Hernias

A hernia at the umbilicus (See hernia.). Hernias are a protrusion of tissue through an abnormal opening. Normally, the abdominal wall is formed by two sheets of muscle that run along both sides of the abdomen. When these sheets of muscle incompletely fuse, it permits part of the bowel to protrude up through the muscle sheets at the level of the umbilicus or belly button. As the infant grows, the muscle layers increase and gradually fuse eliminating the hernia. This is one of the few hernias which often resolves on its own. Occasionally, surgical correction is required.

What is a hernia?

A hernia occurs when the contents of a body cavity protrude out of the area where they are normally contained. The protrusion, which can be made up of tissue or part of an organ, pushes through a weak muscle or membrane. In some cases, the protrusion may be more noticeable when a child cries, coughs, sneezes, or strains. If you suspect a hernia, see a physician immediately.

There are different types of hernias:

  • Inguinal hernias, which are visible in the groin area. Inguinal hernias require surgery because the intestines or bowels protruding into the groin area may become kinked or trapped.
  • Umbilical hernias, which occur at the umbilicus (belly button). These hernias often resolve on their own as the infant grows and the muscle layers in the area increase and gradually fuse, blocking out protrusions.
  • Epigastric hernias, which occur in the abdomen. Epigastric hernias require surgery because the part of the intestines protruding through the abdominal wall may become kinked or trapped.
  • Diaphragmatic hernias, also called congenital diaphragmatic hernias (CDH). Babies with CDH are born with difficulty breathing on their own since the hernia pushes on the diaphragm. This is the most serious type of hernia. Visit Children's Congenital Diaphragmatic Services page or newborn surgery to learn more about these hernias.

Sometimes, what appears to be a hernia can be a hydrocele. A hydrocele is similar to a hernia except that the protruding sac contains only fluid. Hydroceles may or may not go away on their own. Your surgeon can help make the determination about whether to wait or to remove a hydrocele.

What causes them?

Hernias are more common in babies born prematurely, because they are more likely to have weaker tissues that allow protrusions. Hernias are more commonly seen in boys, but can happen to both boys and girls.

Hydrocele is very common in baby boys. In fact, one in 10 baby boys is born with an enlarged scrotum due to hydrocele. Rarely, a hydrocele is caused by an infection but most of the time they are normal and harmless.

How are they treated?

In some cases, such as umbilical hernias and some hydrocele, the problem will heal on its own as your child grows. In other cases, surgery is necessary.

About hernia surgery at Children's

The type of surgeon that performs your child's surgery will depend on the type of hernia and how serious the hernia is. At Children's, a pediatric general surgeon and/or urologic surgeon may be involved in your child's surgery. Sometimes, neonatal physicians also may be involved.

Hernia surgery is one of the most common surgeries performed at Children's and for the most complex type of hernia (CDH) Children's has a national reputation for providing the most advanced care available. Children's surgical teams provide next-generation care to newborns, babies, children, adolescents and young adults from throughout the Upper Midwest. The teams consistently perform some of the most cutting-edge surgical procedures available, including newborn surgery, minimally invasive surgery, and robotic surgery, when appropriate. Hernia surgery is performed at Children's - Minneapolis, Children's - St. Paul, and Children's West (Minnetonka).

Contact us

  • If you are a family member looking for a Children's specialist in urology surgery, please call the Center for Pediatric Urology at 1-800-992-6983. If you are looking for a specialist in gastrointestinal or general surgery, please visit Find a Doctor.
  • If you are a health professional looking for a consultation or referral information, please call Children's Physician Access at 1-866-755-2121 (toll-free).