My Child Has an Umbilical Hernia. How Worried Should I Be?

What is an Umbilical Hernia?

An umbilical hernia presents as a bulge or protrusion in your infant’s belly button. It is commonly found during the routine doctor’s visits they go to for the first few months of life. While this condition is visually alarming, it isn’t usually cause for concern.

When the umbilical cord is cut, the ring typically closes on its own due to rectus muscle growth and fascial layer fusion. But when the fascia of the ring doesn’t close properly, intraabdominal contents may protrude. This results in a bulge in your child’s belly button.

When your child cries, coughs, or strains to have a bowel movement, umbilical hernias may become more noticeable. However, when your child is quiet and resting, the bulge may diminish. Umbilical hernias do not usually cause pain, which should provide you some relief.

How Common is an Umbilical Hernia?

Umbilical hernias affect boys and girls equally. However, umbilical hernias are most common in premature babies and African-American infants. If your child falls into one (or both) of those categories, it is important to tell your pediatrician about any signs a hernia has developed.

The good news is that 90% of umbilical hernias close on their own by the time a child is 4 to 5 years old. Often, doctors suggest delaying treatment due to a low rate of complications while waiting for the defect to close on its own. The size of the hernial ring is helpful to determine if it will close on its own.

“Umbilical hernias are most common in premature babies and African-American infants. If your child falls into one (or both) of those categories, it is something to keep an eye on and tell their doctor about.”

When Does an Umbilical Hernia Need Treatment?

Although pediatric umbilical hernias are common among healthy infants, they are also associated with specific conditions such as common autosomal trisomies, metabolic disorders, and dysmorphic syndromes. It’s important that your doctor distinguishes whether your baby’s condition warrants further evaluation.

If your infant’s umbilical hernia does not close on its own in their first few years of life, there are signs that will tell you it’s time to seek treatment:

  • The bulge is firm, painful, or discolored or the hernia sticks out and can’t be pushed back into your infant’s abdomen.

– these signs suggests the hernia is stuck and may be an emergency

  • Your baby is over 4-5 years old and the hernia is still present.

What is the Treatment for an Umbilical Hernia?

The treatment for an umbilical hernia is umbilical hernia surgery. Due to how common pediatric umbilical hernias are, surgery is done in a single day. That means you can bring your child home the same day as the procedure. The procedure is performed while your baby is under general anesthesia.

What Happens During Umbilical Hernia Surgery?

The surgery for umbilical hernia is relatively straightforward. First, a small curved incision (resembling a smile) is made under your child’s belly button. Then the opening is closed with absorbable sutures and the overlying skin is closed with a combination of absorbable stitches below the skin and DERMABOND. 

Umbilical Surgery Aftercare

Hernia surgery recovery is simple. Immediately after surgery, your child’s belly button may be slightly swollen, but you can expect this to go away in a few weeks. Refrain from allowing your baby to participate in physical activity for 2-3 weeks post-surgery. Their follow-up appointment should be scheduled for 2-4 weeks after the procedure, when their doctor will evaluate your child’s recovery.

There is a very small risk of recurrence of umbilical hernia once surgery is performed. If you notice that your child’s hernia has reappeared, call your Austin Pediatric Surgeon.

Umbilical Hernia Treatment at Austin Pediatric Surgery

Pediatric umbilical hernias are very common, and a routine surgery will fix the problem. If your child is showing signs of an umbilical hernia, contact  Austin Pediatric Surgery to discuss treatment.  


Image credit: Nataliya Vaitkevich via Pexels.