Did you recently notice a bulge or a swell in your baby’s belly region and are now scouring the internet for answers? Chances are, they are suffering from an umbilical hernia.
Just the term “umbilical hernia” can send any parent into a spiral of anxiety and worry. While it may sound scary, umbilical hernia is mostly benign, easily curable, and can be treated through less invasive treatments and medically advanced processes.
If you suspect your baby has an umbilical hernia, there must be a number of questions running through your mind. What exactly is it? What causes it? How to know when your baby has it? What is the best way to get it diagnosed and treated?
Luckily, you’ve landed yourself at the right place. Here’s everything you’d want to know about umbilical hernia in babies.
What is Umbilical Hernia?
An umbilical hernia is a swollen bump that appears on your baby’s abdomen area. This bump is part of the intestines protruding near the navel’s abdominal walls. It is also sometimes called the belly button hernia.
There is an umbilical cord connecting the mother to the baby through a small hole in the baby’s abdominal muscles. After birth, this cord is cut and the rest of it falls off, typically in one to three weeks. And once the umbilical cord is gone, you can see the abdominal hole gradually closing. You may have noticed this area sticking out a little (often called an “outie”), especially when the baby cries.
An umbilical hernia occurs when this hole does not close.
Some Facts About Umbilical Hernia:
- An umbilical hernia occurs in 1 out of 6 children.
- In about 10% to 15% of children, umbilical hernia is usually present around birth or is a common occurrence in infants born prematurely.
- Males and females are equally at risk of developing an umbilical hernia.
- Compared to kids from different ethnicities, umbilical hernia occurs eight times more frequently in infants of African ethnicity.
- Umbilical hernias can change in size, getting bigger if there is pressure in the baby’s belly such as from crying or coughing, and getting smaller when they are calm and lying down.
What Causes Umbilical Hernia in Babies?
So what exactly causes it?
After a child’s birth, the opening of the umbilicus, which is a small opening in the abdomen muscles, is closed. This is the same opening through which the umbilical cord passes and connects the baby with the mother.
In some children, this opening does not close. The muscles do not grow and meet, and the small opening fails to contract. This gap is called an umbilical hernia. And if the intestine and other abdominal fluids penetrate through this opening, it causes the hernia to swell or bulge and protrude.
As the child grows in age, and if the opening is not treated, the hernia may increase significantly in size, up to 1.5 cm in diameter.
Different Types Of Hernias Found In Kids
Besides an umbilical hernia, a child is at the risk of developing a few other hernias, which become visible during the later years of their life.
1. Inguinal hernia is the most common type of hernia that is found amongst children. This hernia occurs near the groin, in the lower abdominal region of the body. They are of two types — direct inguinal hernia and indirect inguinal hernia.
2. An Epigastric hernia is a commonly found hernia amongst boys. This hernia is usually located as a protrusion between the belly button and the chest area.
3. Incisional hernia is unlike any other hernia. These hernias occur as a result of failed abdominal surgeries in the kids.
What Are The Symptoms Associated With Umbilical Hernia?
Be on the lookout for the following symptoms to confirm whether the swelling you’ve noticed on your child’s belly is a hernia.
- Depending on the severity of the hernia, a small or a big bulge will occur near the belly button that will increase in size when the baby puts pressure on their abdomen region.
- The area surrounding the belly button may also swell or become red.
- The protruding intestine may get stuck and be no longer reducible. The hernia will turn red, be painful, and cause the child to vomit or have a fever.
It is necessary to be on the lookout for such symptoms to avoid the risk of an incarcerated or strangulated hernia. When the intestine, abdominal fluids, or other such contents of the hernia can no longer be pushed back and form a hard lump, it is called an incarcerated hernia. And when this incarcerated hernia’s blood supply is cut off, it results in a strangulated hernia. These two complications are very rare but can result in severe problems.
If you feel the hernia is worsening, don’t think twice before consulting your baby’s pediatrician. If not treated in time, intestinal blockage and incarceration can lead to blood clots, damaged intestines, infections, rupture of the skin cells, and other heart and lung issues.
How To Get Umbilical Hernia Diagnosed?
The hernia is generally diagnosed by looking, touching, and feeling the bump on the naval or belly button region.
This bump will expand more when any pressure is exerted while coughing, crying, pooping, or laughing by the kid. And, when the child lays down and is in a calm and composed position, the bump takes its place back, and the hernia appears smaller.
If the swelling is a “reducible hernia,” the doctor will try to massage the bulge back into its place.
If not, a physical examination may be conducted to check if there is a possibility of more health-related complexities happening.
The child’s complete medical history is checked to ascertain if the hernia is trapped or incarcerated within the opening. If it is, it can cause more serious medical conditions in which the protruding intestine is deprived of adequate blood supply. If the intestine becomes necrotic and is not treated in time, the hernia might have to be removed through surgery.
How To Take Care Of Your Child When They Have A Hernia
Most umbilical hernias are harmless and go away without any medical treatment by the time the child turns around 4 to 5 years of age. In more than 90% of cases, the hernia is cured on its own, so it is not something you should be worrying about.
You can also aid this process by taking care of the child and even cure the hernia naturally without any medical or surgical intervention.
Encourage the child to perform slow and deep breathing exercises. This will prevent them from exerting extra pressure on their lungs. Deep breathing will ensure that the mucus is kept out of the lungs, and there is no risk of further lung infections caused as a result of hernia.
Treatment For Umbilical Hernia In Babies
Very rarely, the kids may be required to undergo surgeries and other medical treatments. If the hernia is more than 3/4 inches in size, the intestine is incarcerated within the abdominal opening and the bulge can no longer be pushed inside.
Umbilical hernia surgeries are usually outpatient or day case surgeries, so you will be able to take your child back home the same day. When your child has a surgery scheduled, they need to follow a specific diet, as informed by the doctor, to reduce the chances of vomiting or inhalation of fluids.
After general anesthesia is administered, the following steps are undertaken by the surgeon:
- A small incision is made at the bottom of the belly button.
- The surgeon locates the hernia sac that contains the intestine and other abdominal fluids.
- The bulged intestine is pushed back into its position, behind the muscle wall.
- The remaining hernia sac is removed.
- The muscle wall is repaired by stitching them.
- The skin around the belly button on which the incision was made is then sewed.
Things To Do Post Surgery
After the surgery is successfully conducted, it will take around a week or two for the kid to recover fully.
To ease the healing process, you should be taking the following steps:
- If the doctor prescribes any pain-killer medicine, make sure to administer it to the child regularly without fail.
- Don’t let your child do any brisk activities that may impair the site where the surgery was conducted.
- A sponge bath should be given to the child instead of a tub bath.
- To prevent constipation and other digestion problems, include plenty of water and nutritious vegetables and fruits in their diet.
- Make sure to not expose the operated skin to sunlight.
- Avoid putting any tight or scratchy clothes on the child that would rub against the incision and irritate the wound.
- To reduce the risk of any further complications, take your child out for gentle walks. This will make their muscles stronger and will improve the circulation of blood around the medicated site.
An umbilical hernia is very common amongst infants, and there are plenty of effective ways to get it treated.
An umbilical hernia is not at all life-threatening. Even in the most extreme cases where your baby requires surgery to get the hernia removed, their post-surgery journey is often going to be very normal and seamless. So if you’ve been worrying about your baby suffering umbilical hernia, now you have more information at hand to guide you through what your next steps should be.