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Umbilical Hernia Treatment and Repair

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Updated June 25, 2007

A baby with a small umbilical hernia.

A baby with a small umbilical hernia.

Vincent Iannelli, MD
Updated June 25, 2007

When most parents think of a hernia, they think of sports, pain, and the need for quick surgery. That is because hernias frequently affect young male athletes. Almost all hernias of this sort, known as inguinal hernias, need surgical repair.

But, babies can get hernias, too, although they affect a different body part -- the belly button. These are known as umbilical hernias.

Umbilical Hernia

An umbilical hernia occurs when the umbilical ring (belly button) doesn't close properly. Although the defect occurs before a baby is born, parents usually don't begin to notice the umbilical hernia until a few weeks old.

Once it starts, it is hard to miss, since the baby's belly button bulges outward, often when the baby is straining, coughing, or crying, but sometimes when the baby is just lying quietly.

Symptoms of an Umbilical Hernia

Unlike other types of hernias, an umbilical hernia is usually painless and the only symptom is that the baby's belly button will sometimes be swollen or "herniated" outward.

In rare instances, an umbilical hernia can become strangulated. This will most likely cause the hernia to become painful, and/or when it is gently pushed, it will not reduce. Babies who experience this should receive prompt medical attention.

Treatments for an Umbilical Hernias

Umbilical hernias typically don't need treatment. Many go away naturally by the time a baby is one or two years old, and almost all will resolve by a child's fourth or fifth year.

A pediatric surgeon may need to repair the hernia in the following cases:

  • The umbilical hernia is very big -- larger than 2 cm on a 1- or 2-year-old child, for example
  • The hernia is getting bigger
  • The hernia has not gone away by the time a child is four or five years old.

What You Need To Know

Although the cause is unknown, umbilical hernias are more common among black babies and babies born with a low birthweight.

It is not helpful to try and keep the umbilical hernia reduced by strapping something across your baby's belly, a common folk remedy.

School-age children are more prone to complications from their umbilical hernia, so, among this age group, hernias should be repaired to prevent future problems, such as strangulation.

In some cases, women who had unrepaired umbilical hernias may experience a recurrence or pain when they become pregnant as adults.

Sources:

Behrman: Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics, 17th ed.

Incarcerated umbilical hernia in children. Chirdan LB - Eur J Pediatr Surg - 01-FEB-2006; 16(1): 45-8

Pediatric umbilical problems. O'Donnell KA - Pediatr Clin North Am - 01-AUG-1998; 45(4): 791-9

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