When a baby’s belly button sticks out, it’s a sign of an umbilical hernia. This common condition affects up to 20% of babies, and develops when the abdominal muscles around the navel don’t close completely after birth. In this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at what causes umbilical hernias, as well as the symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options available for infants with this condition.
What Are Umbilical Hernias?
Umbilical hernias occur when part of the intestine protrudes through a small gap in the abdominal muscles around the navel. This creates a visible bulge or “outie” belly button. In most cases, umbilical hernias are painless and resolve on their own by the time a child reaches the age of 2 or 3.
However, in some cases, umbilical hernias may not resolve on their own and may require medical intervention. This is especially true if the hernia is large or causing discomfort to the child. In such cases, surgery may be necessary to repair the hernia and prevent any complications.
It is important to note that umbilical hernias can also occur in adults, particularly those who are overweight or have had multiple pregnancies. In adults, umbilical hernias may cause discomfort or pain and may require surgery to repair. It is important to seek medical attention if you suspect you have an umbilical hernia.
Causes of Umbilical Hernias in Babies
The exact cause of umbilical hernias in babies is not fully understood, but it is believed to occur due to a weakness in the abdominal muscles. Premature babies and those with a low birth weight are more likely to develop an umbilical hernia. Genetics may also play a role, as hernias tend to run in families.
Another possible cause of umbilical hernias in babies is excessive crying or straining during bowel movements. This can put pressure on the abdominal muscles and cause a hernia to develop. Additionally, umbilical hernias can sometimes be caused by an injury or trauma to the abdomen, such as a fall or a blow to the stomach.
While umbilical hernias in babies are usually not a cause for concern and often resolve on their own, it is important to monitor them and seek medical attention if they become larger or cause discomfort. In some cases, surgery may be necessary to repair the hernia and prevent complications.
Symptoms to Look Out for in Babies with Umbilical Hernias
The most obvious symptom of an umbilical hernia is the visible bulge or “outie” belly button. Other symptoms may include abdominal discomfort, vomiting, fever, and a change in bowel movements. If you notice any of these symptoms in your baby, it’s important to seek medical attention right away.
It’s important to note that not all umbilical hernias cause symptoms. In fact, many are discovered during routine physical exams and may not require any treatment. However, if your baby’s hernia is causing discomfort or other symptoms, your doctor may recommend surgery to repair it. It’s important to follow your doctor’s advice and monitor your baby’s symptoms closely to ensure they receive the appropriate care.
How to Diagnose Umbilical Hernias in Babies
Umbilical hernias can usually be diagnosed through a physical exam by your baby’s doctor. In some cases, imaging tests such as an ultrasound may be required to confirm the diagnosis or rule out other conditions.
It is important to note that umbilical hernias are common in infants and usually resolve on their own without treatment. However, if the hernia persists beyond the age of 4 or 5 years, surgery may be recommended to prevent complications such as bowel obstruction or strangulation.
Parents can also monitor their baby’s hernia by checking for any changes in size or color, as well as any signs of discomfort or pain. If you notice any concerning symptoms, such as vomiting or a fever, seek medical attention immediately.
Treatment Options for Umbilical Hernias in Infants
In most cases, umbilical hernias in babies don’t require any treatment and will resolve on their own by the time the child is 2 or 3 years old. However, if the hernia is large or causing discomfort, your doctor may recommend monitoring the hernia and scheduling regular check-ups. It’s important to note that applying pressure or trying to push the hernia back into the abdomen is not recommended and can be dangerous.
In some rare cases, surgery may be necessary to repair an umbilical hernia in an infant. This is usually only recommended if the hernia is causing significant discomfort or if it hasn’t resolved on its own by the time the child is 4 or 5 years old. The surgery is typically a simple procedure that involves pushing the hernia back into the abdomen and repairing the abdominal wall with stitches.
It’s important to keep the area around the umbilical hernia clean and dry to prevent infection. If you notice any signs of infection, such as redness, swelling, or discharge, contact your doctor right away. Additionally, if your child develops a fever or seems to be in significant pain, seek medical attention immediately.
Surgical Procedures for Umbilical Hernias in Children
If the hernia has not resolved on its own by the time the child reaches the age of 4 or 5, surgery may be necessary to repair the hernia. During this procedure, the surgeon will make a small incision near the belly button and close the gap in the abdominal muscles. This is typically performed under general anesthesia and is considered a safe and effective treatment option for umbilical hernias in children.
It is important for parents to monitor their child’s recovery after the surgery. The child may experience some discomfort and pain for a few days after the procedure, but this can be managed with pain medication. The child should also avoid any strenuous activities or heavy lifting for a few weeks after the surgery to allow the incision to heal properly.
In rare cases, complications may arise after the surgery, such as infection or recurrence of the hernia. Parents should be aware of the signs and symptoms of these complications, such as fever, redness or swelling around the incision site, or a bulge near the belly button. If any of these symptoms occur, parents should contact their child’s doctor immediately.
Recovery and Postoperative Care for Babies with Umbilical Hernias
After surgery to repair an umbilical hernia, your child will need a period of rest and recovery. Your doctor will give you specific instructions on how to care for your baby’s incision site and what activities to avoid during the healing process. Generally, children are able to resume normal activities within a week or two following surgery.
It is important to keep a close eye on your baby’s incision site during the recovery period. Look for signs of infection, such as redness, swelling, or discharge. If you notice any of these symptoms, contact your doctor immediately. Additionally, your doctor may recommend pain medication to help manage any discomfort your baby may experience during the healing process.
Preventing the Recurrence of Umbilical Hernias in Children
While there is no guaranteed way to prevent umbilical hernias in children, there are some steps you can take to reduce the risk of recurrence. These include encouraging your child to maintain a healthy weight, avoiding activities that strain the abdominal muscles, and seeking prompt medical attention if you notice any signs of a hernia.
In addition to these preventative measures, it is important to ensure that your child receives proper nutrition and hydration. A diet rich in fiber and fluids can help prevent constipation, which can put strain on the abdominal muscles and increase the risk of hernias.
It is also important to teach your child proper lifting techniques and to avoid heavy lifting whenever possible. If your child does need to lift something heavy, make sure they use their legs and not their back or abdominal muscles.
Umbilical hernias are a common condition that affects many infants. While they can cause concern for parents, in most cases they are harmless and resolve on their own. If you suspect your child may have an umbilical hernia, it’s important to seek medical attention right away. Your doctor can provide a proper diagnosis and recommend the best treatment options based on your child’s unique needs.
It’s important to note that in rare cases, umbilical hernias can cause complications such as bowel obstruction or strangulation. If your child experiences symptoms such as vomiting, constipation, or severe pain around the belly button, seek medical attention immediately.
Prevention of umbilical hernias is not always possible, but there are some steps you can take to reduce your child’s risk. These include avoiding excessive pressure on the belly button area, such as from tight clothing or rough play, and ensuring your child receives proper nutrition to support healthy growth and development.