
Call your doctor right away if your child has:
- A fever
- Redness, swelling, or pain
- A bulge near the navel
- Blood or smelly fluid near the cut
- Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or constipation that doesn’t get better
Umbilical Hernia Complications
Complications from umbilical hernias aren’t common. If the hernia becomes incarcerated, the tissue can begin to die or cause pain. This is a serious complication that can cause infection in the abdominal cavity and even death.
Adults are more likely to have an intestinal blockage as a complication of a trapped hernia. If you have a blockage, you’ll need emergency surgery.
Umbilical Hernia Outlook
Most umbilical hernias in babies go away on their own by the time your child is 2. If you have surgery to repair your umbilical hernia, your recovery time will depend on its size and how difficult your surgery was. Both children and adults who have surgery typically go home the same day of the procedure.
Usually you’ll need about 3 to 5 days to rest and heal. You shouldn’t lift anything heavy for about 3 weeks after surgery. Once your umbilical hernia goes away, either on its own or with surgery, it’s not likely it will come back.