Umbilical hernias are commonly found in infants and children. An umbilical hernia is a bulge of intraabdominal organs through an opening in at the base of the umbilicus (belly button). This occurs when abdominal muscles fail to come together forming an opening called an umbilical ring. The size of umbilical hernias varies from child to child. Many umbilical hernias close on their own by 3 to 4 years of age.
Symptoms and outcomes
Parents may notice a “bulge” of their child’s umbilicus. It is common for this bulge to get larger and become harder when your child cries or strains. This is because the pressure in the abdomen is increased, forcing the contents of the hernia out. Upon relaxation, the contents of the hernia are easily returned back into the abdomen, allowing the hernia to become soft again.
Potential complications: Incarcerated hernia
Very few complications are associated with having an umbilical hernia. However, parents should be aware of the possibility of an incarcerated hernia. Incarceration occurs when the contents of the hernia “get stuck” and cannot be pushed back into the abdominal cavity. If this happens, the blood supply may be impaired (strangulation) to the organs in the hernia sac. This can be an emergency.
If you see these signs contact your doctor or take your child to the emergency room:
- Pain from the hernia
- Discoloration of the hernia
- A hernia that cannot be pushed back into the abdominal cavity (when the child is relaxed)
- A hernia that looks different than before.
What is the treatment for an umbilical hernia?
It is generally recommended to wait for an umbilical hernia to close on its own. This occurs as the child grows and the abdominal muscles strengthen, closing the hernia off naturally. This usually happens by the age of 3 or 4 years, if not sooner.
Techniques such as taping or strapping a coin on the umbilicus to close the hernia are not effective and are not recommended. Surgery is not advised unless the hernia does not go away by the age of 4, becomes strangulated, or the hernia is very large and is therefore unlikely to close on it’s own. If your child requires abdominal surgery for a different reason, then the surgeon may repair the umbilical hernia during that operation.