What Are Umbilical Hernias?

If your baby has a bulge around his belly button, he may have an umbilical hernia.

Before his umbilical cord falls off, you may notice that the area seems to stick out a little more when he cries. Or maybe, once the cord is gone, you see that his 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.

What Causes Umbilical Hernias?

While you’re pregnant, the umbilical cord is connected to your baby’s abdominal muscles through a small hole. This usually closes up after he’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 your baby’s 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.

What Are the Symptoms?

You’ll be able to see the hernia most clearly when your child cries, coughs, or strains as he tries to poop. That’s because all of these things put pressure on his abdomen. When he rests, you might not be able to see the hernia. Usually, they don’t hurt.

Your child’s doctor can tell if he has one 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. It can cause the area around the belly button to become painful, swollen, and even discolored. If you notice any of these symptoms, take your baby to the emergency room.

What’s the 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 his doctor might suggest you wait to see if the problem goes away on its own. If the hole is large, he may recommend surgery before your child turns 4 or 5.

The procedure is done in a hospital or outpatient surgery center. It takes about 45 minutes, and your child will be given anesthesia so that he will not be awake.

The surgeon will make a small cut just below the belly button. If any part of the intestine pokes through, he’ll put it back where it belongs. The doctor will use stitches to close the hernia. He’ll also sew the skin under the navel to give it an “innie” look. Then, he’ll seal the cut 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 he recovers from the anesthesia. Most kids can go home a few hours later.

After Surgery

An over-the-counter pain medication may help your little one feel better after his operation. As he recovers, he should avoid swimming for 5 to 10 days and sports for 2 to 3 weeks.

Your doctor will want to see him for a follow-up appointment in 2 to 4 weeks.

Call your doctor right away if your child has:

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on October 16, 2018



Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia: “Umbilical Hernia.”

American Academy of Pediatrics: “Umbilical Cord Care.”

Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital: “Innies vs. ‘Outies’.”

Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center: “Umbilical Hernia.”

University of California San Francisco Medical Center: “Umbilical Hernia.”

March of Dimes: “Low Birthweight.”

Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center: “Umbilical Hernia Repair Surgery.”

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