What is an umbilical hernia?
The umbilicus (belly button or naval) is structure in the middle part of the belly. During a baby’s development in the mother’s womb the umbilical cord connects the baby to the mother. After birth the umbilical cord is cut. In most cases the muscles around the belly button close within days after birth.
An umbilical hernia occurs when there is a weak spot or opening in the muscles under the skin of the belly button. This soft bulge is most easily noticed when your child cries, coughs, or strains. It should be less noticeable when your child rests or sleeps.
Umbilical hernias are common in infants and usually improve on their own. Surgery to close the abdominal wall opening might be recommended if the hernia does not go away by age 4-5 years.
What causes umbilical hernias?
Most umbilical hernias in children occur when the muscles around the belly button don’t close after the umbilical cord falls off. Occasionally an umbilical hernia can occur as the result of an injury or following surgery.
How is it diagnosed?
Umbilical hernias are usually diagnosed by physical review alone. Rarely, imaging such as an ultrasound or CT scan is needed to make the diagnosis.
How should I care for my child?
No special care is needed for an umbilical hernia. Your child can participate in all normal activities. It is not necessary to put anything over the hernia or do anything to try to keep it in or make it smaller.
When should I call the clinic?
Call the clinic if your child sometimes experiences pain in their belly button. Contact the clinic if your child’s hernia has not gone away by the time they are 4-5 years old.
When should I go to the ER?
Go to the ER if your child shows any of the following signs, which could mean that the intestine is trapped through the abdominal wall opening:
- The umbilical hernia becomes swollen or tender
- The skin over the hernia becomes red or discolored
- The umbilical hernia looks swollen and your child keeps vomiting
What is umbilical hernia repair?
Umbilical hernia repair is the surgery to fix an umbilical hernia. It is a same-day surgery meaning your child will go home on the same day as the surgery. The surgery requires anesthesia. During the surgery a cut is made in the belly button skin. The hole in the muscle is fixed with stitches. The belly button skin is either sewn or glued closed.
- Benefits: Closing the umbilical hernia lowers the chance of organs in the belly getting stuck in the muscle hole. The hernia is not able to get bigger as the child grows.
- Risks: Bleeding, infection, fluid under the incision.
- Long term outcomes: Children with umbilical hernias have good outcomes and rarely does the hernia come back.
What can I expect after the surgery?
- Diet: Most patients are able to eat a normal diet.
- Activity: There are no activity restrictions after the surgery. Your child may return to normal activities as they tolerate.
- Wound care: Your child might have a bandage over their belly button for a few days after the surgery that you will remove at home. Your child can shower within 2-3 days of surgery but you may want to wait 5-7 days after surgery before soaking the wound.
- Medicines: Medication for pain such as acetaminophen (Tylenol®) or ibuprofen (Motrin® or Advil®) or something like a narcotic may be needed to help with pain for a few days after surgery.
- Return to school/daycare: Your child may return to school or daycare when you feel it is appropriate.
- What to call the provider for: Fevers over 101 °F, wound redness, and/or drainage might indicate an infection. Contact your child’s provider if your child develops these after surgery.
- Follow-up care: Follow-up with your child’s surgeon as needed for questions or concerns. You can call (612) 813-8000 to schedule an appointment.
This information is not specific to your child but provides general information. If you have any questions, please call your clinic.
This page is not specific to your child, but provides general information on the topic above. If you have any questions, please call your clinic. For more reading material about this and other health topics, please call or visit Children's Family Resource Center library, or visit www.childrensmn.org/educationmaterials.
© 2019 Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota