Umbilical Hernia: When Should You Worry?

One of the first milestones new parents look forward to is the healing of their infant’s belly button. After a week or two of painstaking care to make sure the umbilical cord stump dries out properly, and without infection, it falls off exposing the navel. Every now and then, that belly button can become the cause of concern when it looks enlarged or feels hard.

Part of the normal development that happens when a baby is in the womb is the closure of the abdominal muscles just below the navel, forming what is known as the umbilical ring. Sometimes, the muscles don’t come together completely and a small hole remains. After birth, the intestines can push through the opening, causing an umbilical hernia.

Umbilical hernias are common in newborns and infants younger than six months. Symptoms of umbilical hernia include:

  • a slight swelling or even a bulge near the belly button
  • the spot becomes larger and harder when the baby cries, coughs, or strains, due to the increase of pressure on the abdomen
  • under normal circumstances, the hernia is not painful to the touch

Umbilical hernias often (80%) close on their own, usually by the age of three or four. If that doesn’t happen, or if the hernia becomes incarcerated (unable to be pushed back manually) or strangulated (cutting off the blood supply to the intestines) surgery will be performed to repair it. In fact, hernia repair is one of the most common types of pediatric surgery. If the child is free of heart conditions or blood disorders, the procedure is done on an outpatient basis with minimal recovery time.

If you notice extreme swelling, discoloration, or tenderness in the area or if your child is vomiting or in pain, go to the emergency room immediately. Otherwise, visit the pediatrician for regular follow-ups to make sure that the hernia resolves.

For more information about umbilical hernias click here, or visit our website to learn more about Nationwide Children’s Pediatric Surgery Department.

Denis King, MD
Denis R. King, MD, is the Co-Medical Director of the Nutrition Support Services at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and a Clinical Professor of Surgery at The Ohio State University College of Medicine (OSUCM). He also serves on the surgical teams for Intestinal Support Services and the Trauma Program. Dr. King’s clinical interests include surgical nutrition and solid tumors. He has received many teaching awards during his time at OSUMC, including the Department of Surgery’s Denis King MD Outstanding Teacher Award, named in his honor.

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