700 Children's® – A Blog by Pediatric Experts

Umbilical Hernia: When Should You Worry?

Jun 02, 2017
image of a baby lying on a changing table

One of the first milestones new parents look forward to is the healing of their infant’s belly button. After a week or two of painstaking care to make sure the umbilical cord stump dries out properly, and without infection, it falls off exposing the navel. Every now and then, that belly button can become the cause of concern when it looks enlarged or feels hard.

Part of the normal development that happens when a baby is in the womb is the closure of the abdominal muscles just below the navel, forming what is known as the umbilical ring. Sometimes, the muscles don’t come together completely and a small hole remains. After birth, the intestines can push through the opening, causing an umbilical hernia.

Umbilical hernias are common in newborns and infants younger than six months. Symptoms of umbilical hernia include:

  • A slight swelling or even a bulge near the belly button
  • The spot becomes larger and harder when the baby cries, coughs, or strains, due to the increase of pressure on the abdomen
  • Under normal circumstances, the hernia is not painful to the touch

Umbilical hernias often (80%) close on their own, usually by the age of three or four. If that doesn’t happen, or if the hernia becomes incarcerated (unable to be pushed back manually) or strangulated (cutting off the blood supply to the intestines) surgery will be performed to repair it. In fact, hernia repair is one of the most common types of pediatric surgery. If the child is free of heart conditions or blood disorders, the procedure is done on an outpatient basis with minimal recovery time.

If you notice extreme swelling, discoloration, or tenderness in the area or if your child is vomiting or in pain, go to the emergency room immediately. Otherwise, visit the pediatrician for regular follow-ups to make sure that the hernia resolves.

Visit our website to learn more about Nationwide Children’s Pediatric Surgery Department.

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NCH Blog Author
Denis King, MD
Pediatric Surgery

Denis R. King, MD, is the Co-Medical Director of the Nutrition Support Services at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and a Clinical Professor of Surgery at The Ohio State University College of Medicine (OSUCM).

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700 Children’s® features the most current pediatric health care information and research from our pediatric experts – physicians and specialists who have seen it all. Many of them are parents and bring a special understanding to what our patients and families experience. If you have a child – or care for a child – 700 Children’s was created especially for you.